Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences opens new doors

The University of Tulsa Oxley College of Health Sciences has created the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences. It combines several components of athletic training and exercise and sports science. It will also offer a new master’s program in athletic training and education tracks in exercise and sports science.

Professor Greg Gardner, who will chair the newly formed department, has served as associate director of the School of Nursing and as a clinical professor of athletic training.

The department change was made in part to accommodate the growth of both the athletic training and exercise and sports science programs – growth that is based on the increasing need for health professionals in exercise physiology, biomechanics, sports nutrition, sports psychology, epidemiology and corporate and commercial fitness, as well as more traditional areas such as teaching, coaching and strength and conditioning. Since the athletic training and exercise and sports science programs began 20 years ago, it has tripled the number of needed faculty and has had a more than six-fold increase in students.

Exercise and Sports Sciences will offer six tracks: traditional, rehabilitation/therapeutics, national teacher certificate, pre-health professional, pre-athletic training and pre-medicine. “We’re looking at attracting young people as freshmen who want to be pre-admitted to medical school,” Gardner said. Historically, pre-med undergraduates tend to major in biology or chemistry. “Many extremely capable students are more passionate about applied science than lab science,” he said. “These students are more interested in studying pathophysiology and therapeutic interventions than focusing on subject matter that is a more traditional route to medical school.”

Although the pre-med students in kinesiology and rehabilitative sciences will take the core classes required for all pre-med undergraduates, Gardner’s department will offer such courses as physiology, pathophysiology and clinical diagnostics – “things they will be getting a repeat of in medical school.”

Along with the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Oxley College of Health Sciences also includes the School of Nursing, the Mary K. Chapman Center for Communicative Disorders and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. The college also enjoys strong affiliations with the Laureate Institute for Brain Research and the OU-TU School of Community Medicine. “This facilitates educating healthcare providers in an interdisciplinary setting,” Gardner said. “We are teaching across disciplines; and the end result will be that we will not only teach them together, we will teach them to practice together as a team.”

The department will phase out its bachelor’s program in athletic training, graduating its last class in May 2019 and instead offer a master’s degree beginning this summer.

Why the change to a master’s program? By 2022, those with athletic training degrees must have a master’s degree to practice, said Ron Walker, director of the athletic training program. “Athletic training is a specific degree recognized by the American Medical Association. It is accredited, and a student must have two years of supervised clinical practice.” At TU, students may enroll as freshmen in a five-year course of study culminating in the master’s degree, or in a two-year master’s program after completing a bachelor’s degree in another field. The first option saves them a year of schooling.

In May 2015, the Athletic Training Strategic Alliance – comprised of the accrediting, credentialing and athletic training membership organizations – agreed that a master’s degree would be required in order for athletic training professionals to be eligible for certification and professional practice. Athletic trainers focus on injury prevention, injury diagnosis and rehabilitation.

“As the population has become more active, athletic training has followed,” Walker said, explaining the profession’s growth. “They provide a need that other professionals can’t meet by themselves. Athletic training is the only profession that is onsite when an injury occurs. The AT is able to diagnose, assess and refer if need be.

“They follow patients from injury to full return to activity,” Walker said. They can help patients prevent injury or prevent them from exacerbating an injury. For employees, that results in less time lost from work and lost wages; and for employers, lost productivity. For students, it means fewer missed school days and a quicker return to extracurricular activities.

Athletic training professionals have long worked with athletes, and more than half are found in hospitals and clinics. They are emerging as important to industrial settings; as military consultants for special units such as SEALs; for firefighters, police, FBI and customs and border patrol; and geriatric units, Walker said. Athletic trainers also have a place in the entertainment world; Cirque de Soleil, the Rockettes, the Blue Man Group, WWE and ballet companies employ their services.