Closer than Most: Athletic Training in the age of COVID-19

As Gustie student-athletes start to get into the nitty-gritty of their practice-intensive seasons, their bodies have started to feel the strain. As a result, the Athletic Training room has been a busy place as of late. The fact that this service can still be provided, however, is a testament to the resiliency of the Gustavus Athletic Training Program. The transition to virtual learning these past two semesters has posed a daunting challenge to all Gusties, but for Athletic Training majors, whose classes are heavily reliant on personal contact and hands-on learning, the distance learning barrier seemed a higher hurdle than to most.
“It was especially hard in the spring to try and learn how to evaluate…the hip, and the lower back and a concussion over zoom, when we didn’t actually have patients…It’s been hard. You really have to take your own education into your own hands during this time because there’s nobody there to say ‘hey, you gotta practice this’,” Hana Pokornowski, a Senior Athletic Training major and one of the co-presidents of GATA (Gustavus Athletic Training Association), said.
Senior AT majors, including Pokornowski, have been able to experience the AT program both pre and mid COVID-19, but those just starting the major have overcome a plethora of additional challenges throughout the pandemic.
“Normally, when you’re trying to get into the program, you’re able to go in [and] shadow the current students before you initially declare the Athletic Training major, but the sophomore students aren’t able to do that this year. They’re not able to go into the Athletic Training room and see what we do,” Pokornowski said.
Junior Athletic Training major Chad Haugstad weighed in as well, citing the challenges of reduced Athletic Training room hours during what would normally be his most practice-intensive semester.
“I’d say that online learning for AT specifically is extremely difficult when it comes to learning our competencies because those are in-person driven. I guess labs help with us learning the content better, but we still have heavily reduced in-person hours, and that kinda leads to us not knowing the content as well as we should,” Haugstad said.
Catch-up has been the name of the game in the wake of last spring’s virtual learning semester, but Pokornowski had nothing but positive things to say about how she and her fellow AT majors have risen to the occasion.
“Honestly, I was nervous. I was really nervous, and I don’t think I was alone because we weren’t able to practice what we learned in the spring. We weren’t able to upkeep all our skills and keep doing them every day like we normally would have…I don’t think I was ready, but obviously my preceptor, and our coordinator and my fellow students knew that. They supported us, and that’s all we could ask for. Now that we’re almost two months back into school, I think I’m right back to where I wanna be, and that helps,” Pokornowski said.
A variety of safety measures have allowed AT students to continue learning in person. Although these also serve to cement AT service in place for athletes who need it, such precautions have proven a challenge to integrate at times.
“All of the extra precautions we have to take…Just wearing masks…it’s not our favorite thing. Masks, shields, sanitizing everything, like, 50 times…Appointments, too. We obviously want athletes to come in there whenever they’re hurting, and we know it’s an extra step to go in and reserve that time,” Pokornowski said.
“[The Athletic Training room] should be a very welcoming place where you come for anything when you need it…That’s kind of the point behind an AT, being able to come in when they [athletes] want, not having the pressure of signing up for an appointment or feeling like they’re at the wrong place at the wrong time because they didn’t sign up for one,” Haugstad said.
Regardless of all the changes the AT program has undergone for this fall, Pokornowski is confident that AT majors, and the athletes they serve, aren’t missing out on anything.
“They’ve [the AT coordinators] bent over backwards to find ways that we can still practice our skills. They’re doing that virtual clinic with the Mankato students, and that takes a lot of work. They’re still getting us into the Athletic Training room so we can get those patient encounters. We’re also doing online simulations with a program called iHuman,” Pokornowski said.
Although the virtual labs provide additional opportunities to collaborate with AT students and patients, Haugstad was less optimistic, looking forward to other options that changes in the COVID-19 situation may allow for in the future.
“I don’t get much out of it. AT is one of those professions where you’re not gonna see much over the computer. I think the time could be used somewhere else, whether it’s scheduling more lab time or practice time in general. Fall junior year is when you’re supposed to get a lot of practice, and I’m getting less practice now than last semester before we left,” Haugstad said.
Although the Athletic Training room looks different this semester, both for students and athletes, it still functions as a working classroom. Despite changes and less-than-ideal learning conditions, Gustie AT majors continue to shine in their field and work hard to make the most of the situation, with a supportive program standing right behind them.

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