25 Years of Perspective

25 Years of Perspective
Posted on 02/05/2019

By Chris Mathewson
Head Athletic Trainer
Ponderosa High School
Director of Athletic Training
Douglas County School District

This fall marked the start of my 25th year at Ponderosa High School as the Head Athletic Trainer. Many things have changed since I started and many things are identical to my first day.

The three biggest changes that I have seen in my time at Ponderosa are:
–the development of a more organized approach to how we complete our jobs
–the development of a district-wide concussion management plan
–the rapid growth and changes of the healthcare field

Organized Approach
When I first started at Ponderosa, they handed me a brick cell phone and a set of keys. Nobody told me anything about operations, district policies, physician standing orders or anything. At that time there were three high schools in the district: Douglas County, Highlands Ranch, and Ponderosa. Each of the athletic trainers at those schools were employed in a different model. One was a teacher and received a stipend; another was a teacher and employed as the AT through a sports medicine clinic. I was employed through a contract with a sports medicine clinic in Aurora. Our responsibilities were different, our salaries were different, and our professional evaluation process was different.

Being quite “green,” I reached out to the other two ATs and asked for direction. They did their best to provide some help. However, it was very foreign to them – the idea of coming together as a team and working together to solve our similar problems.

Today all of our ATs are employed in one manner through Panorama Orthopedic and Spine Clinic in Highlands Ranch. We have an operations handbook that defines our standards of care, standing orders from our directing physician and extensive policies and procedures. The handbook is thoroughly reviewed every year and adjustments are made to ensure that we are operating within best practice guidelines.

Our ATs meet ten times a school year for group problem-solving discussions and continuing educational meetings. I also meet three times a year with the school district athletic directors and work together on group problem-solving. Our environment of support is extremely different today than it was for me 25 years ago.

Concussion Management
When I went to school there were four different procedures for the management of concussions. When you began your professional practice you operated using whichever one you were taught in school. Physicians were the same way. So managing a concussion was extremely challenging and confusing. The research of proper management of head injuries is probably 30 times greater now than what it was 25 years ago. The system we have now is based on current best practice and it is adjusted every year to reflect any changes or updates.

Healthcare Circle
When I first started, the industry of healthcare was extremely different. Kids got hurt, went to the emergency room, and then went to the specialist. If they needed it, they were referred to therapy. Now there is hoop after hoop to jump through to just get basic care. Each step delays the response and return to play.

After about five or six years at Ponderosa, I had a school year that saw eleven of our student-athletes injured so severely that they needed some type of surgery. I walked every one of those eleven student-athletes through their entire therapy process. That was just how healthcare worked then.

The past ten years have really seen the explosion of the “gurus,” the specialized providers who offer a “niche” service. Now there are sports medicine clinics, advanced training centers, recovery clinics, strength and conditioning coaches, agility coaches, etc. etc. Each of those providers is working with the kids using their specialized skills and lens.

Even though several things have changed since my first season at Ponderosa, there are many things that have not changed from my first day on the job.

Sports are Great
Team and individual sports offer more than just physical benefits for kids who participate. They teach leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

The kids of Ponderosa (and all DCSD) compete hard and no matter how hard I try to prevent it, kids will get hurt. They will always need somebody there to take care of them when this happens. I hope to be that guy at Pondo for the next several years.

The career of athletic training is all about relationships. Relationship with coaches, parents, athletes and other healthcare providers. I work very hard to make sure all of my relationships are positive. Meredith King, an athletic trainer I worked with at Ponderosa years ago, said that we should take care of the kids the way we would want our own children cared for. I want each kid I come across to know that I care for them and all my decisions are based on two factors: 1) keeping them safe and 2) keeping them doing what they are so passionate about doing.

I Love My Job
Through all my years at Pondo, I have only had a few bad days at work. Each one of those was because a kid was hurt so badly, I was uncertain as to their recovery prospects. All turned out fine.

I feel very lucky to have a job that I truly enjoy doing every day. Hopefully, my next 25 years will be just as exciting as my first 25 were.

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