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Athletic Trainer Profile NANCY BURKE, ATC: ‘I’ve had an amazing career!’

August 25, 2017

Congratulations to Nancy Burke, MS, LAT, ATC, on her retirement! Her last day of work as athletic trainer with the Fairfax County Police Department in Fairfax, Virginia, was Aug. 11. Nancy blazed several trails during her athletic training career, including the one that brought athletic training to local law enforcement. And by the way, this wasn’t Nancy’s first retirement…and it looks like it won't be her last.

Nancy got her first exposure to athletic training while attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She explains, “I was playing field hockey and there was an injury. Many in my family have medical careers, and I thought someone should be able to fix these things. The university was growing at the time, and in 1969 – 1970 they offered a class in athletic injuries. It was only open to men getting certified to coach. Women couldn’t take the classes. Then a wonderful man, Ramey Martin, started teaching at the college. He had been a student athletic trainer and was teaching a graduate level course for coaches in the area to get information on treating injuries. I couldn’t get credit for it, but he let me audit it.”

Nancy was immediately intrigued by athletic training, and soon discovered Cramer’s The First Aider newsletter. “In the newsletter, Cramer advertised their $5 home study kit that included something like a couple rolls of tape, a bottle of Iso-Quin salt tablets, and a book of instructions. There are a bunch of us ‘experienced’ athletic trainers who got started in the profession with this $5 box from Cramer. I ordered it and over the summer I practiced taping on all of my family members. It had me hooked. I went back to school and some of the ladies’ coaches let me be the student athletic trainer for their teams, which mostly consisted of wrapping, bandaging, and taping.”

At the same time, a male student interested in athletic training had similar responsibilities for the men’s soccer and basketball (no football then) teams. “The college built an athlete training facility, and we each had a key,” Nancy recalls. “Things were certainly different back then! There was no head athletic trainer-- just Mike and myself, the physicians, and a few students we mentored. I learned everything I could from the team physician while helping him take care of athletes. I also spent hours in the stacks at the libraries and talking to other doctors and university health professionals, soaking up all the knowledge I could. I joined the NATA and was the first female member of District 3.”

Nancy received her undergraduate degree in 1973 and took a high school teaching position. “I missed athletic training, though,” she says, “and decided to take the certification exam. I passed--though I’m not sure how! I was among the first 20 women to become certified. For me, it wasn’t a passion to be certified as a woman—I just really wanted to learn everything I could. The path was there, and there were no limits that I could see.”

She continues, “Since I had the certification first, I realized I didn’t know anything about managing a program and should get a master’s degree somewhere that did!” Nancy was accepted at Eastern Kentucky University, and after graduating in 1976 she accepted a position as a teacher and athletic trainer at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia.

Nancy was heavily involved in the early growth of the Fairfax County athletic training program along with Larry Nottingham, ATC. “We spoke to parent groups, introduced coaches and athletic directors to athletic training coverage for playoff events, and established early protocols for safety.” Over time, the county added more athletic trainers and now there are two at each high school. During those same years she became the chair of the U.S. Women’s Lacrosse Association’s Safety Committee, and was integral in the design and instrumentation of eyewear for women’s Lacrosse. “I was sitting with a manufacturer and explained what could be done to make the eyewear better,” she says. “I drew it on a napkin, he built it, and I supervised testing with varying ball speeds, impact, etc., with five Division I NCAA women’s teams.” As chair of the U.S. Lacrosse Association Safety Committee, Nancy encouraged efforts to mandate protective eyewear and to increase helmet safety standards.

Nancy had been with South Lakes for 29 years when she decided to retire in 2005. “The time was right in many ways to say, ‘Okay, it’s time to move on,’” she reminisces. The school’s sports medicine facility is named in her honor.

The next chapter of Nancy’s career developed from connections made while working at the high school. “There were always police officers present during high school games, and they saw what I did for the student athletes,” Nancy explains. “They would approach me with a hurt ankle or knee, and ask for my treatment recommendations, though I explained that I couldn’t treat them. Then one day I received a call from the station. Someone had an injury and couldn’t get in to see a physician for two weeks, and they wondered if I could help. I looked at their physician list, called one of the docs, and got the officer an appointment for the next day. His ankle was severely injured and the doctor wanted him to start rehab the next day—but the lieutenant called and said they couldn’t get him into rehab for a few weeks! I was able to get him started right away…and to think that otherwise, he might have gone four weeks without appropriate care.”


Nancy did some research and couldn’t find anything about athletic training in a local police department setting—but that didn’t stop her from writing a letter to the commander of the police department. “I gave a background of the athletic training skill set, and said I thought that an athletic trainer could save the department a minimum of 10 percent in medical costs annually. He called me about three days later and wanted to meet for lunch. By then I had more information and statistics, and he had done some research on me as well. We talked for over two hours. It was spring of 2005, and I had already announced that I’d be retiring in October. He called me back around the first of August and asked if I’d be willing to try a small three-month pilot program at the Criminal Justice Academy once I retired from the school district. I liked the idea of starting small to iron out the bugs, and I planned to work 10 hours a week for those three months. But after about a month, a recruit had a major injury. I saved the county $25,000.00 by handling the rehab, the recruit successfully completed the Academy.”

The pilot program was soon expanded to include three work sites. Nancy was more than willing but told them she needed more equipment. “I basically was working with ice and bandages!” she says. As a short-term solution, Nancy called pal Bubba Tyer, head of sports medicine for the Washington Redskins (who has since retired). “Bubba loaned me some equipment for a few months, and that’s when the program really took off,” she says.

At the end of the three-month pilot period, Nancy was offered a 20-hour-a-week part-time job. By the following August, they offered her a full-time position, providing care to the entire police force of about 1800 which included officers and civilian employees. “I went into this thinking it would be a part-time job that could save the department at least 10 percent,” Nancy says. “Ultimately I saved them more than 20 percent, and if you include the savings in overtime, it was 40 percent. In the Criminal Justice Academy, the savings actually reached 90 percent because the recruits were no longer going to the ER for everything, and there was on-site rehab. I provided intervention and preventive care that kept people from collapsing from heat, for example, by reminding them to wear a hat and stay hydrated. Other interventions included blood pressure awareness and concussion management. The money saved meant they could hire more people and buy more equipment the force needed. And most importantly, care from an athletic trainer keeps our officers on the streets. When they come in for care in uniform, there’s often something I can do right on the spot and send them back out—just as we send players back onto the field or court.”

In 2009, Nancy formed the Public Safety Athletic Trainers’ Society, and she is nationally known as the definitive expert in this area. After 12 years with the Fairfax County Police Department, though, Nancy felt the time was right to retire—for the second time. “I’ve had an amazing career, and have been so blessed. A great number of athletic trainers have contributed to my career in so many ways they may not realize. I mirror their work and passion.”

When entering a new environment, Nancy says, it’s not always understood what athletic trainers can do. “But once we show them, the support is there,” she says. “Since launching the program in Fairfax County, other municipalities have hired athletic trainers including Denver, Seattle, and San Antonio. The time is right because it’s proven that we can significantly cut costs. I’m getting requests to help other cities set up programs…so now I’m starting another career as a consultant!"

All of us at Cramer Products thank you for your vast contributions to the athletic training profession, Nancy! We wish you the very best as you begin an exciting new chapter of your life.