Whether you are a newly minted AT (congratulations!), a seasoned pro looking for a new opportunity, or something in between, you will likely find yourself looking at countless job postings. While this can be overwhelming for athletic trainers of any experience level, let’s take a moment and address the various ways that entry level jobs are being presented. So what are residency and fellowship athletic trainer positions?

Since the transition to the entry level masters, institutions have been looking for ways to replace the graduate assistant position. Grad assistants have been integral at countless universities, high schools, clinics and other settings throughout the years. They were able to expand the reach of athletic training departments and help provide care to more patients.

In return, the GA (in theory) received further education, increased clinical experience, and mentorship. Those two years really served as a transition to independent practice for the AT, as well as a less expensive option for the institution when compared to a full time employee. Now that these positions are by and large going away, words like residency and fellowship are starting to show up in job posts.

Often these words are being used incorrectly.

Many job postings listed as “residencies” or “fellowships” could be relisted as “cheap labor” because that is what the employer is looking for. This does not help to advance the profession to where it needs to be and employers need to stop hiding behind these terms in order to grossly underpay, and ultimately devalue, athletic trainers.

What you may not know is that there are specific criteria defined by the CAATE that must be met to be considered a residency/fellowship.

Here are some definitions:
Residency: Formal education programs that offer structured curricula and mentorship, including didactic and clinical components, to educate athletic trainers in a specialty area.

CAATE Approved Specialty Areas: Prevention and Wellness Urgent & Emergent Care, Primary Care Orthopaedics, Rehabilitation, Behavioral Health, Pediatrics, Performance Enhancement

Fellowship: Occurs after a residency, or similar experience, and are designed to educate athletic trainers in a subspecialty area. Specialization: Intended to improve the quality of care provided to patients, enhance clinical outcomes, and improve patient’s health related quality of life.

Sub-specialization: A narrow field within specialization. Examples given by the CAATE are manual therapy as a subspecialty of rehabilitation, or neurotrauma as a subspecialty of primary care. To date, sub-specialty areas have not been outlined by the CAATE, only specialties.

In short, residencies and fellowships are rigorous, full time clinical positions with an intensive academic component as well. They have been created with the intent of advancing content expertise to ultimately enhance patient care.

So when you are perusing the job boards and see a residency or fellowship position posted, do your homework. Since there are only 13 CAATE accredited residencies with 6 other institutions seeking accreditation, chances are the posting you are looking at is cheap labor, not a residency.

If you would like to learn more about these positions or review the CAATE Residency & Fellowship Standards, I encourage you to check out their website here.


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