Sports medicine lets students stay close to athletics, help others

Alex Dejong’s sporting career didn’t end by her own choice.

A Pittsburgh native, Dejong was an active athlete in high school, playing soccer and running track. That is, until an injury forced her off the playing field.

“I tore my ACL my senior year of high school while I was skiing,” Dejong said. “I was unfortunately unable to participate in spring track that year.”

But while the injury may have closed off an active career, it piqued Dejong’s curiosity in a career that could combine her interests in helping others and the human body.

“I went through surgery and the rehab process, and I really liked the work that was done,” Dejong said. “Initially I was thinking about physical therapy, but the more I talked to people at Pitt and the more I looked into different programs, I decided athletic training was more of the route I wanted to do.”

Now a senior, Dejong is pursuing a degree in athletic training in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

The school is a separate entity within Pitt, like the Pharmacy School. Students spend their first two years at Pitt completing the prerequisites for the program before applying their sophomore year.

In 2014, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences received 48 applicants and accepted 24.

Amy Aggelou is the program director for the rigorous program, which works its students from morning to evening.

“The kids have classes from 8 a.m. to noon every day,” Aggelou said. “Their first year in the program, the students are carrying 18 credits.”

Like Dejong, Aggelou had a similar story of why she got into sports medicine. After suffering an injury and completing rehabilitation, she felt compelled to help other athletes recover to compete again.

A senior, Dejong is in her last year of the program and has a hectic daily schedule. The classes she takes in the morning range from clinical techniques, human anatomy and physiology — just to name a few.

But in addition to classes, the program also gives students experience working with athletes.

“We really get to immerse ourselves into the field, working with the athletes, seeing their improvements and really getting their appreciation is a great benefit from the program.”

“We are assigned to random clinical rotations, we have to either work an on-campus sport for the semester, or we are assigned to a high school or another school like CMU,” Dejong said. Students work 20 to 30 hours each week with their assigned program, aiding the training staff in any capacity needed.

Currently, Dejong works with Pitt softball. She spends most of her time in the athletic training room, helping athletes with injury prevention. That includes taping and bracing athletes’ limbs before practice and games, preparing medical supplies and helping with hydration.

The hands-on work was one of the main features that drew Dejong to the profession.

“I really like the interaction we get with the athletes,” Dejong said. “We really get to immerse ourselves into the field, working with the athletes, seeing their improvements and really getting their appreciation is a great benefit from the program.”

Dejong intends on pursuing graduate school in athletic training and has already begun filing her paperwork. Aggelou said most students coming into the program pursue higher education in the field.

“The vast majority of our students, about two-thirds, stay within athletic training. The rest will go to PT school, medical school and orthotics and prosthetics school,” Aggelou said.

It’s not a coincidence that nearly two-thirds of the graduating class go on to pursue a career in athletic training. Most, like Dejong, will try to get an graduate assistantship with collegiate athletics and aid the coaching staff in managing the team.

“What makes this profession unique is the availability of graduate assistantship,” Aggelou said. “We had nine students last year apply for these assistantships across the country.”

All nine of the Pitt grads received positions in Division I programs across the country, Aggelou explained. Included with the job are full scholarships to the school’s graduate program.

But for Dejong, the reward of the job is about more than full rides.

“I think [athletic training] is very rewarding,” Dejong said. “If you like working with people and getting hands-on experience learning about the body, I think it’s just really a great profession to pursue.”

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