By:  Dr. Lindsey Eberman

Is what we really want, more money… or are we chasing joy in the wrong way?

In the last decade, the professional of athletic training has changed drastically. In addition to a degree-level change for entry into practice, there has been the proliferation of athletic training residencies and fellowships, as well as an associated Orthopedic Specialty Exam, as well a growing number of post-professional doctor of athletic training programs. These changes are, of course, in the infancy stages, but we are starting to see data relative to return on investment emerging from various sources. 

Unfortunately, we are not seeing drastic changes in entry-level salaries, which is among the most talked about topics in professional spaces, social media and otherwise. Yet, recent data from theAssociation of Athletic Training Education Research Network indicates residency trained athletic trainers suggests these folks are earning more than the national average. The Indiana State University Doctor of Athletic Training has also recently completed its own salary analysis from its alum. According to the latest national Salary Survey data an athletic trainer with 0-10 years of experience is making an average $48,847 annually. Our Indiana State DAT alumni with 2-10 years of experience have an annual salary of $65,514. That is $16,000 higher than their age-matched peers and at least $1M more in earning over their lifetime!

All this return-on-investment data suggests recent graduates AND practicing clinicians should be flocking to post-professional pathways… but, they aren’t. So, is it possible we, athletic trainers, do not know how to communicate what “return-on-investment” really means to us. An American psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, has posed some thoughtful theory about how we find happiness in our careers. His work was popularized in the business world by Clayton Christensen’s book “How Will you Measure Your Life,” where they posited that money is not our primary motivator. They suggest that the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibility, contribute to others, and be recognized are how we find joy in our careers. 

It is possible that there is a critical juncture where earnings need to be met before we can even consider these matters of work-related autonomy and fulfillment. All the way back in 2010, astudy that looked at the relationship between happiness and salary indicated that earning point was $75,000, but the study also informed us that happiness leveled off and emotional well-being was in fact, not correlated to earnings. So, have we been chasing joy in the wrong way, in athletic training? 

Personal and professional development that encourages you to ask yourself these questions, each day, might help you start looking in the right places for your joy:

  • Does this job offer me an opportunity to learn about my profession and about myself?
  • Do I have potential for upward mobility here, in a way that aligns with my short- and long-term goals? And if not, are my supervisors and mentors willing to invest in me, even if I move on to another opportunity?
  • Are my gifts helping others here?
  • Are my gifts acknowledged and appreciated here?

If you are not saying yes to these questions, this is a moment to explore different opportunities in athletic training. This might mean post-professional education like a DAT or residency program so you can learn the skills to change the trajectory of your work and your life; it might mean exploring a different work opportunity; it might mean more informal education and introspection about what really does bring you joy.

But, it is a time to reflect and think about your joy. Who knows… maybe it is more money AND the skills to make work work for you. 

Lindsey Eberman

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