Prepared for the Frontlines

by Chad Bishop

Vanderbilt Athletics trainers help to fight COVID-19 pandemic


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In an unexpected way, Tom Bossung and his staff were prepared for this.

“Athletic trainers in general kind of have a mindset – they have a helping mindset. That’s why we get into this,” he said. “It’s kind of innate and in our genes and our makeup that we want to help people and that’s what we do.

“When your best player goes down on the court or on the field or in whatever sport, that’s pretty stressful. It’s stressful for the kid, it’s stressful for the coaches and we’re used to handling those situations in front of crowds and in high-intensity situations.”



The loss of a player to injury and what citizens dealing with the global health threat of COVID-19 are going through maybe aren’t too comparable on the surface. But for Bossung and athletic trainers around the country, handling circumstances in which an individual is under an immense amount of pressure and concern is nothing new.

Bossung, the assistant athletic director for sports medicine and head athletic trainer for Vanderbilt football, is providing aid on the frontlines in the fight against coronavirus. He and his staff are also balancing that responsibility with ensuring Vanderbilt’s student-athletes are healthy, safe and getting the proper athletic treatments they may need.

That process originally began with minor adjustments on campus of ramping up already hyper-active cleaning efforts to figuring out ways to frequently stay connected with student-athletes in need to therapy, rehabilitation and training. Next came the phase of finding trusted professionals and legitimate facilities in a student-athletes’ local neighborhood to help assist with workouts.

Now, many of those physical therapy clinics or sports medicine clinics have closed their doors in an effort to increase safety.

“That’s brought on another challenge to where our staff if having to be more creative. ‘If you can’t do this, here’s something you can do as a substitute.’ It’s really been challenging, but it’s been interesting as well in terms of how creative can you be to reach the same objective?

“Running up hills or if they can get to some sort of park that has a stadium they can walk up and down steps they’re going to get a good leg workout. So we’re trying to be creative with body weight movements and body weight exercises.”

Brandon Wells, Vanderbilt’s head athletic trainer for the men’s basketball program, is looking to publish an article for the Tennessee Athletic Trainers’ Society featuring the efforts of, not only Vanderbilt’s athletic training staff, but athletic training staffs across the state. He explained how screening patients and screening hospital employees has become part of a daily work routine.

Wells also pointed out how he and the Vanderbilt staff are fortunate to be in a position to assist and fight the current pandemic despite the frightening climate.

“I think athletic trainers are ingrained and trained to handle high-stress and high-pressure situations. I think this pandemic is just that,” he said. “A lot of people are walking into clinics and are under a lot of stress and uncertainty and they’re not feeling well. Athletic trainers generally have ways to communicate with those patients that are very emotional, stressed out and dealing with something they’ve never dealt with before.

“We’ve taken that head on and understand that if we can deal with an (injured) athlete in front of 10,000 people in the stands we can deal with anything and we can deal with patients that need our help.”



Bossung, who works alongside a Vanderbilt staff of 15, has been assisting at three different locations around the community for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. At the same time he’s checking in with student-athletes via all the available technology and often uses video communications to monitor a rehab to note correct techniques and safe procedures.

He also knows that Commodores around the country are not only struggling to return to a competitive state physically, but also yearning to return to campus to be with their classmates and teammates as isolation and physical social distancing can wear on the psyche. Until that time, however, it’s back to the comforting those who are in greater peril.

“I’ve had a lot of the supervisors and directors (at medical facilities) tell our staff, ‘Hey, you guys have been great. Can you come back next week? Any day you want to come work, come work,’ ” Bossung said. “So right now it’s a balance – all of our student-athletes are gone. Our teams aren’t playing games, they’re not practicing and this gives us the opportunity to continue to serve, not only the Medical Center, but the greater Nashville community. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for Follow him @MrChadBishop.



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