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.