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December 13, 2014

Jodie Smith, ATC, CSCS, is an outreach athletic trainer for rural high schools in Montana. She loves the variety and opportunity to make an impact on many teens.

Jodie grew up in Billings, Montana, and attended Billings West High School. Through the school’s student athletic training program, she took a sports medicine class as a sophomore, and was an athletic training student during her junior and senior years. She knew athletic training was the career for her.

Jodie attended the University of Montana in Missoula. “At the time, it was the only curriculum athletic training program in the state,” she says. Upon graduation in 1998, Jodie thought she might want to work with a professional team, but there were few internships offered then. “I didn’t want a masters degree,” Jodie recalls, “and I was sure I could find a job. But when I was still unemployed after a month I decided to get my Masters at Montana State University – Billings, so I’d be more marketable.” She completed the program in just 13 months, graduating in August 1999.

After that, Jodie taught for a few years and did some part-time athletic training, but didn’t find a position doing both, which was her hope. Then in 2006 she was hired by her current employer, Ortho Montana. The organization provides sports medicine services to the Billings region, covering a radius of about 100 miles.

In her position, Jodie visits seven rural schools, spends most afternoons as an assistant athletic trainer at the high school she attended in Billings, and works one morning a week at an orthopedic clinic, working with physicians. “The variety makes it fun,” she says. “I never know what I’ll see when I get to a school. No visit or trip is the same.”

If it sounds like she drives a lot of miles, you’re right! During the 2013-14 school year, Jodie drove more than 12,000 miles on her job. “I spend a lot of time in my car,” she acknowledges. “It’s both my second home and my office, complete with snacks, clothing changes for any kind of weather, and athletic training kits. During my drives I see amazing scenery including antelopes, eagles, hawks, pheasants, and wild turkeys.” During inclement weather, Jodie frequently uses her phone to check reports from the Montana Department of Transportation and doesn’t go out if the roads are hazardous.

It can be kind of tough when two of her high schools play each other, but Jodie knows how to handle it. “I cheer for all good plays,” she says. “During the games, I walk back and forth a lot and they holler if they need me. The coaches do some of the first aid, and the coaches and officials know when they should call me over. They’ve even stopped games to let me run across the field if they don’t want me to take the time to walk around the field. At the end of the game, I go into huddles for both teams to check on injuries.”

The students Jodie works with give her the most satisfaction on her job. “I really like the kids,” she says. “I teach them to become informed healthcare consumers, because there are always options. So many decisions are made for high school students, but I want them to use their brains and learn to make good choices. This way, they feel empowered in their healing process. I’m also there to listen when they’re frustrated.”

Without a doubt, Jodie is making an impact on the lives of the many students she gets to know in rural Montana. For example, the smallest school she works with has just nine students, and seven of them formed a cross-country team even though running is new to many of them. Jodie says, “I recently evaluated a sophomore on the team who was experiencing shin pain. I discovered that she over-pronated, and also had a tendency to internally rotate at the hip with some valgus of her knee. I started her on calf stretches and hip external rotation exercises.”

She continues, “The student left my office (also known as the school library!) with an understanding of her personal biomechanics and an explanation for several past injuries as well. She was excited to go home and tell her mom and said to me, ‘Why can’t doctors explain things like this?’ As I was leaving the school, I overheard her relaying everything we had talked about to her coach, who is also her science teacher. That was a really good day.”