Training, Technology & Professionalism: Life as an Athletic Trainer in the NFL
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By Bud Carpenter, former Head Certified Athletic Trainer of the Buffalo Bills.
Editor’s note: Bud Carpenter was the Head Certified Athletic Trainer of the Buffalo Bills when he authored this blog. He retired in 2018 after 33 years with the Buffalo Bills.
My non-traditional 29-year career journey—including a SUNY education in Elementary Education and History followed by a stint in the U.S. Air Force as a Russian linguist, to time in training and coaching roles in women’s volleyball, NBA basketball and the legendary Boston Bruins hockey team—has in some crazy way prepared me for the job of a lifetime as Head Certified Athletic Trainer for the Buffalo Bills.
We have a small, tightly knit team of top-notch athletic trainers—all of whom are professionally certified as required by the National Football League. Over the years I have had the privilege to train and mentor about 150 assistants, many of whom now have successful careers in physical therapy, training and sports medicine.
Our job is to provide extensive and highly disciplined care to a large group of elite athletes that present a broad spectrum of needs, challenges and injuries. Our work takes place in a high-intensity world where excellent care is paramount—both to ensure the health of our players and to contribute to the success of the team—and where time is accelerated in ways that are unimaginable to many people. Speed is the key in everything we do and the world of the NFL gives us only 60 minutes per game to get it all right.
The range of injuries we see knows no limit: sprains, cuts, contusions, concussions and fractures…just for starters. Technology—especially modern medical imaging systems—is helping us make better and faster decisions in determining whether a player can safely return to the game. And while speed is critically important to us, it never trumps a player’s health.
Like many areas in life, we’ve moved from technologies we all knew and loved (yes, think X-ray film) to advanced digital diagnostic imaging systems that deliver excellent images in seconds that are easy to access and share. Our training staff serves as the triage point for player injuries and this often leads us to capture X-ray images for evaluation by our team physicians to determine how quickly we need to get a player to a hospital, or whether he can return to the game. Imaging technology helps identify a “degree of injury acuteness” that assists us in making treatment decisions quickly, while also setting a course for longer term tracking and treatment.
Because imaging technology is critically important to us, we are working with Carestream to share information on the specifics of injuries when they occur for use in developing new systems. Carestream has been developing a new CBCT (Cone Beam CT) system* for capturing weight-bearing images of extremities (legs, feet, arms and hands) that would be very valuable in the field of sports medicine. Having a compact CBCT imaging system that could be located in the stadium or locker room could further enhance our ability in making treatment decisions.
Having highly trained medical professionals on site with immediate access to the best available technology allows us to provide the best possible medical coverage for our players. The combination of physicians, athletic trainers and technology is certainly the right formula to treat and safely return our athletes to the playing field. Facilitating the safe return to play following a serious injury always give athletic trainers a great sense of pride and we are grateful to all who help us achieve that goal.
*Carestream OnSight 3D Extremity System received FDA 510(k) clearance in September 2016.