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There’s An AT for That

There’s An AT for That

March is National Athletic Training Month and the Washington Hospital Healthcare System (WHHS) Sports Medicine program is celebrating its high school athletic trainers.

In 2010, Russell Nord, MD, the medical director of Washington Sports Medicine, observed a need for a comprehensive sports injury treatment and prevention program for area high school athletes. Two years later, working with Fremont Unified School District (FUSD), the Sports Medicine Program provided an athletic trainer (AT) to work at a pilot high school covering practices and special events. Due to the success of the program, two more FUSD high schools were added. The partnerships with the school district grew when the last two district high schools were added, along with Newark Memorial High School. This provided athletic trainers on-site full time in each of the six high schools on a daily basis. Mike Rogers, ATC, director of WHHS Off-site Services, said the WHHS outreach program is a match made in athletic heaven.

Head-to-Toe Care

“Our on-site athletic trainers are there to provide immediate and emergency care, injury prevention and therapeutic intervention,” Rogers said. “In partnership with the school districts, they are on campus every day, covering practices, special events and games to provide care for any athlete that may get injured.”

Dr. Nord further explained, “Athletic trainers are on hand to examine, assess and diagnose any athletic injuries. They then work hand-in-hand with sports medicine physicians if the student athlete needs further evaluation and treatment.”

He continued, “Athletic training programs in local schools are crucial for providing valuable support to the community, filling the void in medical care for injured athletes, and preventing long-term damage through proper care and prevention.

“In the absence of ATs, the coach has to be a de facto medical professional, and that’s not their forte. Ideally, you want someone with the knowledge and training to make important decisions about an athlete’s safety and then find the right way to get them back to play and keep them safe. Embedding athletic trainers in the schools is the best way to ensure that.”

Playing to Win

Washington Sport Medicine ATs are the first point of contact for athletes experiencing injuries, many of which happen during practice. “More than 60% of injuries happen in practice, not in a game,” Rogers explained. “So if you only provide health care coverage for games, you're missing the bulk of injuries. Athletic Trainers also serve as a safety net for the school to ensure the student is cleared to play, taking the pressure off the coach.”

California has instituted special rules for athletes who have suffered concussions during practice or sporting events. The school-based ATs are vitally important to make sure students follow the state guidelines before they return to play.

“If you get diagnosed with a concussion, you have to go through a minimum of a seven-day guided return to play,” Rogers explained. “Having someone on campus every day allows the AT to monitor and run these athletes through the protocol, verifying they are passing each stage without increasing symptoms. Then the AT will get with our sports medicine physicians for their assessment and the final approval to go back to athletic activities.”

Health Care Professionals

Like most clinical health care workers, athletic trainers must stay current with industry developments and complete 50 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain certification.

Each of the six high schools in the Washington Sports Medicine Program were designated as Safe Sports School by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, some of the first public schools in California to earn the distinction. The schools first earned highest level of the award in 2020 and were recently renewed for another three years. The Safe Sports School program was created to recognize secondary schools around the country that provide the safest environments for student athletes and reinforces the importance of providing the best level of injury prevention and treatment.

Community Benefit

Dr. Nord firmly believes placing athletic trainers in local schools is crucial to provide valuable support to the community, filling the void in medical care for injured athletes, and preventing long-term damage through proper care and prevention. The Washington Sports Medicine Program also provides annual athletic physicals for students at each of the six participating high schools for a nominal fee. The money received is donated back to the schools to be used for their individual athletic programs.

“Aside from helping our local athletes, the athletic trainer element of Washington’s Sports Medicine Program represents a point of pride and a shining example of community-based collaboration between FUSD, NUSD and WHHS. It’s something all parties can certainly be proud of,” Dr. Nord stated. The program is a financial collaboration between WHHS and the school districts.

“Washington Hospital definitely deserves a lot of credit for having the vision to see the community need years ago,” Dr. Nord continued. “It started after we were observing what happens in the absence of athletic trainers; when an athlete is injured it's often initially unclear whether it's a serious injury or not. At that point, there just really wasn't anyone interfacing with the athletes who had the knowledge base and the training to make those decisions and get the athletes back to playing, all while keeping them safe. Now, with our outstanding athletic trainers, our student athletes are much safer.”

To learn more about the Washington Sports Medicine Program, visit To read more about Dr. Russell Nord, visit