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The (controversial) future of doctoral education in AT education

Rapid changes are occurring to the degree landscapes of many health professions. These changes are affecting both the professional (i.e., entry-level) and post-professional degree levels offered by these professions. In the cases of several peer professions, first professional degrees are offered at the doctoral degree level.1, 2 In other cases, post-professional doctorates have emerged.3-5 These degrees have been referred to as professional, clinical, and practice doctorates. Whether at the professional or post-professional level, these degrees are different in both scope and objective from that of traditional research doctorates (e.g., Ph.D.).6 Comprehensive reports by several national, independent organizations concerned with higher education and/or healthcare delivery clearly establish the need for applied doctoral degrees in the allied health professions.7-9 The emergence and rapid growth of entry-level masters degrees in athletic training education brings a new urgency to the need for discussions about professional and/or post professional doctoral degrees. This argument is bolstered by the recent creation of the first post-professional applied doctorate in athletic training. Such planning must account for the lessons offered by peer health professions10 that have made or are making similar transitions, including physical therapy, pharmacy, and occupational therapy. Planning must also account for the strategic goals of the profession and practice of athletic training within the broader healthcare system. Relatedly, an attempt must be made to separate perceived benefits and risks from those that are probable or have been realized by other professions.11-20 Finally, these issues must be considered against the decision-making and policy-setting infrastructure of the athletic training profession.

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