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Caring for the Student Athlete

November 22, 2011

Caring for the Student Athlete

Pilot Program Places Certified Athletic Trainers in Local Schools

 

Participating in team sports during high school helps students build a foundation for better health going into adulthood. However, they are not without risk. In fact, high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year, according to statistics cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In an effort to prevent and address student athletics injuries early on, Washington Hospital’s Sports Medicine Program has partnered with two local high schools for a pilot program to serve the needs of student athletes.

With funding from Washington Hospital, there is now a certified athletic trainer (ATC) at Irvington High School, a first for the school. At James Logan High School, the program has placed an additional athletic trainer to assist the school’s full-time trainer with the large student athlete population. Both trainers operate under the supervision of medical director, Russell Nord, M.D., a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon with advanced training in sports medicine.

"In general, it is important for any injured person to have access to timely medical care," Dr. Nord explains. "Certain injuries such as partial ligament tears, certain types of meniscal injuries or even some fractures that haven’t moved out of place may not be obvious to the casual observer."

In the case of student athletes who go undiagnosed, they may try to play through one of these injures, causing the condition to worsen and potentially make the recovery more prolonged or less complete, he adds.

"A timely evaluation by an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist can minimize the chances of one of these events occurring," he says.

By placing certified athletic trainers at the schools, Dr. Nord says small injuries can be identified and treated by the certified athletic trainers and treatment for more complex issues are easily expedited.

"Most injuries are minor and are treated by the ATC without ever involving a physician," according to Dr. Nord. "These include minor contusions or sprains. However, we have also seen a number of more serious injuries including concussions, ligament tears to the knee and elbow, and dislocations of the knee, elbow and fingers."

He also points out that the athletic trainers can help prevent injured students from falling through the cracks.

"The medical system can be difficult for anyone to navigate," he says. "Our program places a certified athletic trainer (ATC) onsite, and that ATC serves as an advocate to the injured athlete, ensuring that they are seen by an appropriate medical provider quickly."

Dr. Nord says response to the program has already been enormous, particularly at Irvington High School, which didn’t previously have an athletic trainer.

"I must have had greater than 10 comments that they don’t know how they were functioning previously; the parents and coaches at Irvington have just been so thankful," he says. "At James Logan, they have such a huge population that it was physically impossible for one athletic trainer to attend to all of them.

"My hope is that there will be a strong response, and the program will be effective enough to expand to other local schools."

Mike Rogers, Washington Hospital’s manager of Off-Site Services, explains that the hospital chose James Logan and Irvington High Schools prior to attempting it at other areas schools simply because both had the infrastructure in place to launch the program successfully.

"We initially planned to roll out the program at one high school," according to Rogers. "We chose Irvington because they have their SHAPE Program in place, where students apply as freshman, and they take specific classes. Physical education classes for these students are a little more extensive, and they also focus on areas like sports therapy and nutrition."

With equipment, tables, supplies, and high school kids able to assist the trainer, he says the only thing the school was missing to make the program work was an ATC to treat the athletes.

"It was a good school set up to succeed as a pilot program," he says. "The thought is, if this can be successful, we can make them full-time and roll out to other schools in the area."

After Dr. Nord started working with the athletic trainer and athletes at Logan—and found that there was only one ATC on staff to serve 1500 athletes—the decision was made to place a part-time assistant trainer to help with the workload, Rogers says.

He also points out that this level of sports medicine coverage for student athletes hasn’t been widely available in the area, which is something Washington Hospital is looking to change.

"In other parts of the Bay Area, almost everyone has someone on staff as an ATC," Rogers says. "Staffing schools with trainers is really beneficial to the student athlete population. There’s a large percentage of injuries that occur at practice, not games, and the only requirement is that you have someone at home football games. All the rest of the time, you have students getting injured, and the coaches have to treat students to the best of their ability, or these athletes play while injured.

"Nobody is taking care of them, and we want to change that."

Dr. Nord agrees that the need is clearly there, which is why the hospital is funding a pilot program.

"I think the first step in any outreach is to determine need, and there has certainly been a need for this program," he says. "With budgetary cuts, very few schools have the ability to provide their own ATC. This leaves the burden on coaches to determine injury severity, pull athletes from competition or practice, and organize medical care. Coaches are busy enough and aren’t trained to act specifically in this capacity. By providing ATCs for the local schools, the Washington Hospital Sports Medicine Program is able to transfer this responsibility to ATCs, who have appropriate medical training and ensure that injured athletes get the care they need in an expeditious manner."

Calling all athletes

To find an orthopedic specialist near you, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Find My Physician." If you’re an injured athlete—student or not—the Washington Hospital Sports Medicine Program can help. For more information about the program, call (510) 608-1320, or visit www.whhs.com/services/sports.

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