Purpose: Typically, athletic trainers (ATs) have relied on external support networks to debrief after a critical incident (CI). ATs report focusing on improving work-related processes after a CI rather than their emotional response to the CI. The purpose of this study was to identify both the short-term emotional impacts of CIs and what coping strategies ATs use to address their emotional response to CIs. Methods: We used a cross-sectional, web-based survey, distributed to a random sample of NATA members to explore the perceived effects of CIs on ATs. Participants (n=73, 36±11y) were primarily women (n=53, 72.6%), working in the college/university practice setting (n = 40, 54.8%), with 7±3y of experience. All participants experienced a CI within the previous 12 months. The data were analyzed using descriptive statistics for demographic variables and multi-analyst inductive coding for the open-ended items amongst a 4-person team. We used a modified consensual qualitative research (CQR) process to review and analyze the open-ended questions and identify domains and core ideas. Trustworthiness was established with multi-analyst triangulation and auditing. Results: Participants most commonly reported feelings of thinking too much (71%, n=52), anxiety (63%, n=46), sadness (60%, n=44), fatigue (53%, n=39), and sleep disturbance (49%, n=36) resulting from CIs. Common coping strategies used were exercise (63%, n=46), humor (44%, n=32), interacting with pets (41%, n=30), expressing oneself through crying (40%, n=29), and peer support (34%, n=25). Sixty-two participants (86%) responded to open-ended questions related to the outcomes of CIs. Four domains were identified from the open-ended responses. Those domains included 1) dissociation, 2) deteriorated emotional state, 3) disruption of daily activities, and 4) improved event or post-event processes. Conclusion: Various strategies are used by ATs to cope with CIs; however, the only ways in which ATs expressed that coping helped was with care delivery, not the emotional impact of the CI. The lack of responses relative to coping strategies that improve quality of life is potentially alarming. To build resilience and persistence, organizations should consider requiring support beyond process improvement that addresses the emotional impact of CIs.

Author Bio(s)

P. Noelle Haller, LAT, ATC, is an athletic trainer with Franciscan Health in Crawfordsville, Indiana and will be a 2022 graduate of the Indiana State University Doctorate in Athletic Training program.

Elizabeth R. Neil, Ph.D., LAT, ATC, is an Assistant Professor of Instruction for the Athletic Training Programs and the Clinical Education Coordinator at Temple University.

Justin P. Young, DAT, LAT, ATC, is currently pursuing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction as well as a 2021 graduate of the Indiana State University Doctorate in Athletic Training program.

Matthew J. Drescher, DAT, LAT, ATC, is currently pursuing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction as well as a 2020 graduate of the Indiana State University Doctorate in Athletic Training program.

Lindsey E. Eberman, Ph.D., LAT, ATC, is a Professor and the Program Director for the Indiana State Doctorate in Athletic Training program.


We would like to thank Katie Scott and Isaac Hook for advocating for athletic trainers experiencing stress following critical incidents and their roles as external reviewers within this project. Isaac Hook serves as Co-Chair of the ATs Care committee in the state of Indiana and Katie Scott is involved with ATs Care at a national level in a variety of ways. In addition, we would like to thank Kelcey Granger and Dr. Karen Holmes for their support of this project. This project was funded by Indiana State University’s College of Graduate and Professional Studies-Graduate Student Research Fund.




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