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Public Health in Focus: Helen Clay Gallagher, associate athletic trainer

Each week in 2019, we're highlighting someone in the College of Public Health—students, alumni, researchers and beyond—for a feature we're calling Public Health in Focus. Click the photo for a portrait of Helen Clay Gallagher, a Doctor of Athletic Training student who also serves as associate athletic trainer for Temple women’s volleyball and rowing, or read on for the full interview.


How did you become interested in athletic training?
I was an athlete my entire life, and I ended up being that teammate that everyone would ask, “how should I stretch this?” In high school, I was injured and met an athletic trainer for the first time. I sprained my ankle, and he evaluated me, taped me up, and sent me back in to play, and I finished the game. And then he took me through rehab...and that was my first introduction to what athletic trainers are and what they do. I was injured again later in high school, and I fractured my back. I realized I really enjoy being in athletics, but I also enjoy the side of helping people recover from injury.  

I like the drive that you need in order to work in D1 athletics. There’s a lot of pressure, but also you’re making a bigger impact. You’re working with athletes that really care about their bodies, so it makes your job a little bit easier. It’s amazing how students can juggle being an athlete, being a student, and excelling at both. I get to build a relationship with all of these people: I get to know them before their injury, during, and after. That’s really pushed me to continue my studies in athletic training and to make sure that I can be the best practitioner that I can be for the athletes.

What is a typical day like?
It depends on the day. But the typical day could be about 10 or 12 hours. I show up around 5:45 a.m., and I’m here before lift to help students if they wake up with an injury or if they want to go to lift but they need to warm up. Then, during lift, I’m here to manage any injuries and take care of them. And then post lift, I’m here to take care of recovery. Then volleyball usually comes in; they’ll do exercises prior to practice, I’ll tape them up, we’ll send them out to practice. I cover practice, so in case there’s any sort of injury that might happen, I’m the emergency call. After practice, they usually go down to lift so I’ll be here for lift. Then, I take time to do some paperwork, documenting appointments or injuries.

After that, rowing comes back in for pre-practice treatments or rehab. So the athletes schedule an appointment to see me, I evaluate them and  take them through a rehab program, and then they’ll go up to practice. I'll get back to more documentation, or I’ll go up to practice and watch them and make sure everyone's okay, especially if they’re doing a hard workout. Then we’ll close up and go home and do it all again the next day. I squeeze lunch in sometimes.

How does the degree you’re working on now complement the work you’re doing?
The clinical doctorate is the most advanced clinical degree you can get with athletic training, and it helps me incorporate evidence-based medicine into my practice. I’m learning a lot more about how to utilize the research that is done and apply it directly to my practice. If I’m evaluating an injury, I should keep in mind research that has proven that these are the best tests to do. Or, if I’m going to use certain types of treatment, am I using it appropriately? I like to think that the program’s preparing me to be not just a better clinician but also a better professional.

What has inspired you to keep pursuing your education?
The biggest thing about evidence-based medicine is that the research is never done. A few years ago, for instance, they discovered a new ligament in the knee. And we always joke about how, years and years ago, when someone sprained their ankle, you would put them in a cast. Now, we’re like, woah, no cast—maybe we’ll have to immobilize you for a day or two, but we have to get that moving, because moving will actually help that get better faster.

In sports medicine, we’re always ready to find what’s the next best thing that’s going to get athletes back faster—safe, but faster. It’s a never-ending field of learning and trying new things and improving, and so the clinical doctorate really is forcing me to take into account that there is ever-changing evidence out there and to not get stuck in my ways.

Do you have a favorite class you’ve taken?
When I was getting my master’s, I took a cadaver dissection class up at the hospital. I think that being able to see the body and actually touch the muscles and tendons helped me understand the body so much better than a textbook or model could. It was fascinating, but it also made me appreciate the body a lot more. As a clinician, I might be looking at your skin, but I’ve had the experience of seeing the muscles underneath and feeling their tension.

My cadaver was a man, a very large man, and we had to learn how to flip the cadaver safely on the table so we could work on their back. And, I mean, class was 7 to 9 a.m., so first thing in the morning, you show up and get right into it.

Helen Clay Gallagher received her Master of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in athletic training and is now pursuing her Doctor of Athletic Training. She also serves as associate athletic trainer for Temple women’s volleyball and rowing.Check out all of the Public Health in Focus portraits so far.

Posted:  April 11, 2019