Classes begin next summer for the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s new master’s degree in Athletic Training.
The new graduate program will replace the department’s longtime bachelor’s degree, a move precipitated by actions taken by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education.
With that 2020 launch also comes a new option for students interested in careers as athletic trainers: an accelerated 3+2 structure that allows them to earn NIU bachelor’s degrees in Kinesiology and the M.S. in Athletic Training in just five years.
Students with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines that meet the prerequisites, meanwhile, are likely eligible and definitely encouraged to pursue the stand-alone master’s program.
“All Athletic Training programs across the country are in the process of moving to the master’s level,” Department Chair Chad McEvoy says. “CAATE, the accrediting body in the field, had long discussions and decided a couple years ago that the master’s degree would become the new entry level credential to become a certified athletic trainer.”
Faced with the task of migrating the curriculum from undergraduate to graduate, former program coordinator Bill Pitney led the process in 2015 and 2016 to outline and develop the admission and coursework requirements.
It earned approval from the Illinois Board of Higher Education in 2017.
Promotion of NIU’s M.S.A.T. and recruitment of new students will begin this fall. Alumni who already have earned bachelor’s degrees in Athletic Training, and current students who still are completing NIU’s bachelor’s program before the transition, are grandfathered by CAATE.
“We are certainly excited to move toward implementing our Master of Science in Athletic Training program,” says Pitney, who has temporarily stepped away from his role as an associate dean in the College of Education to serve NIU as acting vice provost for Faculty Affairs.
“Our program is well-structured and situated to effectively address the new CAATE accreditation standards that take effect in 2020,” he adds. “We based the curriculum on the direction the profession was moving at the time, specifically drawing on the Institute of Medicine’s core competencies: patient-centered care, interdisciplinary teams, evidence-based practice, quality improvement and informatics.”
New accreditation standards mandate teaching skills such as more-advanced wound closure techniques, administering IVs and blood work, says Nicholas Grahovec, program coordinator for Athletic Training Education.
“The transition to the master’s degree is a critical move for the athletic training profession to stay competitive in the ever-changing health care world,” says Grahovec, who will become an assistant professor in KNPE this fall. “The accelerated program allows the student to complete two degrees in the span of five years and enter the job market faster than more traditional routes.”
Undergraduates in NIU’s B.S. in Kinesiology program who choose the 3+2 option can double-count successful completion of their fourth-year courses in the bachelor’s degree with the first-year courses in the M.S.A.T., McEvoy says.
Doing so provides financial benefits, he says, including less tuition and the earlier start of a professional salary.
He believes that students – the department typically enrolls around 250 undergraduates in Kinesiology and cohorts of 24 in the Athletic Training program – will find the new degree options appealing and rewarding.
“Kinesiology programs like ours here at NIU offer an excellent preparation in that students get a strong background in the sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics,” McEvoy says. “It’s a nice blend of outstanding classroom content from strong faculty and clinical and internship experiences in the field.”
Experiential learning – a hallmark of the NIU College of Education – is integral.
“Our students in Athletic Training go through a very rigorous set of clinical experiences,” he says. “Not only do they get excellent training in the classroom and in top laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, but they’re also out practicing in college athletic programs, high school athletic programs and various clinical settings where they’re getting the hands-on, ‘real-world’ experiences that complement what they’re learning.”
“The program reinforces its classroom learning with hands-on, traditional and immersive clinical experiences, and integrates applied research and laboratory engagement,” Pitney says.
“We look forward to continuing to partner with our existing clinical sites to launch and expand our program. We have such excellent faculty and preceptors,” he adds. “We are confident our students will receive a top-notch learning experience, and that our graduates will positively impact the health and well-being of the patients they will serve.”