Interview with Dr. Rachel Johnson Krug
John Cody of SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed Dr. Johnson Krug from University of Mary. They discuss how the field of kinesiology and athletic training has changed over the years, what started Dr. Krug on her career path, why athletic training could be a smart career move, and how best to select a graduate program.
About Dr. Rachel Johnson Krug
Dr. Johnson Krug is the Athletic Training and Kinesiology Department Chair and Associate Professor at the University of Mary. She completed her EdD in Occupational and Adult Education from North Dakota State University with a research focus on Burnout in Athletic Training Students. She has over 20 years of practicing as an athletic trainer. Dr. Johnson Krug’s current research interest lies in burnout, inter-professional education and collaborations, and behavioral health.
John: If you could sort of summarize by telling us about your academic journey and why it was you chose this path in athletic training and kinesiology
Dr. Krug: In high school, I knew I wanted to do Athletic training. I had the opportunity to work with an athletic trainer after an injury that I sustained. Working with both a PT and an AT, I liked what the AT did working with the active population, not necessarily high school athletes but any patients that came into the clinic that were active, they were working with those patients. That kinesiology ties in with human movement and coincides with the athletic training degree because you learn about anatomy, how the body moves, how to make the body more efficient, and prevent those injuries from happening. So those were my interests going into school, I always knew that athletic training was the route that I wanted to do and I liked working with the active population. Kinesiology, I have a love for kinesiology because it ties so closely with athletic training and it makes me a better athletic trainer because of my knowledge and experience in this area.
John: If it’s too personal don’t worry, but do you still have these serious injuries like when you were younger, or were they able to get them worked out through proper training and rehabilitation?
Dr. Krug: Not at all, I was a gymnast and had many patellae dislocated/ subluxations and ankle injuries. I did heal from them however my patella sits laterally so it’s always subluxed. In college, I did have surgery and just recently I had a patellofemoral replacement. It’s part genetic too where you can’t control where your kneecap sits. Definitely working with the athletic trainer helped me be a very successful high school athlete and then going on to college for athletics until I had surgery for the first time.
John: I guess that’s always par for the course for gymnasts, they are always so injury prone. So I did see reading up on your bio, you do have a lot of experience as an athletic trainer. You even mention that at a smaller community hospital you were the first athletic trainer there. I’m wondering if you could tell us what it was like being the first person in that role and over the years how have you seen sports medicine change in hospitals and clinical settings?
Dr. Krug: It was a great opportunity for me. When you graduate from school, you kind of have these aspirations of life goals, and that was one of the goals that I wanted to do, was to start and run a first medicine program. So having that opportunity right after my master’s degree was phenomenal. I had a great opportunity to work with other health care professionals at the hospital and some great physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and respiratory therapists. And also orthopedic physicians, who were the spearhead of bringing me on board. They pushed the hospital to get an athletic trainer to start this because they were new in the community and wanted that athletic trainer to help the community because they didn’t have services in the community. I was also able to work with coaches, athletes, and parents at the high school who was open and receptive to me coming into the school. You think about it, I was pretty young at the time so coming into that school and telling these athletes, “no you can’t play.” The coaches were used to saying, “everybody’s playing, yep you’re not hurt.” It was kind of that mind shift but they were all very open to me. I enjoyed the opportunity to create and grow the program from the ground up. Having that vision and a little bit of experience, I had a lot of great mentors along the way that I think impacted how I developed that program, with the help of the physicians and just that vision to have great services for a bunch of different school in the area as well as community members. The things I’ve seen change is a lot more inclusion. Back when I was there, we had a rehab department with a lot of professionals working in the same area and we were able to work together, even with patients, and I see that more and more now. In our setting at the university, we have an interprofessional class that I teach. So we are now educating our students to be able to know what an athletic trainer does so when they go out to get their job, they might find a patient that needs athletic training service. Back in my day, in school, we didn’t have those interprofessional classes but I did have it in my position, so I think that helped me to want to develop the interprofessional class for our students so they could have that experience before they go out so they can work together effectively. I also see the expansion of athletic training in a variety of settings. For billing insurances for services, we had just started that at the end of my time at the community hospital. But now AT’s are billing for services in a variety of settings. Not only athletic training but kinesiology and biomechanics have also grown tremendously in a variety of areas.
John: These are really good answers. It’s definitely interesting hearing your perspective especially saying when you were first in the field, you were at an age where it might be hard for people to respect you. But you can look back on that now which is great. Some people out there might not understand exactly what kinesiology is, I myself am potentially in that group, so if you could help explain basically what it is, what a degree in kinesiology could lead to, and how diverse the field is.
Dr. Krug: Kinesiology, how I best describe it to students is learning about the body and how it moves. That’s kinesiology in a quick nutshell. How I look at it, it’s as broad as your education in your program. For example, our graduates have experience in strength and conditioning, biomechanics, ergonomics, and motion analysis. Those are just a few areas that they can venture out and get a job. I like that because we can have a coach that wants to gain more knowledge about mechanics so they can help prevent injuries with their players. Or I can have somebody who loves working with gait analysis and wants to figure out the best shoe to get the most bang for your buck when you’re running. So they might go work for Nike and develop that shoe. Or I might have somebody who is intrigued in the body system and go work with Gatorade sports science institute working with their research department. It’s so broad that I like that area of kinesiology and our program gives our students so many opportunities. Some programs are specific to strength and conditioning and some are specific to motion analysis. In our program, we have a variety that students can go out and, as I said, have a job ranging from coaching all the way to working with Nike.
(Our guide has more information about careers in kinesiology)
John: That’s interesting. I guess I never really considered how many different options there could be. When did you decide and was there any sort of impetus for deciding that you wanted to pursue your PhD?
Dr. Krug: Well another career goal I had was to teach at a university. I always knew after my master’s degree and a few years working that I wanted to go back and get it. However, the university that was nearby discontinued the degree I wanted to focus on so I waited. Then coming to the University of Mary, I started the master’s in kinesiology, and the same year I started my doctorate work because I knew if I was teaching in a master’s degree I needed to have a doctoral degree. With the increased knowledge that I got from my position as the chair for the department, I was able to analyze the different data that we were collecting and make those educated decisions of why we were doing what we were doing. Also, the teaching aspect, the tools that you get from doctoral work helps your teaching as well.
John: Do you have an opinion as to why you feel athletic training as a profession could be a excellent choice for young people out there who were athletes themselves or who are passionate about sports?
Dr. Krug: Yes, passion is important in any career that you choose. When I think about the athletic trainers that I know, 95-99%, I don’t have the statistics, but almost everybody was an athlete at some point in time or involved in athletics in high school. So they may not play basketball but they were the student manager for basketball. Most athletic trainers have that mindset of competition and are a part of the active population. So they thrive on that activity. The nice thing about athletic training is that our accreditation is now mandated for all programs to go to a master’s degree. Those people that have a passion for sports can be a college athlete and then get their master’s degree in athletic training. Here at Mary, we allow them to be an athlete in our program but there were a lot of schools where you couldn’t do both. If you were an athletic training major, you couldn’t be an athlete. I like that we are moving towards that master’s degree because it will allow those athletes to be an athlete in college and then pursue that degree. After all, they still have that passion for that sport. There are also a lot of settings you can work in as an athletic trainer. You’re working with those employees who are active on a daily basis for their job and I think that’s why athletic trainers love what they do.
(See our guide about careers in sports medicine)
John: Absolutely. For prospective students, what are some important things they should look for or keep in mind when they’re comparing different athletic training and kinesiology programs?
Dr. Krug: My recommendation is to take a look at the prerequisite classes for the program and make sure you like the type of classes that are being offered and they fall in line with what you want to do. Take a look at the length of time to complete your program. Our kinesiology masters are four semesters and our athletic training is five-semester, so both are pretty quick where I know other programs maybe a little bit longer. So take a look at the length and time in your program because it may determine which program you pick. Also, look at the additional opportunities that the program has. Our athletic training students will have the opportunity to go to Peru for an athletic training experience. Also, consider the equipment you’ll get to use. We have motion analysis cameras, force plates, high-speed treadmills, and hockey treadmills. So look at all the equipment you’ll be able to use. That will come into handy, for example, if you know you want to work for Sanford Sports Institute because you want to do research and figure out problems athletes are having in hockey, take a look at the programs that have the equipment you are going to be using in your job. In addition, consider the number of faculty and experience that they have. I think that’s one of the biggest things. We have five different faculty and we have a variety of different experiences, from faculty with a lot of education experience as they were going through the athletic training program and others that have a lot of clinical experience. Looking at that number of faculty and experience is also big. Also the values of the university as well as the program. Do they fall in line with what you want to do? As a small private catholic institution, we offer a little bit more than public institutions offer in the private sector. As well, the opportunity for interprofessional experiences. I talked about that a little bit. We have ten health care professions in our school and that’s a lot to be exposed to when you are looking at different class opportunities and other clinical opportunities that you may have in your program. Also, think about the variety of courses that you would take. I mentioned the variety of experiences that the students in the kinesiology program have here and it’s a lot that they will get experience with. We also have a unique athletic training program that is more tailored towards developing that whole person as an athletic trainer. Then there are research opportunities. All of our students in both those programs complete a research project with a research advisor, so look for any research opportunities that you’ll get. Last, I will say the clinical experiences. Our athletic training program has four clinical experiences. Our kinesiology has two internship opportunities and those opportunities in the field are important because it allows the student to be able to work with the professionals in the setting that they want to work in when they are done. Who knows, they might get a job out of it after they’re done.
John: That’s right. A lot of what you’ve said so far touches on my next question but is there anything else you’d like to say in terms of what factors set the University of Mary’s kinesiology program apart from your average program?
Dr. Krug: I would say the ability to complete the program online. We have a lot of students that are graduate assistants who are able to complete the program successfully and I think that’s important because I think we all know how much the grad assistants work for their sports teams. The ability to be successful and complete the research project and the course work is outstanding. For the research component, after the completion of the degree, they are able to take the NSCA exam to become a CSCS or ergonomics certificate. Also, the internship helps to gain that real-world experience, which I think is one of the biggest things.
John: Just to clarify, once a student goes through the program at University of Mary, they would be ready and in a good place to take some of these certification exams?
Dr. Krug: Yes they are prepared to take those exams. We strongly encourage our students to take them as soon as they graduate.
John: That’s such a good way to set them up to be job-ready and just jump out into the world. Speaking of the professional world, would you say that the demand is high for kinesiology degree holders currently? And I don’t know if you have any insights as to how the pandemic might affect the demand but I’d like to hear your insight on that.
Dr. Krug: I think from our experience that our students are getting jobs. I think the nice thing is, because of that variety they have, they might right now be a graduate assistant for a sports team but have that passion for strength and conditioning. So when they’re done, they are going to be able to get that job as a strength and conditioning coach. We just had a conversation this morning, we have a grad working in Florida at a high school and a university as a strength coach. There are a lot of opportunities out there. With the pandemic, I think people are being creative with teleservices and virtual services that they’re able to do. I think that creativity is great at this time because it’s opening the door for people who maybe didn’t or couldn’t have services before. With kinesiology master’s it also sets you up to pursue other graduate degrees while you’re able to work. Athlete training and kinesiology go hand in hand. You could work with that strength and conditioning coach while you are pursuing an athletic training graduate degree. There are a lot of different opportunities like that.
(For more info check out our Kinesiology Careers Guide)
John: Finally, is there anything else you want to share with the next generation of students, athletic trainers, and kinesiologists that will be following in your footsteps?
Dr. Krug: Follow your dreams and what makes you happy is the biggest thing. Don’t let people tell you what you should do. Focus on what you like to do. What is your passion and who do you like working with on a daily basis? I always knew I wanted to work with the active population, and athletic training is the career that allows me to do that. And I enjoy helping people. I also learn best by practical application so I think that’s important. Are you a hands-on learner or do you like to sit and listen? Kinesiology and athletic training are both very hands-on orientated degrees where you do a lot of course work, clinical work, and internships that are applicable and hands-on, versus sitting. If you are torn between options, talk to professionals, professors, and students in the degrees to see which path you’ll enjoy the most. I see our students are a little confused on not even knowing what athletic training is and after hearing about it, say they like it. So really investigate all those different options. Financials is another thing. Your degree should cost less than your first year in salary when you graduate. So think about how much the degree is going to cost you. At the University of Mary, tuition is going to be less than you make in your first year no matter where you are at. That’s something to consider when looking at programs. Those are my big things, follow your passion, and follow your dreams.
John: That’s great. All around, very good advice, insight and perspective. Thank you so much for your time again.