New program prepares students for future of athletic training

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Gretchen Mohney
Program Director Gretchen Mohney

Gretchen Mohney is on a mission. As director of Wayne State University’s new athletic training program — which is housed in the College of Education’s Division of Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies — she is focused on preparing graduates who can adapt to the growing, changing health care profession; meet needs of diverse patient populations; and address issues of health equity, particularly in Detroit. However, her first order of business is to attain accreditation.

“One of the challenges when a university starts an athletic training program is that it starts out without accreditation, but the program must exist before obtaining accreditation,” she said. “The university must obtain accreditation so students can take the certification exam — and they must pass the exam in order to practice. Our students are here because they believe in the program and Wayne State.”

Seven students enrolled in the first cohort and are close to finishing their first year of the full-time, two-year program. Coursework prepares them to provide comprehensive patient care in five areas: injury and illness prevention and wellness promotion; examination, assessment and diagnosis; immediate and emergency care; therapeutic intervention; and health care administration and professional responsibility. Emphasis is placed on communication and collaboration in interdisciplinary settings. Students will work in cadaver labs with mortuary science students to learn anatomy, which will enhance their ability to translate knowledge to orthopedic evaluation, rehabilitation and more. They will also learn sociocultural competencies with nurse practitioners.

Athletic training students“We are implementing a patient-centered care approach, consistent with modern-day medicine, to facilitate students’ ability to transfer and apply their knowledge and skills to benefit target populations, which may include student-athletes, tactical athletes, manual labor workers and performing artists,” said Mohney.

The program’s athletic training lab, which is located in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, includes acute care taping stations, models, and tables on which students can perform clinical evaluations and implement treatment and rehabilitation. Because the lab is on the same floor as the physical therapy labs and classrooms, Mohney intends to pursue collaborative opportunities with faculty and students to ensure a well-rounded experience.

“The foundation of athletic training is typically a combination of exercise science and health science courses,” Mohney said. “We hope to integrate resources from both into our program and create opportunities for students to facilitate interdisciplinary care. This approach will enhance students’ ability to collaborate and communicate to achieve optimal patient outcomes in professional settings.”

Students also work with work with preceptors, licensed athletic trainers who practice in the field and serve as mentors.

“Our preceptors oversee our students and make sure they have a quality education,” she said. “There is a win-win balance. Students receive professional mentorship, and preceptors stay abreast of innovations, research and methods on a university level. That partnership is extremely crucial to a program’s success and beneficial to a professional.”

Mohney believes access to resources and clinical placement opportunities are another strength of the program. She has established partnerships with many health providers, including Henry Ford Sports Medicine, and is building relationships with others to increase the scope and depth of students’ experiences.

“Our medical director is Ramsey Shehab, a team physician for the Detroit Pistons and Wayne State Athletics and deputy chief of sports medicine at Henry Ford Health System, through which students also perform various clinical rotations,” she said. “Students will be integrated into various settings, including high schools, colleges, physician clinics, concussion clinics, emergency rooms and sporting and performing arts events. We hope to provide students with different clinical experiences and professional practice settings through a variety of licensed providers, many of whom contact us because people want to contribute to the growth of this program and profession.”

Mohney says athletic trainers can work in other industries besides sports, and Detroit offers students the chance to obtain exposure to opportunities in other areas, such as health systems, performing arts, law enforcement and industrial settings.

“I have had some candidates say, ‘I’d love to come to your program, but I don’t know about Detroit,’” she said. “We purposely bring students on campus for an interview, and I believe our students are in these seats because of that experience. They saw what the program, university and Detroit have to offer. They were exposed to all the access points we have and the different ways in which their clinical rotations and professional career paths could go. In addition, they saw that student life here is pretty awesome.”

Mohney also believes athletic trainers have a unique opportunity to impact the health care industry by providing quality care for consumers.

“People tend to think of athletic trainers as the individuals who run onto the field when someone gets injured. Response to immediate injury is one of our primary responsibilities, but our scope is quite large,” she said. “Athletic trainers work to return people to functional outcomes. We are exceptionally skilled at risk reduction and helping people obtain their goals, sometimes achieving more than they thought they could before their injury. Athletic trainers are able to evaluate, diagnose, render treatment and rehabilitate individuals in collaboration with, under the direction of or upon the prescription of a MD/DO. Athletic trainers providing care during sporting events may prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and processing through the medical system and expedite care for optimal outcomes and return to function.”

Mohney noted that, as of 2022, all athletic training programs must culminate in a master’s degree. Programs are moving in that direction to elevate the profession and to better contribute to efforts to eliminate health care disparities and enhance interprofessional practice and optimal patient outcomes. Despite the transition, Mohney believes Wayne State’s program is ready for whatever challenges may come.

“We are ahead of the transition because we offer a graduate degree,” she said. “We also have our program up and running and have created plans for continuous improvement.”

As she looks toward the future, Mohney is excited about preparing students to be leaders in the field and to meet consumer needs.

“We are building for tomorrow,” she said. “We are teaching our students what the future holds for the profession and what the patient populations we serve will need. As the profession continues to grow, we want Wayne State to be at the forefront.”

by Tracy A. Walker