Examining an Athletic Trainer's Role in Patient Care

Athletic trainer Erin Ulrich takes care of a student-athlete on the sidelines at Lebanon Valley College

Erin Ulrich, clinical education coordinator and assistant professor of athletic training, shares how her recent community experience highlights trends in medicine toward a patient-centered model and interprofessional collaborated practice with various professionals working together.

Operating under the direction of a physician, athletic trainers are in the unique situation to often to be thought of as primary care providers.1 As athletic trainers, we are frequently the first point of contact to evaluate, treat, and refer patients.

In school districts with large populations of underserved, English as a Second Language (ESL), or culturally-diverse patients, athletic trainers and school nurses may be the only medical providers some students see. In addition, athletic trainers are in a position to serve as a guide and counsel patients through the often-complicated web of our health care system, thus serving as a patient advocate. As such, it is of utmost importance that athletic trainers develop and maintain open and professional relationships and interprofessional referral networks. 

In my endeavors to build interprofessional relationships in our community, I recently spent a day volunteering at Lebanon Family Health Services (LFHS) where I was privileged to be an active part of a patient-centered health care team. At its core, the primary mission of Lebanon Family Health Services is “to provide education, nutrition, and reproductive health services to the uninsured and underinsured families of Lebanon County with emphasis on women, infants, and children.”

However, care goes much beyond this emphasis. 

One of the many services LFHS provides is periodic walk-in sports physicals, required annually for all middle and high school athletes. As part of the health care team, my role in the physical process was to provide individualized concussion education to athletes and their family as part of the visit. 

In chatting with families, I enjoyed getting to know them and sharing important information about concussion education. However, I also spoke with some families, new to the area, who were unaware of the role of an athletic trainer. I explained that an athletic trainer can treat many conditions free of cost and refer other conditions through the best channels possible considering both cost of care and continuity of care. 

Each family had a unique situation, and through spending a few minutes getting to know each of them, I was able to provide valuable information specific to their needs. While volunteering at LFHS, I collaborated with several health practitioners who typically do not work with athletic trainers. I was further able to communicate with the athletic trainer at the athlete’s home school about a concern that we had with one athlete in particular, thus improving continuity of care between health care professionals.

The experience was truly the epitome of an interprofessional healthcare team, working together to provide patient-centered care. I was encouraged by the quality of the experience and hope to continue volunteering in this capacity, and involving our athletic training students in the future. 



1. Wamsley M. Answering the needs of our changing health care landscape 4/7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNsrUebgvnw. Updated June 5, 2015. Accessed March 8, 2017.

2. http://lebanonfamilyhealth.org/