Union's Master of Athletic Training (MAT) receives full CAATE accreditation

Apr. 3—BARBOURVILLE — This fall, after meeting rigorous new quality standards, Union College's Master of Athletic Training (MAT) program received full accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). Union is now the only institution in southeastern Kentucky offering a master's degree in this rapidly growing field.

"We decided to get ahead of the curve," says MAT Program Director, Dr. Douglas Branch.

Branch explains that as the field of medicine has advanced, the training and skillset required to be an athletic trainer (AT) has needed to advance, as well. As a result, the AT Strategic Alliance recently shifted the professional AT degree from a bachelor's to a master's, thus requiring programs to offer an MAT to be accredited.

"You have to make sure everybody's trained and knows what to do," says Branch, noting that athletic trainers are often the first responders to emergencies and can be the difference between a life saved and a life lost.

Many institutions could not adapt to the new master's requirement and eliminated their athletic training programs altogether. Union, however, transitioned its undergraduate AT program to a master's degree in the summer of 2020, receiving initial accreditation in 2022. The more recent full accreditation will last five years, which is the maximum for new programs.

"We're excited for our students," says Branch. "When they complete the master's and pass the certification exam, they're going to pretty much have their pick of jobs."

Currently, there are more open AT jobs than there are qualified workers to fill them. This is due, in part, to the fact that so many schools closed their athletic training programs in response to changes in accreditation requirements.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is growing "much faster than the average for all occupations." Between 2022 and 2032, job openings for athletic trainers are projected to rise 14%. Branch says graduates of Union's MAT program will be prepared to succeed in these jobs.

"You're going to get a hands-on experience here," he says.

In addition to an immersive off-site, semester-long internship, students work with athletes from Union's 22 varsity teams throughout the program. Students practice taping, bracing, wound care, rehabs, and more.

"They're doing all of it here, from day one," says Branch.

Often, ATs work for sports teams at the college, high school, or professional level. However, they also serve in hospitals, medical offices, industrial settings, and even in the performing arts. ATs prevent, diagnose, and treat athletic injuries, including life-saving interventions.

Union offers two paths to complete the MAT. Students can choose a traditional two-year format or an accelerated "3 + 2" joint degree option. The joint degree enables students to complete both a BS in Exercise Science and an MAT in just five years. This not only speeds the route to employment but reduces students' out-of-pocket educational expenses, as well.

Branch notes that students who receive a four-year scholarship as freshmen will still have that scholarship for all four years if they choose the joint degree option. In effect, their undergraduate scholarship money will be applied to their entire bachelor's degree as well as to their first year of graduate school.

Home of the Bulldogs, Union is a private, liberal arts-based institution comprised of undergraduate and graduate programs, supporting a diverse academic environment for nearly 1,200 students. At Union, 100% of students receive grants or scholarships to support their undergraduate education.

To learn more about Union University's Master of Athletic Training program, contact Doug Branch at dbranch@unionky.edu or (606) 546-1508.