How to Maximize the PT-AT Relationship in the High School Setting (Part 2)

How to Maximize the PT-AT Relationship in the High School Setting (Part 2)

Part 1 took a closer look at how an Athletic Trainer (AT) could benefit from developing a relationship with a Physical Therapist (PT). Part 2 focuses on the flip side of this relationship: why should a PT develop a relationship with a local high school AT?

You are rehabbing a middle-aged woman who happens to be the mother of a football player at a local high school. She casually lets you know that her son has been working with the school AT for the last 4 weeks to recover from his second hamstring strain this season, and she is hoping he can play Friday night. She is curious if you have “any suggestions” to help speed the recovery as he has missed so much already. Your immediate thought is, “Why has he not been in here getting treatment?”

Physical Therapy in the Outpatient Setting

Working in a sports medicine clinic, you’ve likely been there before. You probably enjoy working with individuals who are active and work hard to return to their sport quickly. So, why is the high school AT not seeking your help in rehabbing their athletes? What can you do to encourage this relationship and get “an in” with this population?

The APTA describes a physical therapist as a highly-educated, licensed healthcare professional who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility.1 Many PTs would take it a step further and say we are musculoskeletal experts. We are the healthcare professionals who are most qualified to return individuals – be that weekend warriors or injured athletes – to an active lifestyle.

I have had this discussion before. All things being equal (e.g. years of experience, continuing education, the patient’s comorbidities), an AT is more than capable to fully rehab an athletic injury just as well as a PT. Is this their role in the high school setting? Probably not. I think we can all agree with the saying “two eyes are better than one.” So, how can a symbiotic relationship exist between PTs and the high school ATs? Here’s a hint: It can, it does, and athletes and their parents benefit the most from it.

The Great Debate

It is no secret that the APTA and the NATA have “butted heads” in the past and that PTs and ATs have flexed their muscles to one another when it comes to dealing with athletes and who would better serve this population.3 Having been on both sides of the fence, I have the answer: both professions are right! That said, we must be willing to make certain sacrifices for the good of the athletes.

As a PT, there has been a mindset of feeling “above” our healthcare counterparts. But, if we want to foster a relationship with a local high school, we must put this old school mindset aside and open our minds to contributions and skills from different fields. We need to check our ego at the clinic door and be willing to communicate as equals in the healthcare field.

What Can a Physical Therapist Gain by Building a Relationship With the High School Athletic Trainer? 

The simple and obvious answer is: working with high school athletes. If you enjoy rehabilitating this population, the AT is your in.

  • Free Marketing. Take the time to reach out and personally introduce yourself. Let the AT know you want to work with the high school athletes. A simple way to market your practice is to offer your assistance in the form of free 10-15 minute consultations at your clinic. Not only will this get the athlete there, but likely their parents as well.
  • Community Involvement. Offer to hold annual pre-participation physicals for the high school athletes and get your local MDs to volunteer their time. This is a great fundraiser for the Athletics and Athletic Training program. And again, this brings people into your clinic. You can also offer to be on the sidelines of games. This can be tricky as the AT may feel you are encroaching on their turf. However, if you approach it from a true support staff mentality, this is an excellent opportunity to build rapport with the AT. Others (MDs, coaches, ADs, and parents) will see your active involvement.
  • Doctor Hours. Be willing to go to the high school on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule for 1-2 hours to help “triage” and give your opinion to athletes who may be in the acute stage of rehabilitating an injury. This can be after hours, and will gain you exposure with the athletes and coaching staff. Educate them on how much more you can offer at your clinic and follow up by communicating with the athletes’ parents.


If you want to work with athletes, be willing to put in a little extra time communicating and illustrating your important role in the sports medicine team. Appeal to the high school ATs and show them how their school and student athletes will benefit from your services. Not only will you gain the joy of working with athletes, but you will also promote your profession in a positive manner.

Thank you for reading this two-part series on maximizing the PT-AT relationship in the high school setting. More often than not, we have to be willing to give first. Take these recommendations, make a simple investment, and you – PT or AT – will be rewarded. Above all else, the student athletes will receive the best standard of care – and that’s what’s matters most!

  3. Smith D. Are all physical therapists qualified to provide sideline coverage of athletic events?International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2012;7(1):120-123.