By Zach Herman
If the visiting team’s quarterback goes down clutching his knee during an NFL or college game, it’s likely that the trainer who deals with the player every day, and perhaps a team physician, will be on the field tending to the injury in a matter of seconds.
And, until recently, those medical professionals did so at significant personal and professional risk because their licenses did not transfer from state to state and medical liability insurance carriers did not cover activities performed while outside the state that licensed them.
President Donald Trump last week signed the Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act (HR 302), which extends the liability insurance coverage of a state-licensed medical professional to another state. This new law allows professionals who provide medical services to an athlete or team to travel with them and provide care to out-of-state games.
Every state except California requires athletic trainers to be licensed, registered or certified to practice in their state and every state requires sports medicine physicians to hold a license to practice. Until this law’s passage, athletic trainers and sports medicine physicians could have lost their license and suffered major financial losses if they were involved in a malpractice suit when they were practicing in a state outside of the one licensing them.
“The (National Association of Athletic Trainers) hopes that … HR 302 will recognize the advantageous role of athletic trainers in the health care spectrum and the unique scenarios (trainers) encounter when traveling with their teams,” said Tory Lindley, M.A., ATC, the association’s president. “Ideally, it will also raise awareness regarding the need for consistency of care among our patients and highlight the lack of appropriate medical coverage in many circumstances.”
Approximately 375,000 people currently work as either athletic trainers or sports medicine physicians, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the athletic trainer profession to grow by 23 percent by 2026. Sports medicine physicians are projected to grow by 14 percent by 2026.
For an industry growing as quickly as sports medicine, it is vital to make sure licensing measures across states help facilitate the growth of the industry while maintaining the standards of safety and quality of care that comes with licensure.
That is the focus of the Occupational Licensing Project at NCSL. Over the past few years, occupational licensing reform has become a bipartisan, national effort. The federal government has also joined the effort—with support coming from both the Obama and Trump administrations.
NCSL works with state legislators to allow for greater interstate portability, more uniform standards for licensure across states and a balance between economic demand and government regulation.
Zach Herman is a research analyst in NCSL's Employment, Labor & Retirement Program.