The University of Michigan Athletic Training master’s program is sailing into its second year following a successful first-year cohort of 15 students.
The program began transitioning from a bachelor’s to a master’s level in response to a 2015 national mandate from the AT Strategic Alliance, which is comprised of four key athletic training organizations. The transition was “essential to ensuring our future ability to meet the expectations of the health care team, to continuing to improve patient outcomes, and to keeping our profession sustainable for generations to come,” the alliance said via a press release.
Dr. Brian Czajka, clinical assistant professor of Athletic Training and director of Athletic Training education, said the high caliber of students made the transition easy. They came from across the US and world to join the inaugural cohort. “They're not necessarily coming here just to take advantage of what we have in Ann Arbor,” Czajka said. “They're here to be educated well and to have opportunities elsewhere. We're providing that, and that's great.”
Students hit the ground running from the moment they step into the classroom. Dr. Adam Lepley, clinical associate professor of Applied Exercise Science, Athletic Training, and Movement Science, serves as the program’s clinical education coordinator. He found that faculty can go more in-depth with master’s students, digging deeper into the injury mechanisms and how people respond to them. “We’re able to give students a wider range of knowledge than we could at the undergraduate level,” he explained.
AT master’s student Payton James came into the program two years removed from her undergraduate degree. She had very little athletic training experience, but with a background in neurobiology and experience as a former rower at the University of Wisconsin, she quickly got up to speed. She also found the faculty to be very supportive.
“Getting launched right back into so much school was a little wild, but it was a great way to get to know the other people in my program, as well as Adam and Brian,” James said. “Adam and Brian want you to succeed; it’s their number-one goal. When things got challenging, Brian would host more reviews, and Adam made sure he went over everything before the exam. They were there to make sure we were going to be as successful as possible.”
Fellow AT master's student Jacquelin Kluge said she felt “shell-shocked” walking into the classes that were smaller than she had experienced during her undergraduate days. She also found the curriculum to be refreshingly different. “The things we study in the program are much more in-depth and there is so much more detail and hands-on experiences, which I like,” Kluge said. She enjoyed going immediately into the lab to put into practice what she learned earlier in class that day.
AT master’s student Justin Wagler had never taped an ankle before coming to U-M. The classroom experiences helped prep him for his clinical rotations with U-M men’s ice hockey and U-M women’s softball. “To have that classroom experience, where you get to learn all the foundations of everything and then put it into practice, is really helpful just for learning and to be able to go on to your future career,” Wagler said.
When they aren’t in the classroom, students are gaining first-hand experience in clinical settings across the university through partnerships with Michigan Athletics, Michigan Medicine, and University Health Service. They also have off-campus rotations at Eastern Michigan University, Concordia University, and Ann Arbor Public Schools. “[Students are] not only getting world-class educational opportunities, but they’re also working with world-class athletes and medical professionals. They get a lot of exposure to how it should be done and the right people that are doing the right things,” Lepley said.
Students also have a required semester-long immersion rotation, where they work 40 hours a week at a clinical site of their choosing. They become “fully immersed in the day-to-day life of an athletic trainer,” Lepley said. This requirement also gives students an idea of what their chosen career will actually be like. “It's good to see the whole picture, so you know exactly where you're getting into,” Czajka said. “Students will have ideas about working in the NFL, professional baseball, or in a clinic, and if they don't have the full view of what that's like, then they might get surprised by something and have to make a change.”
The only limit to these experiences is the students’ imagination. Lepley has coordinated rotations with Amazon, the Detroit Tigers, the University of Washington, Houston Ballet, and Detroit Medical Center, to name a few. “Our students are very ambitious, and they want to do these high-level types of experiences,” he said. “We have gotten to explore our alumni base and the different connections we have.”
Students can complete their immersions when they feel the time is right for them. Kluge knew she wanted to complete hers during the winter sports season, so she worked with Lepley to find an immersion experience at Harvard University with the men’s volleyball team. Kluge said all it took was a 20-minute Zoom call to set everything up.
Now that the AT master’s program is up and running, the school’s next step is to continue recruiting students and growing the cohorts.
Lepley had nothing but praise for the work Charlene Ruloff, graduate student affairs manager, and Tahirah Gimson, graduate student affairs coordinator, have done with AT student recruitment. They have been distributing informational packets to advising offices and kinesiology programs at universities across the US, and hosting virtual open houses for prospective students.
Lepley added that the new School of Kinesiology Building is one of the unsung heroes of the program. “I’ve been at a variety of places, and most athletic training classrooms are in cinder block rooms located in the basement. The ability for our classes to have access to windows and state-of-the-art equipment is awesome,” he said.
Ultimately, a passion for sports and science is the foundation of the AT master’s program. “Athletic training is the perfect mix of being involved in athletics at all different levels and working in the healthcare provider role to treat and take care of people in a setting you love,” Wagler said