Finding #5 of the whitepaper states that the “Transition to professional education at the graduate level would increase the likelihood that education programs are better aligned with other health care professional programs.” In 1996, 17 years ago the NATA Board of Directors called upon us in education to align our programs with schools of health professions. To date, that has not occurred given that only 21% of programs are housed within colleges/schools with other peer health professions programs. As a member of a department with athletic training, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, and occupational therapy, I can tell you… my job as a Program Director is eased by the commonalities between programs. I do not face the same administrative misunderstanding that my colleagues often experience. Our programs are financially and administratively supported because of the similarities we share with other health professions.
Finding #6 of the whitepapers states that “Professional education at the graduate level should facilitate interprofessional education.” For the 33% of programs housed in separate units and the 16% that are the only Athletic Training programs at their respective institutions, interprofessional education (IPE) is not only difficult, it can sometimes be impossible. Moreover, programs, like ours at Indiana State, face different, less tangible challenges with IPE. We face circumstances where IPE with undergraduate students is scoffed at… because obviously it is “beneath” graduate students (from other disciplines) to spend time learning from with and about Athletic Training students learning at an undergraduate level. Other disciplines sometimes fail to see the difference between professional and post-professional degrees… and while my graduate students are practicing clinicians and have already shaped their professional identity… the other disciplines would prefer work with them, simply because they are earning the “same” degree.
Finding #8 of the whitepaper states that “Professional education should not complete with general education, liberal arts, and foundational science requirements because it detracts from the effectiveness of the professional educational experience.” This, in my opinion, is the greatest challenge faced by our current educational model. While a general education curricula is crucial to establishing contributing citizens, the competing demands of shaping a young person to contribute in the world and the development of a fine-tuned clinician is often at odds. Add to this the competing demands of the millennial student and their needs to have life-work balance (NOT A CRITICISM from me!) and often jobs to support the growing cost of higher education. Our undergraduate students are expected to do more, to be more than their classmates in other majors. And the consequences are found in the quality of their clinical experience and the expectations, we as educators, can hold within our classrooms.
From this singular, only curricular perspective, a transition to a professional degree at the masters level has the potential to improve the quality of education and ability to interact with other disciplines with ease. Furthermore, it will allow undergraduate to focus on the things that will make them strong contributors and effective graduate students. And who knows… with a little creative curricular artistry, programs could be delivered in a 3+2=5 model to quicken the time to degree and potentially decrease cost, all without compromising the quality of the clinician.
Lindsey E. Eberman PhD, ATC