Athletic Trainer Salary: It’s Nobody’s Fault, but Our Own

Last week Twitter was abuzz due to a job posting on the NATA Career Center. Athletic Trainers on Twitter were up in arms over the posting – a full-time, temporary position with a starting salary of $8.00/hr.

Said many ATs:
Somebody needs to call the Head Athletic Trainer! Why? In most cases the Head Athletic Trainer has absolutely no say regarding salary of his or her assistants.
Call the school!  Why? The school simply needs a body to serve as a first responder and to cover its butt in case something does go wrong.
The NATA needs to ban such postings! Why?  Is the NATA some totalitarian and tyrannical organization designed to hold the hand of its members and dictate what they can and cannot do?
What an insult! An insult, maybe to the vast majority, but not to the several athletic trainers who do apply for the job.
How could this happen? Easy, we let it happen.

Before we go further and before Athletic Trainers start throwing rocks through windows; an $8.00 / hour salary is NOT just. It is a slap in the face. However, we need to take ownership. We as a whole made this bed and now have to sleep in it. Before we attempt to fix this mess from the outside (attacking schools, administrators, political committees, supervisors, etc.), we should look from within and ask,  “To what degree are we at fault?”

Let’s look at some data. The average annual salary according to the most recent NATA Salary Survey is $48,317 (link requires member log-in). It is alarming to look at the range of salaries for different positions. There are Athletic Trainers in colleges making less than your average administrative assistant. There are comparable health care professionals (physical therapists and counselors for instance) working at colleges making twice what some athletic trainers make. Have you seen the NATA’s “Examination of the Professional Degree Level” published in December? Athletic Training salary has grown at a rate less than inflation and the gap between Athletic Training and PT, OT, and PAs has widened.

While $48,317 looks decent on paper, this data is misleading. The median is $42,500, meaning the profession is bottom heavy. You can thank the top salary earners for skewing this data. 25% of the surveyed make less than $35,000. That is right, 1-in-4 make less than $35,000 and to add to that, the average income for this lower quartile population is $26,645. When you look at the average salary per district, most of my Athletic Training friends do not make the average annual salary. In fact, I know several Athletic Trainers working 50+ hours week, no benefits, with an annual salary around $25,000 per year.

Despite the fact this job announcement is a slap in the face and despite the moaning and groaning from Athletic Trainers, this position will get applicants. Not only will there be applicants, they will likely get a lot of applicants. If the school’s administration just wants a body to CYA in case of an emergency, what type of Athletic Trainer will they get? When that Athletic Trainer is on the field disseminating information to players and coaches is that individual representing the profession in the best possible light?

Do not misread what is being said here. Athletic Trainers must pass a very tough BOC examination and Athletic Trainers have a very high level of baseline knowledge. That said there is a large variance between those with baseline knowledge and the experts in our field. One could go to the NATA annual meeting, register, drink for three days and collect 24 CEUs. In reality the only education gained was how much alcohol one could consume, while remaining a functional human being. The BOC is in constant pursuit of improving our continuing education standards and has made great strides in this area.

Can the NATA improve salaries for athletic trainers? To a certain degree I will concede that they may be able to help. The NATA is our professional organization; however you are the NATA. The NATA can provide job listings that will provide professionals with the resources to find employment. They have tried to be the gatekeeper regarding these job postings, however anyone can post a job and there are times that jobs unrelated to athletic training slip into the NATA from the service that is used. We are responsible for improving our salaries.

How should we go about doing this? We, as a profession, need to learn the power of negotiation and utilize it for higher salaries. We need to stop settling for salaries that do not match our experience, education and abilities. If we continue to settle then we are ultimately hurting ourselves and our profession. Use the Salary Survey and understand what is appropriate, but don’t settle for the average or for less than what you are worth. All Athletic Trainers should hear Linda Mazzoli speak about self-value and self-worth.

Every Athletic Trainer needs to understand his or her worth and seek to demonstrate it. Collect data to demonstrate the value you provide to the organization. This can be through treatments, decreased school absence, and a number of other factors that are important. There are resources on the NATA website, at the annual symposium and through other professionals. 

Athletic Trainers are a prideful bunch and supremely passionate about their job. Unfortunately, this passion comes at a cost. We put so much stock in our job, that it supersedes our self-worth and life in general. If you are getting paid $30,000 per year and working 60 hours you need to say no. Why should you stay until 8pm, because football doesn’t get out of lifting until 7pm?  If you have worked 50 hours Monday through Friday, why should you travel with baseball’s weekend series?  Why cover off-season practice? Why work over Thanksgiving? Either they pay you more, or they hire an assistant. You don’t have to say yes. Be courageous, be armed with facts, make a stand and earn respect, eventually, they will respect your efforts and compensate accordingly. 

Let’s do a better job of not accepting insulting salaries. Have some self-value. Educators and mentors can instill a sense of worth into young professionals. Obtaining a higher salary is not the only part of the contract negotiation. If the employer is not receptive to financial negotiation, it is incumbent on you to negotiate your time.  If they are only willing to pay you $25,000 per year, negotiate what you will and will not do. Set regular athletic training room hours. Dictate which sports you cover. Identify which weekend events you will cover and which events you will travel to. Clarify the terms, otherwise, you will be taken advantage of.

How can a company or organization offer Athletic Trainers a salary of $8.00 / hr? Because they can! They will not change for us nor do they have to. It is up to you and me to influence change. Be proactive in contact negotiation and reactive to any disrespect of your professional self-worth. Athletic Trainers are doing this to a degree, but we need a greater, collaborative effort to influence lasting change.

I’d like to send a thank you to Ryan Wantz, ATC who collaborated with me on the writing of this blog. Ryan is an assistant athletic trainer at Lehigh University and serves as the NATA District 2 representative to the Governmental Affairs Committee. 
The views shared in this post are not necessarily those of the Government Affairs Committee or the NATA, but represent our collective opinion. You can find Ryan on twitter using the handle @WantzATC. 

79 thoughts on “Athletic Trainer Salary: It’s Nobody’s Fault, but Our Own

  1. Melissa Guinn, MS, ATC, LAT

    Josh – fabulous article & things I have been saying about our profession for the last 15 years – people pay these low salaries only because we take the jobs & allow them to do so.

    Bob’s comments are as welcome as a turd in a punch bowl. When you don’t understand the audience you’re about to speak to, you should keep your comments to yourself.

  2. Matthew

    One of the things that will help us to get a higher salary is the ability to bill insurance. Right now, athletic trainers are a drain on a school’s resources. We don’t bring in a profit. We just prevent the school from losing money to potential lawsuits. If we could bill insurance then we could earn our salary through treatment costs. It could make our jobs a lot harder, but depending on how we do it most places would be able to afford at least one secretary to handle the insurance claims. We really need to get medicare and medicaid to recognize sports medicine as a legitimate health care profession. If just those two organizations would recognize us then we would be well on our way to becoming a profitable profession. I could be wrong about that. It’s just the way I see it.

    1. Just sayin

      This is what I was going to post. AT is a money suck. Yes, it’s a great service, but it costs money, money most schools don’t have. PTA’s make more than AT’s because they are revenue producing. Clinics get reimbursed for their services. In CA (don’t know about other states), I can’t bill for AT services.

      2 ways AT salaries go up:
      1. their services are reimbursable from insurance companies
      2. there is some mandate (whether law or school district policy) that high schools to employ AT for their athletic programs, so that they have to budget for it. if this happens, it’s only a matter of time before club teams and little leagues start to utilize AT regularly.

      these are the 2 things NATA should be focused on in the salary fight

      re: matthew’s post: medicare and Medicaid should not be the target. The vast majority of AT will not treat medicare patients, and there is no money in Medicaid. But to his point, somehow the NATA should fight for the ability for AT to use CPT codes and get reimbursed for them.

      and in a slightly related topic, The APTA will fight the NATA about that specific ability. They will argue AT’s do not have the ability to design and implement an effective plan of care (for several reasons). As a PT/ATC, that teaches both PT and AT students, I would agree with that sentiment. But there is no reason that AT can’t function in the same capacity as PTA in the rehab realm. And NATA should fight for AT specific CPT codes related to emergent care and AT specific independent rehab (vs rehab under the supervision of a physician or PT) (I know i’ll catch flak for this last thought, but it’s true).

      1. Don't let yourself be called "trainer!"

        I completely agree with you on your points. One of the significant reasons for the low pay grade includes our inability to bill for our services. My athletes and my students are routinely impressed by what they see and do in the athletic training facility every single day, and we have earned a great respect from our colleagues and athletes at the college I work at. However, it took years of elbow grease, frustration, as well as many meetings of salary comparison and research, in addition to working at 150% every single day to get here. We can’t sit back and wait for someone else to fight the fight- it’s up to US to demonstrate who we are and what we can do.
        Additionally- and this applies to EVERY. SINGLE. ATHLETIC TRAINER. DO NOT allow yourself to be called a “trainer.” Gently and politely correct the offender, and if necessary, provide an explanation of our knowledge base and abilities. Continuing to perpetuate this terminology will only prolong the growth of the profession and the public’s ability to distinguish between a certified athletic trainer and a personal trainer.

  3. Chuck

    Josh, Thank you for composing this article/post! Absolutely love your thoughts on the topic and I urge all my team members and AT students to begin learning the art of negotiations using factual data. I cringe when I learn about these low-wage jobs that are being filled so easily by ATCs! Though I have never put a lot of stock in the NATA, I agree this is an issue that can only be changed/improved by the individual. Self accountability my friends! Sure you may take issue with how the NATA is managed, but they are not the enemy in this situation…we are! I also believe that in order to make a more unified jump to more desirable wages we need to see changes in health insurance that bring AT services into the mix as commonly reimbursed services. Imagine if we can get the majority of insurance companies paying us for services! We would help level out that playing field to a certain extent and see more jobs open up with better wages. That’s my honest opinion and belief. Sure, other things might happen that weren’t expected….but I think getting our profession into the insurance game in a more legitimate fashion is the pink elephant in the room. I’ve worked in a clinic (in a State) where my services as an AT were billable. My salary was much higher than other AT jobs in that same region where the clinic or hospital failed to see the value of having their ATs seeing patients. But I digress. Learn how to negotiate and reap the rewards!

  4. Ton

    Why is anyone surprised by an $8.00/hr position? A full-time position which pays $25,000/yr and averages 60 hours a week makes $8.01/hr.

    If you want to work in collegiate athletics, then you’re going to work extremely long hours and get paid poorly. Just like the SID’s, equipment managers, athletic administrators, and most coaches – this is just the environment. Most staff members in college athletics (besides the AD and the football/basketball coaches) are not well paid – there are plenty of SIDs making $25k. Before you argue that AT’s are different because we are medical professionals, how much do you pay your team physicians??

    As has been said by many others, it’s basic economics.

  5. Paul Higgs MEd, ATC, LAT

    Great post Josh! I agree that these injuries to our profession are largely self-inflicted. I feel all too often we give away our profession when looking for a job, but I feel we short-change ourselves and cheapen our profession on the front end by giving away our skills in the academic setting when we open our “Prevention and Care” or “Intro to Athletic Training” courses to those who have no intention at all of entering the AT profession. We open our courses to those who do not plan to be in our field (PE majors, any college student who needs a few credits to fill up a schedule, high school students in a weekend “clinic”, etc)–willingly teach them skills in taping, evaluation,and rehab techniques–and then wonder why we are not seen as the premier healthcare professional to treat the physically active! We dilute the marketplace with nonprofessionals who can legitimately list on their resume/transcript a cursory understanding of athletic injury management and then we are perplexed why the salaries remain low. What other healthcare discipline routinely teaches an “Intro” class to those not in the field? Have you ever seen an “Intro to Nursing” course on a college campus given to those who were not accepted into the nursing program? How many “Intro to Orthopedics” classes have you seen offered by the local medical school open to the public? If so many can do “our” skills, how can we market those skills as unique and how do we market ourselves as unique professionals if our skills base is diluted across such a huge section of the population. (I do not mean to imply certain skills are “ours” solely as ATs–most belong to the healthcare professions in general–but when we voluntarily give them away to those outside the healthcare field, it cheapens the value of those skills for everyone who uses them.) It is a case of supply and demand: if the supply of those with a certain skill set is high, the demand (and pay) for those positions is not going to be very high.

  6. Joe

    One person making a stand does not make a difference. Multiple people making stands alone do not make a difference. I know this goes against common sense, everything we have seen in movies, and the American way, but it is true. How do I know you ask, because I have made my stand more than once and there has been no effect anywhere.

    When I was younger I took low paying positions to gain professional experience to improve my worth in the profession. I eventually left those low paying positions for a position making $50K, but was the sole ATC at a DI University with 15 sports. I was basically working on call 24/7 and was allowed little to no time off. I fought to get other ATC’s on staff, finally gaining one in April (very near the end of the school year) and had started the process of creating GA positions. There was a change in Athletic Directors and that deal was squashed. I voiced my concerns about the safety of the student athletes and was told “two ATC’s are enough to provide coverage” when I disagreed I was told to take it or leave it. I left. I had to wait tables for a year because I could not find any full time ATC positions or if I did the salaries were not livable.

    I am sure I am not the only ATC with examples like these, I am sure I am not the only one that made the same decisions, decisions that should have helped the profession. As individuals making these stands we offer very little to effect the outcome of the situation. I feel ATC’s need to become unionized in order to be taken seriously…nurses have a union, why can’t we? It is obvious the NATA is not going to help, nor is the BOC. The changes that need to take place need to start at the state of district level and need total involvement by its members, but this may not be enough because ATC’s are willing to move to where the work is and may not be members of that district when applying for a job everyone else in the district has refused due to the uncompetitive salary.

    But I digress, there will be two camps on this topic, those that are happy with their salaries and those of us that are struggling and no amount of arguing or facts will change the way either side feels. I just hope that one day those of us that are struggling to earn what we are worth will get together for a combined voice that will be heard. Until that day, keep busting your jump just to get by.

    1. ATC_guy

      I couldn’t agree more. ATC’s need to unionize. When I applied for my first job I took a low salary position with an outreach PT company to gain experience and begin to pay off my student loans. Years later I don’t find myself making much more than when I started and I hear from individuals who are starting with the same outreach physical therapy company that they are making even less than what I started out at. I thought one day I could just find a job at a well respected high school where the school personally employs the athletic trainer at a reasonable salary, but I’m finding high schools are turning to these outreach PT companies to save money. The only way to stop such a growing trend is to unionize. Union workers have a seat at the negotiating table and do so by proving their worth. Union employees make on average 30% more than non-union workers. Our profession isn’t being taken seriously and it’s disappointing to stand back and watch this happen.To me it isn’t just about money though, it’s about respect.

  7. DW MS, ATC

    I’ve been an ATC for 25 years and I don’t think the low-salary situation is anything new. When I was an undergrad (late 80s), I remember our GAs considering D1/D2 full-time college assistant AT jobs for $12-14k/year. Even in the 80’s, $12k/year wasn’t very much! My first job out of undergrad was at a clinic for $18k. I had the chance to go to PT or PA school, but instead chose to get my masters in Athletic Training (ahh, hindsight).

    A lot of the Athletic Trainers who came before us thought nothing of working 60 or 70 hours/week and scoffed at the PTs and PTAs who refused to work outside of a “Mon-Fri, 9-5” schedule. Unfortunately, back then while the ATs were working, the PTs were planning. Does anyone remember 15 years ago when the job market for PTs was horrible? 1 in 3 new-grad PTs changed professions because they couldn’t find a PT job. How did the APTA respond? They limited the number of new grads nationally, spent a lot of money on lobbying and marketed the heck out of their profession. A couple years ago I was talking to a PT about my difficulty in recruiting PTs for several open positions. I suggested the APTA make larger class sizes and release more grads. He replied that he liked it just the way it was because he needed to pay off his boat and summer cottage. As Paul said, it’s all about supply & demand.

    Today we find ourselves in a situation where the PTs are in a position to dictate the terms of physical medicine & rehabilitation services (including PM&R to athletes). Because of this, they are able to earn big money without ever having to prove themselves simply because of the initials after their name. In fact, not only have they effectively driven us out of “their” domain of the clinic, they are starting to work their way into “our” domain of the athletic training room. How many NFL teams currently have at least one PT on their “sports medicine” staff?

    I’m afraid that we, as a profession, are past the point of “expecting” or “demanding” anything simply because of our degrees. And unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere by comparing ourselves to other health care professionals.

    I’m currently in a management position over a hospital rehab department and I deal with DPTs and masters-level ATCs “expecting” and “demanding” things based on their degrees and credentials. Guess who wins that fight 100% of the time? The ATCs refuse to do anything extra because the “PTs & PTAs don’t have to.” I tell them to stop comparing themselves to the PTs (and PTAs & RNs & PAs & FNPs) and they accuse me of being disloyal to “our profession.” In reality my administration has been trying to eliminate their positions for the past several years. I’m afraid I’m eventually going to lose that battle and it will be a sad day when I have to replace another ATC with a PTA.

    For the AT educators out there… Stop telling your students they are better than anyone else and start telling them to BE better than everyone else. The only thing they “deserve” is a chance to prove themselves, and to keep proving themselves. Tell them to get involved and start shaping the NATA of the 2020’s. We’re pretty far behind in the race and we’re continuing to lose ground, but I believe things can turn around if we stop comparing ourselves and our profession to everyone else and take control of our own future.


    The blog is thought provoking and righteous. Im not going to restate whats been said. As I agree and recognize the disparities in pay and the economics of it. A good dialogue, however, after reading it, we should take a step back and consider something. The other value of athletic training, and Id like to share something amongst us all that might throw some gas on the fire after such an article that is somewhat demoralizing. We can’t change the law of supply and demand, but, collectively, with or without the NATA, we can show how we are different within our own communities.

    My brothers and sisters….

    There is one thing that separates us from a PT. Emergency care and management of catastrophic injuries; including concussions. For the most part the principles of rehab aren’t any different between what an AT or PT learns. But…

    WE ARE DIFFERENT. You had to earn that ATC after your name; and, you had other classes than just rehab, or therapeutic exercise. We are dynamic and versatile, and most importantly, protectors of life. . ATs should never lose sight that you are more than just taping, rehab and while they practice, you are the one that is “minding the flock”.

    Believe in this, and share with others when you are asked, what are you worth…

    I am a Certified Athletic Trainer, and I am of greater value to you than what you think. If you hire me, you will be entrusting to me the most precious thing on this earth. Your students, your children, your parents, your sons, your daughters to me. What is that worth to you? No matter what the score, no matter what the weather. No matter how tired, cold, or hungry I may be, recognize that I am what stands between life and death on this field. Im an athletic trainer, and I am more than water, more than tape. I am a recognized healthcare professional. Who else can do this job or which one of you will run towards the screams of and IED like the ATs and athletic training students did in Boston? Who is going to triage the wounded and plug that gun shot wound in a middle/high school student when you have an active shooter waiting for EMS to come? When your coach goes into cardiac arrest, or someones son suffers commdio cordis, which among you is willing to take responsibility and act when the time comes? Can you detect a partially collapsed lung, or manage that brain stem contusion from a lax ball to the base of the skull? Should the team bus be in an accident, which of you wants a PTA or a PT to be on that bus to manage those injuries? Which of you wants to make that call on the sidelines, at the State Championships that someones son or daughter should sit because of a concussion, then have it out with the ignorant coach to protect the player for the sake of their parents, to say nothing of protecting the institution that sits across from me now? This is why you want a Certified Athletic Trainer, not a PT, or PTA. That is why I’m sitting across this desk from you and they aren’t, because of who I chose to be. Remember one thing, I promise you this, in the end, I will be there for my team/patient/staff member/service member in every victory, or death. It is more than tape, water, and rehab. It is about placing the lives of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in my hands. Its protecting yours and your job as well. Im a Certified Athletic Trainer. What is that worth to you?


    1. DW MS, ATC

      Derek, I completely agree with what you’re saying – that ATCs should be recognized as the gold athletic emergency responders (to paraphrase your excellent description). Unfortunately, there are some states with scopes of practice which permit PTs (and sometimes others) to practice in this (our) domain.

      My state recently enacted legislation regarding concussion management of athletes, and the definition of who can care for an athlete with a concussion (including return-to-play clearance) includes PTs and Chiropractors because of the way they defined “licensed healthcare professionals). I think RNs may also be included.

      I know of a situation in another state where a PT (who is an instructor in a university PT program) regularly goes out and “covers” sporting events. This guy isn’t an ATC, but he took a couple continuing ed classes on spinal injury and concussion management and has deemed himself qualified to do these things – and it’s all within his “scope of practice” because in order for the AT licensure legislation to get passed, the PTs forced a loophole so that they could practice in our domain, but we can’t practice in theirs.

      The PTs used to complain that we were infringing on their “turf” by working in clinics, and now it seems as though they are paying us back in spades!

  9. Nick

    I remember my undergrad cirriculum director saying that the reason Athletic Trainers make $25,000 a year is because someone is always willing to take the job. He also said that it is a mentality that needed to change a long time ago. I knew that I would never be a wealthy man as an athletic trainer, which seemed reasonable before I had a family, but then reality set in. My wife is also and ATC and when we decided to start a family I quickly realized that something had to change. I loved being an athletic trainer, but I love my family more. I miss it to this day, but instead of fighting a perceived losing battle I decided to use my education and knowledge to begin a career as an orthopedic sales rep. This is only one of the many avenues that an ATC can explore to have a successful career. I continue to use my knowledge everyday in surgery with doctors and I feel that I can continue to help patients, just in a different way. And for any of the condescending PT’s/OT’s reading this, you only wish you could make as much money as this ex ATC is making.

  10. Eric

    This is exactly the reason I left this career. The insurance industry thinks ATC’s aren’t trained enough to pay for billable services that are given in a PT clinic. Until the NATA can figure out how to correct this ATC’s will always be the low man on the totem pole. I feel bad for ATC’s today. It doesn’t matter what credentials you have the pay will always be sub-par. I miss not being an ATC, I LET MY LICENSE EXPIRE. I wasn’t going to go back to that stressful and liable job plus now I can provide for my family with a different career.

    1. Coach S

      As a female, ATC I fought the good fight for years and years. Was passionate about my profession, my athletes, my education, and was a voice to be heard regarding CTE’s. and how to effectivley create change. I personally moved on and developed a broader resume not just due to the lack of pay, but more for the complete lack of respect and support (especially in California)
      Coach S

  11. john zuluaga

    This can also be said for graduate assistants trying to earn a masters and be competive in the job market. It is as if we need to accept that we need to work 35+ hours a week, but a contract that we sign states that we are to work 20 hours and will only be paid for 20 hours a week! From the beginning of our careers we are in a false reality, but are we dont know any better because thats what we see during student observations and are eager to work and make a positive impression.

  12. Dave ATC

    I have been an ATC for 15 years and really do love my job of working in both the PT rehab side and with HS athletes. As for the $8.00 an hour job, i really dont know who in their right mind would take that, but i also don’t know how badly they might need it.
    Over the years i have known some Incredibly intellegent PT that do outstanding work, but I have also seen the other side of things where the treating therapist just does the same treatment over and over again for weeks until the patient is out of benifits. When i do see that, i like to ask the therapist if we can start a more functional exercise plan and advance the pt. Usually this is welcomed and the patient responds well referring more buisness. Overall, this doesn’t help my pay in the short term, but it shows some of my knowledge on the treatment side and it develops a mutual respect from the PTs. Over the years and being with the same employer for 13 years has put me in a reasonable comfortable position. I dont expect to make as much as PTs and i definitely dont want their job with the mountain of paperwork that is needed. Between insurance companies looking for any reason not to pay and the government reducing payment for services making everybody jump through hoops to get paid. It wouldn’t suprise me if PT’s saleries get stagnant or start dropping with new grads coming into the field.
    As for my athletes and students that are interested in becoming an ATC i tell them like it is. You will not get rich and you’ll work a ton of hours. Raising a family will be extremely difficult and when your sick and running a fever throwing up and your the only ATC, well that football game is still on the schedule. Granted maybe you can find coverage, but all the ATCs in your area all have the same game schedule, so your just going to have to suck it up.
    As for the furture of my profession, i don’t see any big changes happening for the better. The entire healthcare system is not about making the patient better, its all about money. Personally, i would much rather work one on one with an athlete towards getting them better, stronger, faster and having that satisfaction of making a difference in their lives then just going through the motions and making a bigger salary then the patient or athlete is just brought to a level of their ADL’s.
    The only other advise i give students interested in becoming an ATC is to take courses or read a lot of books on investing their money. If you can’t make the paycheck then pay yourself. Sorry thats a little off topic, but something that most people know nothing about.

  13. Justin ATC, CSCS

    This blog post sounds like numerous conversations I have had with classmates and colleagues over the years (many of whom are no longer ATCs). While I have only been an ATC for a few years, I have quickly come to realize that if I want my salary to reflect my love for this profession, I would need amazing negotiating skills or I should choose a similar profession (PT). Unfortunately, negotiating can only go so far when there are numerous applicants with similar experiences and skills who are willing to take far less than what you’re expecting. I decided to go into PT school not for the title or money, but to ensure that I have less of a chance to be undervalued with my knowledge (plus being an ATC/PT can open more doors).

    It’s sad when I go to conferences and so many people I know are there simply for networking because they can’t find a decent job that pays well. So many people I know would have rather gone into PT school (because many people decided that they only wanted to work with athletes and not ‘old people’), teach, or get into sales.

    The Athletic Training profession (and I’m talking about the members here) needs to make a serious change. The ones with good paying jobs won’t rock the boat because they’re living well. The ones who have bad paying jobs where they work 60+ hours a week including weekends are too mentally drained to take a stand against the NATA or congress or whoever. The newly graduated AT with a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s still believes that they will get a job as the Head AT at a D1 school or professional team not even realizing the sacrifices they will have to make. So who’s going to do it? Who do we talk to? Congress? the President of the United States? Seriously, from reading everyone’s post here, the trend has been the same since the 1980s, so who’s to say things will change now?

    I’m hoping that I find reason to keep my license and membership with the NATA after I graduate from PT school. Like DSATCPES said earlier, there are things that all ATCs can do that PTs can’t. But if those things include being overworked and underpaid, then I will no longer keep my membership. The fact that the NATA is only 30000 members strong considering how many schools there are in this country that teach Athletic Training should be alarming, don’t you think?

  14. Zack

    Hello Josh,

    I am about to start college and go into Athletic Training. After reading this, it’s safe to say I’m having second thoughts about going into this field. I love sports and always thought being an athletic trainer would suite me perfectly, this seems quite alarming. Do you have any other advice about getting involved with athletic training? If you have the chance to email me, I’d love to find out from someone first hand. Thanks.


    1. Joshua Stone Post author

      First and foremost, thank you for this comment. I apologize for the long delay in getting back to you. I was not notified of this comment and it just sat there in my spam folder.

      Well, I do not want to deter you from Athletic Training. The profession is growing. Athletic Trainers are getting more respect. Athletic Training degrees are no moving to entry-level masters programs which will further enhance the education.

      The purpose of my post is that there are a lot of sub-par athletic trainers who complain and want respect, when frankly they do nothing about it. Athletic Training can be a great career. I love it. However, you get out of it what you put in.
      If you are a good student and work hard, impress your superiors you will be set-up to work in the best situations. Hope that helps.

  15. Pingback: AT Compensation Issues – Hoover's Blog

  16. Monica

    I’m a Kinesiology grad student who was Pre PT in my undergrad. I work with AT’s and hear these conversations often. I know I’m 2 years late to this conversation, but I think it’s worth commenting. Without a doubt, AT’s are the most educated in treating sport related injuries in athletics populations. However, if you put down the pitchforks and hear me out, there are multiple reasons for the pay discrepancy between AT’s and PTs.
    1. PT’s entering field now must have a minimum of doctoral degree, an AT is only required to have a Bachelor’s degree. This means a PT will be in college a minimum of 6-7 years, and will emerge with about $100K in debt (just for PT program).
    2. PT’s coursework is more diverse. They are educated in pharmacology, geriatrics, prosthetics, neuroscience, neurorehab, neurophysiology, cardio rehab, wound care, vestibular rehab. To the best of my knowledge and research, AT coursework doesn’t include aforementioned coursework.
    3. Not all states require AT’s to be licensed to practice AT. All states mandate certification for PT’s.

    It seems like it should be obvious when deciding your major and profession, you choose one that will meet your needs in life. If $25k isn’t enough, why not choose another profession? For example, you could be a sports medicine doc and make over $200K a year doing very similar duties with a fraction of the demands.

    I empathize and have a lot of respect for AT’s, however, can you really expect to make as much as someone with a doctoral degree with a undergrad or masters? Also, let’s be honest, yes you’re working a lot, but you’re spending a lot of time on sidelines watching games that you enjoy. A PT is stuck in a clinic all day.

    1. Joshua Stone Post author

      Sadly, your comment, especially the last two sentences, will bring out pitchforks. To be honest, you deserve it. I’ve worked both in a clinic all day and on the sidelines. The sidelines watching my favorite sport is much worse than the 9-5 clinic. This is part why I am no longer doing that.

      For the most part, everything you said is accurate. I agree with you on almost all of your thoughts.

      As an FYI, Athletic Training is in the process of transitioning an entry-level masters degree. A bachelors degree will no longer be accepted once this current class goes through.

  17. Doug

    I completely agree with you Josh… but what it comes down to is a low salary is better than no salary. I’ll take $8.00/hr and living off Ramen over $0.00/hr begging for food. Honestly, if I could go back and do my Freshman year all over… I would study gender roles of medieval France before I ever did Athletic Training again. My AT degree is basically a useless, $40,000 joke.

  18. Jenny

    Hey! I am a college student athlete that is about to begin a 4 year bachelor that specializes in AT… after reading these comments, I also feel a little discouraged to go this path. I am in Canada and to become an AT here, you need a four year undergrad in a related field ( i.e kinesiology) and then a two year after grad certificate program. The bachelor program I am enrolling in is new and the only one in Alberta that offers the four year program. I initially got into AT because I was injured last season and was treated by an AT that specializes in concussions. I loved it, and applied to the AT program right away.

    I was super excited when I got in but now doubts are roaming in my mind; I am thinking I should just finish my bachelor of kinesiology in 2 years ( 2 years worth of my college courses transfer to the university) then see what doors open. Or I could move to another city and just take the risk of entering the four year AT program.

    The issue with finishing kinesiology – to get into an AT or PT program in Canada, you need a 3.9 and. 3.86 respectively to make the cutoff. Going into the AT program would definitely make it less feasible for me to maintain my 3.96 GPA so that is a worry I have if I decided PT is the better path for me afterwards, but at least I am in it and don’t have to worry about applying for the two year after degree once I have completed my bachelor. Whereas finishing a Kinesiology degree may keep doors open, but if I flop in school then my doors to both AT and PT would close due to how competitive they are now! So you can see I have a dilemma of whether to just finish an undergrad in two years then stress about which after program to go into, or to just go into AT now and deal with both the pros and cons of this profession.

    If you have any thoughts or advice you’d like to share in terms of job outlook, billing for ATs nowadays and so on please feel free to reply!!


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