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The Picture of Health

Randi Peabody continued snapping photographs, even though her subject never smiled, never even acknowledged her presence.

Anneloek Rauwerdink was, after all, under general anesthesia.

Rauwerdink’s misfortune—she suffered a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula during warm-ups for an IUP field hockey match at Kutztown—turned into a learning experience for Peabody, an athletic training major. She toted a digital camera into the operating room and observed as physician Craig McKirgan repaired the damage and inserted a plate and screws to stabilize the fracture and the joint.

Athletic Trainers

Craig McKirgan goes over an x-ray with Randi Peabody.

“He let me right in there,” said Peabody, a senior from Mechanicsburg. “I was probably two feet away. I’d never been in a surgery before, so it was quite an experience. I took pictures to bring back to show everyone.”

While documenting surgical procedures with a camera might strike some as odd, it’s a common practice for IUP athletic training students. The program has existed for more than thirty years, but it really blossomed with accreditation in 2001. Graduates are in such demand that Ron Trenney ’82, assistant professor/chairperson in the Department of Health and Physical Education, regularly fields calls from prospective employers eager to harvest some of IUP’s latest crop. 
 
“People contact us saying, ‘Do you have any students that haven’t taken jobs yet?’ Every year we get that,” said Trenney, who served as IUP’s head trainer from 1986 to 1998. “If they weren’t happy with our graduates, they wouldn’t be calling us. What speaks loudest for us is really our students themselves. They are great examples of our education program.”

Trenney and other faculty members teach courses such as Anatomy, Physiology, Sports Nutrition, Orthopaedic Evaluation, Therapeutic Modalities, and Therapeutic Rehabilitation. Students then apply their classroom lessons in a clinical setting, doing hands-on athletic training work for anywhere from three hundred to five hundred hours each semester. Under the supervision of head trainer Frank Trenney ’92 and assistants Jessie Baum and Rob Baron M’01, they work with athletes to prevent injuries, evaluate and treat those that do occur, and plan and monitor rehabilitation regimens.

“You can use the analogy of a student teacher,” said Frank Trenney, Ron’s younger brother. “A student goes in and teaches in the classroom, but the teacher will supervise that student and oversee them and is readily available to interject and intercede.”

IUP’s athletic training students quickly learn that the greater their knowledge, the greater their responsibilities in a clinical setting.

“Our first-semester students, all they are asked to do in the athletic training room is tape, brace, and fit people for equipment, because that’s all they’ve been taught,” Ron Trenney said. “But after their first semester, because they’ve taken an Orthopaedic Evaluation class, they’re expected to perform evaluations in the athletic training room. By the time they’re seniors, they’re going to learn how to rehabilitate injuries, how to read x-rays and MRIs, and how to provide modality—that’s using electrical stimulators and ultrasound and Type II lasers, which heal deep tissue. They are always taught the skills in the class and tested on them before we ask them to start performing those skills in the clinical setting.”

That’s where athletic training students reap the benefits of IUP’s relationship with the Center for Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine, located less than a mile from campus. The doctors at COSM don’t just treat athletes; they take an active role in educating students during operations, Wednesday night clinics for injured IUP athletes, and Saturday morning clinics in the fall, where football players from area high schools are treated.

Athletic Trainers

Frank Trenney (center) discusses basketball player Andre Matthews’s knee with student trainer Zane Heiple.

“I’ve heard a lot of positive comments from our students about working with the physicians, especially in the OR,” Baum said. “If they get permission from the athlete, I’ll give them a camera, and they’ll take pictures and observe the surgery. But the physicians are really taking a lot of time during those surgeries to show them things, to explain things. It’s the same when they’re observing patients at the clinics. The doctors will point out things on the x-rays and quiz the students, ask them, ‘OK, what’s this?’ It puts them on the spot a little bit, but it makes them think.”

Besides working the clinics, the doctors at COSM staff every IUP football game, both home and away; every men’s and women’s basketball game at Memorial Field House; and every postseason event. A student is observing all the while, taking advantage of opportunities that aren’t necessarily available at other schools.

“I’d say for a Division II institution, the sports medicine program at IUP is probably one of the tops in the nation,” McKirgan said. “Most Division II institutions don’t have the resources or the abilities to do the things that these student athletic trainers have.”

Including the opportunity to observe surgeries at Indiana Regional Medical Center. “Pretty much any time there’s an athlete over at the university who ends up having surgery, an athletic training student is in the OR watching,” said physician Dave Bizousky, who shares an office with McKirgan at COSM. “I really doubt that’s something that’s very accessible to athletic training students at other places.”

IUP’s students benefit because they consequently experience the whole spectrum of care involved in restoring an athlete’s health.

“It’s so beneficial for our students,” Ron Trenney said. “They saw the injury happen, they’ve seen the x-ray, they’ve seen the surgery, and now they see how that injury’s going to be cared for. It completes the whole picture for them.”

Graduates of the program have made their mark all over the country, and beyond. For example, Edinboro head trainer Gary Hanna ’78 worked at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, and helped establish an outpatient sports medicine clinic in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. Bill Ford ’79 served as a assistant athletic trainer in the NFL, with the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. Don Koshute ’91 and Chris Stewart ’93, M’96 have worked as head trainers for various minor league hockey teams. And Paul Imbrogno ’75 owns Laurel Highlands Health Center, which renders rehabilitation services at five offices in Western Pennsylvania.

Imbrogno’s example underscores the fact that graduates aren’t limited to athletic training positions. The field is surprisingly diverse. Some go on to physical therapy school. Others become physicians’ assistants, qualified to take patient histories, set up home exercise programs, apply casts, etc. One of Peabody’s classmates is considering massage therapy school. Corporations are also hiring athletic training graduates.

“We’re reaching into a lot of different areas,” Frank Trenney said. “One that seems to be growing is corporate and industrial. A lot of corporations are now focusing on wellness issues with their employees, and they’re hiring athletic trainers to come in.”

The demand is skyrocketing. And many employers don’t just want athletic training graduates; they want IUP athletic training graduates.

“I think the most positive feedback we get is the fact that people are constantly asking for our students,” Ron Trenney said. “We had one, Luke Bradley—he’s now working toward his doctorate in physical therapy at Gannon University—who did an internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers in training camp. Ryan Grove [one of the team’s assistant trainers] told me, ‘Listen, any time you have a student that would like to come down here and work with us, you just give me a call. We’ll make sure it happens.’”

Prospective employers realize IUP athletic training students rank among the elite, versed in every aspect of the profession. They’ve learned to evaluate and treat injuries, to read x-rays and MRIs, to plan and monitor rehab regimens.

Why, they’ve even snapped photos of IUP athletes. Not on the field or on the court, mind you. In the OR.