A hands-on profession like athletic training requires unique approaches during a pandemic, and MTSU professors found them.
So that their students could perform their experiential learning commitments for MTSU Athletics and at off-campus locations, associate professor Helen Binkley and instructor Kristi Phillips of the Department of Health and Human Performance implemented protocols that kept their students’ education on course.
In the middle of the spring 2020 semester when the urgent need to do something outstripped the collective total of society’s knowledge about COVID-19, it was not that easy to position athletic training majors in places that would enable them to get the practical experience they needed.
“There really were no places that felt comfortable letting our students into that situation,” Phillips said.
By mid-July 2020, one clinic accepted students, who, of course, had to follow both MTSU and clinic guidelines. At the end of summer, students were also being accepted at other physical therapy clinics and high schools. Students assigned to MTSU athletics had to be tested for COVID twice a week.
“It made us be able to come back to function a lot quicker than a lot of the other disciplinary areas on campus,” Binkley said.
Masks, social distancing and hand-washing were all part of the students’ routine. If the clients preferred, the students would wear gloves, although gloves were not mandatory. Phillips said most high school and college athletes did not voice objections to pandemic protocols.
“If they came in without a mask on, let’s say, they were told that they had to leave and go back to the locker room or whatever,” Phillips said.
Phillips said the faculty are looking forward to a more typical semester in fall 2021, but the pandemic experience provides them with valuable insights they can implement going forward.
“Because athletic trainers were used in a variety of ways during the pandemic that were outside of the traditional job description, I believe that we will see more opportunities for our students as far as clinical rotations,” Phillips said. “Seeking out these less traditional clinical sites will certainly provide students with more skills and broaden opportunities for the profession.”
Athletic training majors prepare for a much wider variety of careers than just sports. They work in industrial settings to show workers how to employ ergonomically safe ways of doing physical labor.
They also can work in the performing arts, in the military or as assistants to physicians. Some become nurse practitioners or continue their training to qualify as physicians’ assistants or physical therapists.
Phillips said that the pandemic adjustments helped faculty discover that they could use technology in more ways than previously imagined, which could be another benefit for fall 2021 students.
“(Video conferencing) has been … used to check in with students at their clinical sites,” Phillips said. “I have been using this as a mechanism to visit with students and their preceptors this summer (as they) complete their practicums in their hometowns. I can see using Zoom in these ways this fall and even into the future.”
However, Binkley said that without hands-on experience, whether the MTSU students were assigned to on-campus or off-campus duties while the university adjusted to pandemic conditions, their graduation would have been postponed.
“Most of the people who go into athletic training are hands-on learners,” Binkley said. “If they’re not hands-on, it’s hard to keep their attention. It’s hard to keep their focus. They don’t learn it as well.”
Since the profession is concerned with people’s health and welfare by definition, the athletic training program had sort of a head start on some other academic disciplines.
“We already had a communicable disease policy in our manual for the students,” Binkley said. “We’re health care providers, so we should lead by example.”
–Gina K. Logue (email@example.com)