When Kelly Stalker was nine years old, her father took her to a Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. When play stopped because of an injury to a player, Stalker remembered wondering who the guy was who ran onto the ice in sneakers to help him. From that moment, she was interested in a career as an athletic trainer.
In 2002, Kelly Stalker, Ed.D., LAT, ATC was hired by Immaculata as the first in-house athletic trainer. Since then, she has transitioned to the academic side of the profession where she is educating the next generation of professionals in the continually evolving field. Serving as the program director for the athletic training programs for the past 10 years, Stalker notices changes in the curriculum that reflects the evolving skill set of the profession.
During the nascent years of the athletic training field of the early 20th century, practitioners generally only needed a basic understanding of First Aid…no medical certification was required. However, this changed by the late 1980s. At Ursinus College where Stalker was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science with a concentration in athletic training, students were educated through the old “internship” route which required many hours of hands-on experience. She later earned a master’s degree in developmental kinesiology from Bowling Green University in Ohio and an Ed.D. from Widener University.
Stalker acknowledges that the standards for entry-level athletic trainers have expanded since her college days—and even more so throughout this past year.
“Athletic trainers have been trying to educate the public that they are health care providers—how can we help with contact tracing? Can we help you with the administration of testing?” says Stalker. She relays that there have been many athletic trainers, including Immaculata alumni, who have worked at testing sites and with hospital systems and health care organizations in need of COVID-19 support.
What Stalker wants prospective students to recognize is that athletic trainers are part of the medical field—recognized in 1990 as an allied health profession by the American Medical Association (AMA). She explains that their scope of practice includes preventing, diagnosing and treating injuries for various industries including hospitals, schools, the military, performing arts and, of course, collegiate and professional sports teams.
To help prepare students for these various career options, Stalker and the athletic training faculty at Immaculata are always finding ways to enhance the curriculum. Adapting to virtual classes, she learned to be creative with the hands-on lessons. For a mock patient poster presentation assignment, she asked students to evaluate a family member or friend (who was part of their quarantine group) and to monitor their progress following a diagnosis of an injury. The students then presented their findings to the class via Google Meet.
“The students really enjoyed that activity.” Stalker remembers thinking she should make it a new component for every class. She also added coursework on telemedicine strategies that seemed relevant for the current environment.
Noting that athletic training is a popular field, with jobs expected to increase by 20% within the decade, Stalker oversaw the creation of a Master of Athletic Training (MAT) degree. Students will soon be required to earn a master’s degree before becoming eligible to take the certification exam.
To accommodate the level of interest within the growing field, Stalker also helped design two new undergraduate athletic training tracks. The accelerated 3+2 track provides students an option to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree that matriculates into the university’s MAT. In addition, students earn a B.S. in exercise science through a traditional four-year curriculum in pre-athletic training with the flexibility of enrolling in IU’s MAT or another graduate program within the field.
Faculty in the department are focused on securing top-notch clinical experiences that align with the students’ career goals including opportunities abroad and with professional sports teams.
Even today, Stalker still finds herself watching the Flyers, waiting for one of the athletic trainers to run out on the ice. “The action doesn’t stop when a game goes to commercial, the real action is just beginning,” she claims.