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08/25/2015

The Khaki Kronicles: Tales from the Athletic Training Room - Episode 4

Andy Vanous, MA, ATC, CES
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Andy Vanous, MA, ATC, CES

Colorado School of Mines (NCAA Division II), Golden, CO



CSMI: WHEN DID YOU START YOU’RE ATHLETIC TRAINING CAREER?

AV: I started as an athletic training student in the fall of 1998. I have been certified and working in the collegiate setting since 2001.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PURSUE A CAREER AS AN ATHLETIC TRAINER?

I always wanted to pursue a career where I could help others. I grew up playing multiple sports, so I was exposed to sports medicine. After learning more about what athletic trainers did, I decided that it was the perfect career path for me.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS THE JOB CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED?

There has been a lot of changes to the education that ATC’s need to pursue. I went through an internship program where most of my knowledge was gained through observation and hands-on learning that supplemented what we learned in class. The curriculum is much more structured now, and more emphasis is placed on book knowledge. I think this is both good and bad, as the foundational knowledge of students now is probably better than it was, but there are also students that don’t truly understand what the day-to-day life of an athletic trainer is like since they didn’t have to put in as much time performing the duties of an athletic trainer.

The advances in technology, rehab, and treatment strategies have also changed significantly over the course of my career. We are very fortunate to have a wealth of information accessible at our fingertips at any given moment; because of this, I am constantly researching things that I can change, adopt, try, etc. when working with my athletes. Looking back on things now, when I was new to the profession, the majority of what I did involved treating symptoms and focusing strictly on the injury the athlete was complaining of. Over time, with continuing education and experience, I have shifted to a lot more holistic approach and look at what may be the underlying cause of an injury, rather than just treating the injury itself. With this, I find myself using modalities less and using my hands more. Modalities still have a time and place, but my treatment style has shifted significantly over time.

WHAT ABOUT THE ATHLETIC TRAINER’S JOB IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU ASSUMED IT WOULD BE WHEN YOU WERE A STUDENT?

The amount of time necessary to perform administrative duties. Going through as a student, you learn about the importance of documentation and gain some experience with basic administrative duties. However, I never imagined that I would spend as much time as I do on administrative tasks, as it consumes probably around 20% of my time. Although administrative tasks are not nearly as enjoyable to me as working with athletes, it is a necessary part of the job, and something that has to be done on a regular basis.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE THINKING ABOUT A CAREER IN ATHLETIC TRAINING?

Make sure you are passionate about athletic training. Most athletic trainers are never going to get rich (in the monetary sense of the word, at least) doing what we do. We work long hours and often times go unrecognized, so if you don’t truly love what athletic training is about, it probably is not for you. Fortunately, I love what I do and enjoy going to work on a daily basis.

IF YOU COULD SHARE ONE TRICK-OF-THE-TRADE WITH A PEER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I don’t know that I would necessarily say this is a trick-of-the-trade, but I think the most important thing to do as an athletic trainer is to take advantage of every opportunity to experience new things, even if they are unfamiliar to you or force you a little bit out of your comfort zone. This helps you build a professional network and broaden your practical experience, and you never know where that may lead. Along with this, don’t be afraid to work hard--you only get one chance to make a first impression on someone. Because of these things, I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career to be involved in some experiences that many athletic trainers never get to see, and that are some of the fondest memories of my professional career.

HOW IS THE ROLE OF THE ATHLETIC TRAINER CHANGING, PARTICULARLY IN THE AREA OF CONCUSSIONS? HOW DO YOU CONVINCE AN ATHLETE TO STAY ON THE SIDELINES UNTIL HE’S READY TO RETURN?

In my opinion, I don’t know that the role of the athletic trainer has changed too significantly with respect to concussions. We are still usually the first person to see the athlete after the injury, and are therefore doing the initial evaluation following the blow to their head. Hopefully you have done baseline testing on your athletes and have access to that information so that you can compare it to the testing done after the fact. The biggest change in my experience is that we now send everyone who has sustained a concussion to the physician for evaluation and clearance to return to play. Based on the relationship you have with your team physicians, they may or may not release the athlete back to you, as the athletic trainer, to initiate and progress with a step-wise return to play progression. Concussions have gotten a lot of media attention recently, so there is a lot of focus on them.

As far as convincing an athlete to stay on the sidelines, it is something that has to be done regularly. Athletes, especially in the collegiate setting, are highly motivated, competitive individuals who don’t want to sit out. The key thing, in my opinion, is to get to know your athletes and gain their trust before they get hurt. That way, when something does come up, I already have a relationship established with them and they trust my opinion and know that I am looking out for their best interest. Dealing with concussions can be somewhat tricky because so much of their diagnosis and criteria for return to play relies on subjective information from the athlete, and the athletes know that if they have any symptoms of a concussion they will be held out. I really try to emphasize the importance of being honest and the long-term implications and complications that can potentially arise from returning too quickly from a concussion. There are some very powerful documentary pieces that have been done and are available to really drive home the reality of living with second impact syndrome if an athlete is resistant to my advice. I have only had to resort to showing these to athletes a couple of times over my career, but it usually quiets their resistance pretty quickly. Ultimately, the team physician makes the return to play call though, so I always have their backing.

HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WHEN YOU’RE CAUGHT BETWEEN WHAT A COACH WANTS AND WHAT’S BEST FOR AN ATHLETE?

I have been extremely fortunate over my career as an athletic trainer to work with coaches that I have an excellent relationship with and who have trusted my judgment with regard to athlete’s injuries and their playing status. I may just be lucky, but I believe that a lot of this is due to the fact that I have worked from the start to build a relationship with the coaches I work with. I talk with the coaches on a regular basis, and not just to bring them bad news when someone is hurt. By getting to know the coaches a little bit on a personal level, I think it helps build your professional relationship with them. I’m not saying that we have to be best friends by any means, but getting to know the coaches and their philosophies, morals, etc. is very helpful in learning how the best way to deal with them is going to be. If good lines of communication and trust are established early on, I think a lot of the conflicts down the road can be extinguished before they ever come up.

Another thing I think that has really helped me in regard to not having conflict with my coaches is getting them to realize that we ultimately have the same common goals. I like it just as much as they do when their players are able to play at their best level, I like to win and hate to lose just as much as they do, and so on. However, my ultimate responsibility is the health and safety of the athletes in my care. I let the coaches know that I will do everything in my power to get an athlete back to the top of their game as quickly and SAFELY as I possibly can. I tend to be pretty aggressive with my treatment and rehab philosophy, and if the coaches see me doing work with their athletes on a regular basis, making progress in resolving their injuries, they know that I am on board with the team and what they are trying to accomplish.

DESCRIBE A MOMENT THAT YOU LOOK BACK ON AS THE MOST IMPORTANT EXPERIENCE IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR

I have a difficult time identifying one particular moment in my career as the most important, as I have been blessed to have several incredible experiences. I have been on the sidelines for numerous athletic contests that have been very special to me, I have served on the sports medicine staff for the ESPN Summer and Winter X Games, I have been able to work with an NBA organization, and have enjoyed doing all of it. I think the biggest thing, as I alluded to earlier, is taking advantage of opportunities that are presented to you. I have developed what I consider to be an incredible professional network of colleagues that have turned in to friends that I can constantly learn from, consult for advice, vent frustrations to, or bounce ideas off of. If I had not taken advantage of opportunities to work different events, attend certain conferences, or meet certain people, I probably would not have had the chance to experience a lot of the things that I have been able to do as an athletic trainer.

DO YOU USE ANY INJURY TRACKING OR EMR SOFTWARE IN YOUR JOB? IF SO, HOW DOES IT IMPACT WHAT YOU DO ?

We utilize SportsWare where I am currently employed, and I am logged on to our database on a daily basis. As I stated earlier, documentation is a critical component to my daily routine as an athletic trainer. Having the ability to access an athlete’s information online has been a huge blessing, as it has allowed me to work remotely when I don’t have to be sitting in my office. It has also been a beneficial in that even if I am traveling with a team, I can still have access to any of their information I may need, should something arise.

ANY OTHER TOPICS WE HAVEN'T TOUCHED ON THAT YOU'D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone--sometimes those experiences are where you learn the most and end up being some of the best times. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help or say that you don’t know something. Utilize the resources available to you to help benefit not only yourself in furthering your knowledge and becoming a better clinician, but more importantly, for the athletes under your care so that they are getting the best possible treatment they can receive.


Are you an Athletic Trainer with a story to tell? Drop us a line!



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