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Athletic therapist Surinder Budwal working at his clinic.


Job: Athletic therapist

The role: Athletic therapists are best known as the medical professionals that rush from the sidelines to treat injured players during sporting events, but in recent years the role has expanded to encompass a wider variety of workplace settings.

“It’s a very multifaceted career, because athletic therapists are universally trained in assessment and rehabilitation of various orthopedic injuries,” explains Tyler Quennell, the vice-president of the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (CATA). “Our members work everywhere from weekend rugby games, professional hockey, in a multidisciplinary clinic; they could be working in a gym. I know of a couple that work at one of the [Ontario] auto plants on-site doing workplace evaluations and treating repetitive strain injuries to keep workers working.”

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From high-school sports to the National Ballet of Canada to the SWAT division of the Calgary Police Department, athletic therapists can be found just about anywhere there is a risk of someone requiring on-site medical assistance.

While the average workday can vary widely between various workplace settings, those who work with amateur and professional sports teams are typically the first to arrive on game days, and often the last ones to leave.

Mr. Quennell, who works with the Toronto Rock—the city’s professional lacrosse franchise—says he arrives at Scotiabank Arena at 8 a.m., an hour before players arrive, to begin their game-day practice.

“There’s taping and treatments and stretching and that pre-game atmosphere for an hour, and then additional treatments afterwards,” he says. “In the afternoon, we’ll follow up on paperwork or communicate with doctors or liaise with the other team, and then the players start showing up around 4:00, and we run through the pregame treatments and taping for the game that starts at 7:30.”

Mr. Quennell adds that he remains on the sidelines throughout the game and stays onsite often until midnight, or even later, conducting evaluations, treatments and referrals. “You’re putting in an 18-hour day for a two-, two-and-a-half-hour game,” he says.

Salary: The salary of an athletic therapist can range widely depending on their employer, location, years of experience and credentials. For example, professional sports typically offer a higher salary than college and amateur sports, but salaries can range based on where the league is based.

“In The Western Hockey League, for instance, we know the rate of pay is significantly lower than the Ontario Hockey League, but it comes down to cost of living,” explains Mr. Robinson. “I’d estimate the range for entry level to be between $35,000 and $50,000 [annually], and at the high end it’s not unheard of to be in the $90,000 to $100,000 range, depending on where you work.”

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According to the Canadian Job Bank, the median wage for athletic therapists in Canada is $25.03 per hour.

Education: As a self-regulated industry, there are no legally mandated educational requirements for athletic therapists, but the vast majority of employers require candidates to obtain a Certified Athletic Therapist designation, administered by CATA.

In order to obtain the credential candidates must complete a bachelor’s degree from one of seven accredited undergraduate programs in Canada or a recognized international equivalent. They must also hold a valid First Aid and Basic Life Support certificate or approved equivalent and successfully pass the National Certification Exam.

“Once you’re in you must maintain those standards to keep up with best practices in the profession,” adds Mr. Robinson. “We require them to obtain 21 continuing education credits every three years, or about 52 hours of continued education every three years.”

Job prospects: Once reserved for elite athletes, demand for athletic therapists is on the rise thanks to a growing recognition of their value at all levels of sports, as well as their application in non-sport settings.

“We’re seeing now a shift with youth sport and high-school sport to requiring us to be present for games,” explains Mr. Robinson. “Most school boards in Ontario now have policies in place that require certified athletic therapists at all contact-sport games.”

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Mr. Robinson adds that this year, many are also involved in assisting with safe-return-to-sport programs following the pandemic.

Challenges: Aside from the long hours, athletic therapists often find themselves in the unenviable position of deciding if and when athletes are able to return to play after sustaining an injury.

“Sometime you are the player’s advocate [for returning to the game], but sometimes you also have to advocate that a player should not be able to play, regardless of the time of season,” says Mr. Quennell.

Why they do it: Athletic therapists are often motivated by a passion for sports.

“We get paid to watch sports a lot of the time, and that team atmosphere is infectious,” says Mr. Quennell. “Certified Athletic Therapists also represent Canada in international competition; for example, they go to the Olympics with Team Canada.”

Misconceptions: Though the job title suggests the role is restricted to traditional sports, athletic therapists can be found in a wide variety of fields. “We do and are able to treat anyone,” says Mr. Quennell.

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