Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: The Pursuit of Happiness: Clinical Setting, Gender, and Parenting as an Athletic Trainer (Sports Med Res)


Monday, July 8, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness: Clinical Setting, Gender, and Parenting as an Athletic Trainer

Athletic Trainer Perceptions of Life-Work Balance and Parenting Concerns

Eberman LE, Kahanov L. J Athl Train. 2013. 48(3):416–423.

Take Home Message: Gender and employment setting in athletic training affect perceptions of life-work balance and parenting.

Retention of seasoned clinicians is a critical component to improved patient care and to ensure mentorship of students and rising colleagues. Athletic training is not immune to attrition, especially at the college/university setting, as striking a finely tuned life-work balance has been the subject of previous studies. The authors felt that additional attention was necessary to understand how parenting concerns factored into the life-work balance. The goal of this study was to assess relationships between gender, parenting status, employment setting, and perceptions of life-work balance in athletic training. The authors randomly selected 9,516 athletic trainers (ATs) from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association membership and 1,962 ATs completed an online survey. Survey questions focused on demographics, life-work balance, family obligations, and parenting/non-parenting items. The gender results revealed that women 1) struggled with increased feelings of guilt related to leaving work for family and vice versa, 2) reported burnout related to balancing work and family, and 3) made fewer changes to their career after children. Women also reported increased feeling of stress related to balancing work and parenting; however, men reported an increased sense of difficulty finding balance as a parent. Respondents of both sexes felt that their respective job settings were not particularly tolerant of their parental obligations. College/university and secondary school ATs reported desiring more time at home with family compared to other settings; college/university ATs reported the strongest feelings of families being neglected due to work. Responses among ATs without children indicated some resentment of colleagues with children, suggesting that perceptions of life-work balance differ between parents and non-parents instead of males and females.

Working as an AT can mean dependency on weather, coaching decisions, and other factors not under the ATs control. When these factors are coupled with the reported perceptions of life-work balance and parenting in this study, it is not challenging to see why attrition of young professionals is an issue. The college/university setting is attractive to many young ATs due to high-profile athletics, salary, etc. However, the irregular hours can be both stressful and a savior when it comes to parenting concerns. College/university ATs reported increased flexibility to attend family obligations, but reported desiring more time at home. Clinic/hospital ATs reported the least flexibility with parenting obligations. These results suggest that employers who support their staff achieving an appropriate life-work balance may benefit through retention of experienced clinicians. Additionally, an improved understanding of life-work perceptions in athletic training can help educators prepare students who are able to mitigate family and work obligations and maintain their passion for their profession. 

Questions for Discussion: How do you handle your life-work balance? Does your employer implement strategies to help you achieve your desired balance?

Written By: Laura McDonald 
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

Eberman, L., & Kahanov, L. (2013). Athletic Trainer Perceptions of Life-Work Balance and Parenting Concerns Journal of Athletic Training, 48 (3), 416-423 DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-48.2.01


Lauren Rao said...

This is definitely a concern of mine heading to the real world after I finish my masters degree. As someone who definitely wants a family and children down the road, I have always been wary of how to accomplish both a rewarding job in athletics as well as have a family. It's hard to take time off of work in this profession as it always seems that the one time you're not there, something terrible happens and then you feel guilty. Even in my undergrad program I was juggling being a member of the Swim & Dive team all four years of college as well as several clubs and a sorority while being a part of the Athletic Training Program. My clinical coordinators were incredibly understanding and helpful, but when I came back to find that my athletes had really missed me or one of them had gotten hurt when I should have been there, it breaks my heart a little bit. Perhaps as Athletic Training as a profession continues to grow these issues will become lesser because we will have enough staff at every school and program to maintain reasonable hours so we can all balance work, family, and social lives.

Laura M. McDonald, PhD, ATC said...

Thanks for your comment, Lauren. I think your sentiments echo what a lot of young professionals feel. We teach our students to juggle but at what price? The expansion and growth of ATs could certainly help to create a better balance and I'd argue also lead to more mentors for younger generations of students.

Unknown said...

I previously worked in a college setting and was fortunate enough to have an employer who understood the value of personal time away from work. However, despite his understanding, the nature of the job required a commitment above and beyond the status quo, especially if I wanted to serve and treat my athletes as best I could. I have been an ATC for almost 7 years and while I'd like to think I have become better at balancing my life, I also recognize that unless the culture of athletic training significantly changes, I am always going to be skewed toward over-working if I want to be an excellent clinician.

Colby Mangum said...

I agree completely with Lauren and share the same concerns for the future. As a young professional in the athletic training world, I find myself wanting to be around all of the time. I want to make the best impression possible and never seem "unavailable". At a previous position, I found myself taking on way more than I could handle and although I was thriving professionally, personally I was depleted. I learned a very valuable lesson in that I have to maintain a work-life balance, even if I do not have a family right now. Figuring out these strategies now are very important so that in the future, I will have a better idea of how to balance. I have found that employers and mentors are very willing to help if they are asked, but sometimes it is difficult for them to see if you are "drowning". I think communication from the beginning and even before any busy seasons at clinical settings is key for all parties to maintain the best balance. Athletic training is a wonderful profession and I believe we can all continue to learn and grow in this area in order to continue to better the world of AT.

Stephanie Huntsman said...

In my limited experience, both as an undergraduate as well as in a non-traditional clinical setting, balance might just be the greatest art of all. I found it intriguing how females were more affected with "burnout" due to the emotional and mental guilt-related aspects, while males were more sensitive to finding that balance. In addition, I am curious if the reason women are less likely to change jobs after beginning a family is due to an avoidance of changing a routine, or because some companies/programs are hesitant to hire someone with demanding outside obligations that could interfere with their execution of job duties. I have been fortunate thus far in my career to be able to just "worry about me", as well as be mentored by a wonderful female ATC who raised her daughter while travelling full-time (Although this could be much more difficult in a traditional clinical setting-Imagine running out on a football field with your toddler strapped to your back!) Similar to the closing statements, I can echo the sentiment of both the employer and the employee working cohesively to find, promote, and sustain that balance (And to encourage we ATCs to take time for our families, etc, since I don't believe I am alone in striving to be as available for my athletes as possible.)

Laura M. McDonald, PhD, ATC said...

Excellent discussion, thanks everyone for commenting.

@Unknown: You raise a great point in that even with an understanding supervisor or administrator, the nature of the job does not lend itself to easily finding an appropriate balance. Were you part of a staff or was it just you at your site?

@Colby: Great comment about wanting to be available all the time. I struggled with this as I didn't want my athletes to feel they couldn't reach out (even if it was something minor). Smartphones and text messaging don't help keep coaches away either! How did you approach your employer about personal time? Did you set ground rules with your coaches/athletes (ie, set ATR times, no phone calls after 8pm, for example)?

@Stephanie: I agree with your point about females not wanting to change routine or more importantly, SEEM like they are changing routine. There is certainly a hiring mentality at play when considering a female for a position. Is your non-traditional setting open to you taking personal time? Do you have set vacation days your allotted?

Erin said...

Learning to balance home life with work life is something all professionals struggle with. The unpredictable hours and schedules of AT make it even harder to learn to balance. I have been planning my future goals off of this concern. I want to be able to stick around in the college setting for as long as possible. I do not have a family yet, but my future concerns are missing out on valuable family time at home. I think Colby makes a good point in saying that communication is the key to making this all work.

Laura M. McDonald, PhD, ATC said...

Thanks for your comment, Erin. I do hope your are able to maintain a balance that allows you to remain in the college setting. I find it very telling that you are already considering the family balance - I am sure you are not alone! Do you find colleagues are supportive of your desire to seek an appropriate work-life balance?

Shannon Snell said...

I agree with Colby and Lauren. In the future I want to have a family and I do not want to miss any valuable family moments due to the hectic hours that we often have to work due to weather and coaches. I think this is something that can definitely be helped in the future by having more athletic trainers rather than less. One of the athletic trainers/ professor at my undergraduate school of study just had a baby in January. Then the school hired a temporary athletic trainer to cover her duties so she could take her full time of maternity leave to take care of the baby. However, this also helped the other athletic trainers because they were not spreading themselves extremely thin to cover for her. Since she went back to work she backed off of some of her duties. Instead of being both an athletic trainer and a professor she is just working as an athletic trainer. Instead of her having two sports and one of the other athletic trainers having one sport to cover they switched it so she only has one sport. This is allowing for her to not only have her family and not miss any important family moments but it is also allowing her to continue working as an athletic trainer at a university. As scary as it is to think of how I will eventually balance life and if I will have to sacrifice working in a university setting which I love for a clinic which has fewer hours this gave me hope. I think one of the most important factors is that institutions need to recognize this and work with their staff and be supportive. I believe it can be done but it will take some trial and error and compromises to find the perfect mixture.

Laura M. McDonald, PhD, ATC said...

Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, Shannon. It is refreshing to hear that your undergraduate institution was conscious of the demands of new motherhood and helped her to adjust by reducing her workload. I do hope we are moving toward a better work-life balance for all athletic trainers across all settings. Seems that even the clinic/hospital ATs have their share of struggles, too!

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