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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jeff Konin

Modeling Appropriate Behaviors: Students are the Professionals of Tomorrow

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Despite decades of heroic efforts to enhance the professionalism expected between professional health care providers and students under their supervision, it is an unfortunate reality that unethical and inappropriate behaviors, grounded in the foundation of hierarchical power, continue to exist. Claims of such behavior are often difficult to substantiate as a result of the absence of witnesses, or the unwillingness of witnesses to come forward. Furthermore, it takes a brave student (unfortunately how we define such a person) to come forward and risk one’s own yet to be established career and personal dignity by simply doing what is right and what is taught.

In the athletic training clinical setting, one might struggle to find case law demonstrating wrongdoing on behalf of a clinical preceptor relating to inappropriate behavior with a student. Similarly, cases of this kind that do lead to a claim are more often than not settled under seal, with nothing more than the original breaking news story drawing sensationalism for the media. The student, the victim when speaking up honestly to report the wrongdoing, is left in a lonely world where support from others is often limited, and pre-existing relationships diminish as others choose to keep their distance from the circumstances. Fortunately, the closest of friends will be supportive. Why does this type of behavior occur to a student whose dreams are to become a professional and be mentored by the very individual who chooses to abuse one’s power rather than contribute to the profession’ future?

For years many of athletic trainers were told it was the student’s fault. Yes, the student. It was the student’s fault for being a female in a typically male dominated athletic training room (old terms), and that the student was a distraction to the athletes and the staff. Few, if any of us believed this, yet fewer actually did something about it. For years this thought process was allowed to carry on in some strange form of known secrecy. In some settings, the solution was to not allow female students or interns into the setting at all, therefore removing the alleged temptation of the distraction. It doesn’t take an expert to realize none of these were solutions that should be tolerated and accepted. This is NOT the fault of a student regardless of one’s gender, nor is it the fault of the facility design that was oftentimes used as a rationale for not allowing females in a male facility. It is the fault of those in supervisory roles allowing, facilitating, and partaking in such inappropriate behaviors.

Where does the responsibility lie in an effort to adhere to policy related to professional behaviors in a locker room or athletic training clinic that govern a student’s formal clinical learning environment? In truth, every party has a responsibility to act professionally in the workplace. The athletic training preceptor, the professional who has contractually agreed to properly supervise an athletic training student, has the greatest responsibility to adhere to the expected standard of care. It doesn’t matter the setting (classrooms and labs included), the competition level (professional, collegiate, secondary school), the facility design, or the genders of any of the parties. Simply put, harassment and discriminatory behavior of any form are unacceptable. Furthermore, code 2.3 of the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Code of Ethics and Code 3.10 of the Board of Certification Standards of Professional Practice require athletic trainers to “refrain from unethical practices related to athletic training”, and to “take no action that leads, or may lead, to the conviction, plea of guilty, or plea of no contest to any felony or misdemeanor related to sexual abuse or misconduct”, respectively.

Athletic training students are passionate, motivated, enthusiastic, and creative. They desire, more than anything, to someday find themselves passing their certification exam and practicing the very profession they love. At the very start, and throughout their respective programs, Athletic training students are taught, by way of professional association documents, practice acts, classroom and clinical educating and mentoring, of the importance of professional behaviors as they relate to both ethical and legal actions. They are taught about their duty to report, and they are highly encouraged to speak up on their own behalf. Yet with all of the formal training, they are not prepared for, nor do they deserve to be, the victim of facilitated and/or engaged inappropriate behavior of a supervising preceptor. The athletic training profession has come too far to allow any type of inappropriate behavior to be condoned.

The experts of The Rehberg Konin Group adhere to highest standards of practice and service. Through field experience, policy and procedure review, background search information, and peer review, we strive to assist others in minimizing potential risk of such behaviors in athletic training settings. We also work with those who have been a victim of such behaviors and those who have been wrongly accused.

While sexual discrimination and harassment is a sensitive topic that apparently has not gone away, each of us must play a part to assure that unethical and illegal behaviors are not manifested as a result of one’s position of authority. We must share the responsibility of safeguarding the professionals of tomorrow.

Contributions to this blog provided by Dr. Glenn Edgerton, Dr. Kysha Harriell, Brian Goodstein, Dr. Robb Rehberg, and Dr. Jeff Konin

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