LSU Kinesiology Students Spend Summer Volunteering at Texas Ironman Triatholon
BATON ROUGE – While many LSU students celebrated graduation or began their summer vacations, seven athletic training students and associate professor of athletic training Ray Castle were providing voluntary medical coverage at the Ironman Texas triathlon, a 17-hour event that’s grueling for both its participants, and its volunteers.
Derek Carter, one of Castle’s seven students, found himself kneeling motionless in the 90-degree heat, 11 hours into his shift, back bent uncomfortably forward, as he cradled the head of his patient. He fastidiously held the same position for more than 20 minutes. One slight adjustment, one moment of physical or mental wavering, could mean paralysis or worse for his patient. Carter had no idea how far his LSU knowledge and clinical skills would be tested that day as Castle instructed him to provide vital stabilization for the head and neck of the patient while the professor and other medical providers tended to the patient’s more life-threatening injuries.
This is the reality for athletic training students in the College of Human Sciences & Education’s School of Kinesiology at LSU. The Bachelor of Science in athletic training has rapidly developed into one of the nation’s top professional preparation programs. For the last three years, the program’s graduates have a 100-percent first-time passage rate on the national credentialing exam for athletic trainers.
In recent years, the field experienced a steady rise in popularity and demand across the nation. In the process, its little-known medical-based curriculum has become more evident. Students complete extensive classroom and clinical coursework in injury prevention, emergency medicine, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. Athletic trainers are highly-skilled, dependent practitioners and work closely with and under the direction of physicians.
Beyond the typically expected realm of working with athletes in various sports settings, students in this program are also prepared for a vast array of careers in a number of different fields from sports medicine clinics, military and government agencies to medical responders at outdoor athletic events. The latter is particularly essential during the summer months when temperatures peak. This time of year also coincides with a spike in outdoor athletic event season and a growing popularity of outdoor events within the state of Louisiana.
With endurance events like the Louisiana Marathon, triathlons, Warrior Dash and Color Run growing in popularity each year, there is an increasing need for individuals with extensive experience in race medicine. In fact, the athletic training profession is rapidly expanding within the state and throughout the country. The field is growing at a rate 30 percent faster than other health care profession averages, according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Labor. Castle makes preparing his students for these potentially chaotic events of the utmost importance.
“With the rapid growth of these types of events in Louisiana, we are seeing a significant increase in serious injuries,” Castle explained. “It is paramount that event organizers recognize this and have appropriately trained professionals who have knowledge and experience in race medicine.”
Castle says that the benefits his students get from working these outdoor events is invaluable. Students are gaining experience under appropriately trained medical personnel and learning not only how to effectively treat a spectrum of injuries, but also what it means to have effective medical coordination and communication at large-scale events.
“It is one thing to learn and master medical skills,” Castle said. “Communication is one of the cornerstones of our curriculum. Our program’s goal is to create a health care professional who is a highly skilled clinician, communicator and problem solver. The public demands it, and our goal is to meet that demand. Medical race coverage is a great opportunity for our athletic training students to hone these skills.”
The ability to effectively perform in high-stress, rapidly evolving clinical situations, many times in the extreme heat of the South, is an essential skill required of students like junior Adrianne Bosworth of Baton Rouge. Bosworth said that planning and transparency are crucial in preparing to work events, particularly when heat is a major factor.
“Communication and teamwork are a huge part of working large events,” she said. “As long as these two are present, things can run smoothly. We have learned how to respond to different situations so we are able to work together if they do occur.”
Castle says adaptability is also an essential component to a successful multi-disciplinary medical team as students often work closely with EMS teams who also provide medical support at outdoor events. Students like junior Bayley Romig have experience with being on the front lines when high-stress situations arise. Romig recalls her experience volunteering at the Ironman Texas when a participant fell down and began seizing nearly 50 yards from the finish line.
“I helped transfer a number of athletes to the medical tent for various reasons and learned different things from each one,” said Romig. “By the end of the night, my supervisors at the event were allowing me to conduct initial patient assessment and assist in the treatment plan. No one sees the behind-the-scenes activities that we do to prevent and treat injuries to athletes.”
This foresightedness to anticipate and recognize medical issues before they arise is a cornerstone of the athletic training program that Castle and his colleagues engrain in students, particularly when working in high-injury athletic events.
“Preventative care is our main focus,” said Castle. “You don’t see the sheer number of injuries in a football game that you do at a 5K event in the summer. You have to formulate your team to look for and identify problems quickly and anticipate them before they arise. They must also be prepared to anticipate and adequately handle an extreme volume of injuries.”
Not only must students think and act quickly, they also have to be able to handle the physical and mental strains of the job as they often work long, physically demanding days in grueling conditions.
“You have to care for yourself in stressful situations as well as provide proper care for the patient,” he said. “They have to know their limitations and be aware of their environment .”
For example, Castle and his athletic training students traveled to Texas in May to provide medical coverage for the Ironman triathlon. During their 12-hour day, they worked in 95 degree heat and were expected to perform at a higher level by the end of their shift than they did at the start.
“The Ironman is a great example of working in an intense setting with environmental extremes,” Castle said. “Most of the participants were on the course for an excess of 12 hours. The sheer number and severity of serious medical conditions actually increases as the day goes on.”
Castles students echoed his sentiments. Carter recalled many times when those responsible for giving care were in need of it themselves.
“I have to take care of myself and hydrate just as the athletes do,” said Carter. “Sometimes we are so busy we forget to drink or eat, and that can be catastrophic. I have treated many athletic trainers for a heat-related illness.”
Graduates of LSU’s program have gone on to careers ranging from work with the armed forces and to ballet companies as well as physician offices and hospitals and in various athletic settings. The profession’s diversity is what makes it so appealing. Students receiving this degree are fulfilling a much needed health care gap in the state and across the country.
The LSU School of Kinesiology advances the understanding of physical activity, sport and health to optimize the quality of life for diverse populations through excellence in teaching, learning, discovery, and engagement. Visit the School of Kinesiology at www.lsu.edu/kinesiology.
The College of Human Sciences & Education is a nationally accredited division of LSU. Formed in 2012, the college brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic new college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state and nation. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer eight undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The college is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs. Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education at chse.lsu.edu.