DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-0627.23 ISSN: 1938-162X

Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Experiences Managing Workplace Organizational- Professional Conflict

Alicia M. Pike Lacy, Thomas G. Bowman, Stephanie M. Singe
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • General Medicine



Athletic trainers (ATs) face organizational-professional conflict (OPC), often surrounding return-to-sport decisions. To prioritize patient safety and establish a healthy work environment, OPC must be mitigated, yet little research has determined how ATs manage conflicts with stakeholders.


To explore ATs’ experiences with OPC in the secondary school setting.


Qualitative study


Telephone interviews

Patients or Other Participants

16 ATs (9 females, 7 males; age = 43±11 years; years certified = 17±9; years in their current positions = 9±6)

Data Collection and Analysis

We digitally recorded telephone interviews and had them professionally transcribed. Data saturation guided recruitment efforts, and was met. To ensure rigor and trustworthiness of the data, we completed basic member checks along with multiple analyst triangulation. We analyzed the qualitative data using an interpretive phenomenological approach.


Four themes emerged: effective communication, professional relationships, stakeholder education and professional experience. Participants used effective communication described as frequent, open, and direct, during interactions with stakeholders to manage OPC. OPC was reduced when ATs built professional relationships with stakeholders centered on trust and respect. Participants used stakeholder education as a primary strategy for managing OPC by educating stakeholders about prognosis and return-to-sport timelines post-injury and providing rationale for decisions made. Additionally, years of experience served as a mitigating factor of conflict, in that as ATs gained experience and confidence, they perceived less OPC.


Participants suggested various interpersonal relationship development strategies that can be implemented to manage OPC, especially when starting a new position or building rapport with stakeholders. Specifically, educating various stakeholders on reasons for clinical decisions via effective communication and developing strong professional relationships built on mutual respect assisted in avoiding OPC. Since professional experience appears to alleviate conflict, OPC management strategies should be taught during professional preparation and used early during transition to autonomous practice.

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