MELISSA — It has been National Athletic Trainers Month the month of March, the annual event of recognition is held every March by the National Athletic Trainers Association [NATA] in order to spread awareness about the vital role athletic trainers play in providing healthcare.

Athletic trainers are health care professionals who provide treatment, usually in collaboration with a physician, if the case demands it. Outside of that, athletic trainers provide a slew of treatments and services: injury prevention, health education, emergent care, examination and diagnosis, and rehabilitation of injuries to name a few.

Nichola St. James and Jose Mendez, first-year co-athletic trainers for Melissa high school and middle school, discussed their positions as health care providers as well as highlighting both the growth and pushback the athletic training profession continues to experience.

“We are definitely to having a greater force for athletic trainers,” St. James said of the growing career field, “we are starting to see trainers in all different roles now, from the military to doctors offices, but there’s still that push for athletic trainers being recognized as health care providers. It’s not just tape and ice and water, there’s actually that medical knowledge in the background which has been the big focus for NATA this year… we work with orthopedists, eye doctors, dentists, nurses, and so on who recognize the work we do as health care. However, its the people on the outside we are still trying to reach with that message.”

Athletic trainers can receive pushback that perhaps a pediatrician or dentist wouldn’t when it comes to their diagnosis and treatments. With all sports having the potential to cause injury, it is vital for athletic trainers to have the knowledge and ability to recognize an injury, treat the injury, and overall help the athlete get back to performing without the hindrance of a nagging injury. Unfortunately, athletic trainers diagnosis can sometimes be questioned by those who aren’t fully aware of their expertise.

“Most of the time when there’s pushback, its parents who really want the best for their kids and want to push them to be their best,” St. James explained, “and there’s a fine line between ‘I’m sore and it hurts’ and ‘I’m injured and this really hurts,’ and it takes some experience to be able to tell the difference and unfortunately most students have to experience that difference to fully understand it themselves… but that first ankle sprain, pulled hamstring, thrown out shoulder or elbow and being able to educate the coaches and parents saying, ‘hey this is what this injury looks like, this is how long it takes, and these are the steps we need to follow for them to get healthy.’ Personally, there hasn’t been much of that pushback here [Melissa] but I know there’s a lot of athletic trainers where that’s a constant battle for them.”

“There’s some communities who for one reason or another, are not fully aware of what athletic training is,” Mendez added, “which in turn leads to a struggle to see what we do. They may still view us as the people who give ice and ibuprofen, but I think as we are growing and we as a profession grow, people are starting to see us as a health care profession, so it’s starting to take away that stigma that we aren’t healthcare professionals… in terms of pushback it’ll be more dependent on whether the parents aren’t aware of the situation or medically don’t know, and of course there will be a few students who aren’t very ‘mentally tough,’ so to speak where they’ll be claiming to have a severe injury when really its just a sprain. But, as Nichola said, those are all education based misunderstandings.”

Athletic trainers are constantly working towards educating the communities in which they work, having that mutual understanding can help prevent a child from developing that debilitating or athletic career ending injury. Some student-athletes may be stubborn and want to play through that strained hamstring, not completely thinking about the potential for that nagging ache to turn into a full-blown months-long injury.

“Getting outside the community a little bit and providing education to the community itself is super important,” St. James said, “maybe you don’t have a student in high school, maybe your child is in elementary or middle school and their parents never experience athletics or an injury, they understandably might be unaware of what we do and how readily available we are to help their child. So, we really try to educate our students and parents… we have a great coaching staff and great athletic directors who help push that education, which in turn, helps us provide the best care we can… it’s also important to be open and honest with the students who come in with an injury. Sometimes students may not always get that harsh honesty from all the adults in their lives, because when they understand they can buy into their situation. That way they are more motivated to put effort into rehab, its less demoralizing to have to sit out and watch their team play, because they understand the end-goal and that we are fighting to try and get them healthy.”

The Melissa ISD has grown significantly which has granted them the ability to get a high-quality training room with some of the best equipment available. With athletic events at the high school and middle school level and practices, Mendez and St. James are working almost around the clock to be accessible for students health care needs.

“Melissa really wanted a program that stood out,” Mendez said, “they excel in everything from athletics to academics, and when they hired both of us they wanted us to create a program that is going to allow students to gain the knowledge, the experience and to create possible future opportunities for them. We’ve both made athletic training programs at our previous schools so we knew coming in what we needed to be done and had that end-goal in mind… she [St. James] has done an incredible job at the middle school bridging those kids up to high school level. Taking trips like going to the Dallas Stars hockey game and seeing their training room with the kids, just yesterday day we went to Baylor Scott and White in Frisco touring those facilities.”

With these programs, there has been a large uptick in interest towards the athletic training field. Melissa had previously three student athletic trainers at the high school level, volunteering with the team and learning basic athletic training skills. They now have twelve student athletic trainers at the high school level and eight at the middle school level. St. James and Mendez hope to keep up the fantastic work they’ve begun in Melissa, continuing to provide care and education to the Melissa community and student-athletes who have been nothing but welcoming towards their new athletic trainers.