It may be tempting to lump athletic trainers in with aerobics instructors, bodybuilding coaches and other professions in the fitness and recreation sector, but there's a little more to their work than simply helping someone exercise. Athletic trainers are actually health care professionals who work to prevent, diagnose and treat muscle and bone injuries. Often, these medical technical professionals are part of a team and work under the supervision of a physician to help people from all walks of life.
Athletic trainers may work with diverse populations including children, military personnel and professional sports teams. Depending on their client and work setting, they may do the following:
Evaluate injuries and provide emergency care as needed.
Develop rehabilitation plans and carry them out.
Create fitness programs and plans to avoid athletic injuries.
Keep records on injuries and treatment plans.
Those with the right combination of education and skills will find job prospects for athletic trainers are on the rise. What's more, these professionals often earn above average wages for the services they provide.
How much do athletic trainers make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic trainers in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $45,730 in 2014. The bottom 10 percent of earners made $27,610 or less that year, and the top 10 percent earned $67,070 or more.
The industry where athletic trainers find work typically has significant influence over individual salary expectations. The BLS data includes facts about the highest-paying industries for athletic trainers, including their 2014 mean annual salary figures. These are:
- Business, professional, labor, political and similar occupations: $72,800
- Performing arts companies: $58,400
- Elementary and secondary schools: $53,860
- Specialty hospitals (except psychiatric and substance abuse): $51,310
- Junior colleges: $50,600
Of course, salaries also vary throughout the nation. The BLS found that New Jersey and Washington, D.C., were the highest paying regions for athletic trainers in 2014, but those areas also rank among the most expensive in terms of cost of living. Here are a few states where each dollar from an athletic trainer salary will go farther, relatively speaking, based on the cost of living ranking from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) for the first quarter of 2015:
- Georgia: $45,460 annual mean wage; ranks 10th in affordability
- Texas: $54,010 annual mean wage; ranks 13th in affordability
- Nebraska: $46,550 annual mean wage; ranks 18th in affordability
- Virginia: $47,510 annual mean wage; ranks 20th in affordability
Athletic trainers are licensed or otherwise regulated in 47 states, and these individuals must meet specific education requirements. A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution is a must for employment in all but the rarest cases, and some candidates will go on to earn a master's degree or higher before seeking employment.
Since the curriculum at most athletic trainer schools includes clinical requirements, entirely online degree programs are unlikely to be available. However, science prerequisites and the courses that are needed to maintain certification may be available online. Online courses in business, organizational finance or management can be found as well, for those graduates looking to move into leadership positions.
While many athletic trainers spend their career working directly with clients, there are other types of jobs available for these professionals. Some may move into administrative positions or head up athletic training departments. Others may be employed by colleges and universities as instructors for the next generation of trainers.
Projected career growth
Deeper understanding of athletic risks and advancements in injury prevention technique and technology are expected to drive growth in job opportunities for athletic trainers in the coming years. The BLS estimates jobs for athletic trainers in the U.S. will grow 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is well above average and should lead to nearly 5,000 new jobs in the field.
Most of these jobs are expected to emerge in post-secondary schools and the offices of health practitioners, but hospitals and fitness and recreation centers will also experience increased demand for the skills that athletic trainers bring to the job market. States that employed comparatively high numbers of athletic trainers in 2014 include Illinois, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Athletic trainers shouldn't be confused with fitness trainers or the instructors at your local gym. Instead, these are highly trained professionals who help people stay healthy and safe both on the field and off. If you think this career might be a good fit for you, the next step is to request additional information from athletic trainer schools and degree programs.
1. Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm
2. Occupational Employment and Wages: Athletic Trainers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
3. Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm