Over the past 30 years, there has been a sustained growth in career opportunities for those with academic training in exercise science and kinesiology.
For those interested in careers in fitness and cardiac rehabilitation, coursework is not enough—students must develop the requisite skills needed to perform the job. That means that students should be completing practicum and internship experiences under the direction of a professional who can pass along what cannot be taught in a classroom or laboratory. Students should make contact with their advisors early in the program to maximize what can be gained from these experiences. Interested students should read the article by Pierce and Nagle on the internship experience (31). However, more may be needed to realize your career goal.
Those interested in cardiac rehabilitation and athletic training usually pursue graduate study (though there are exceptions) to realize their goals. If that is the case for you, apply early because there are limited spaces in most graduate programs. It is important to note that passing an appropriate certification exam is a normal part of the process to being welcomed into the community of professionals. This is simple within athletic training because there is only one official exam (offered by the National Athletic Training Association’s Board of Certification). In the fitness area, it is much more complicated given the number of certification exams available. If a certification exam requires a one-day workshop with little or no formal coursework and results in a high pass rate, the certification is worthless from a professional’s point of view. It is important to pass the most rigorous and respected certification exams that have, at a minimum, a formal education requirement in an appropriate field. Check out the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (https://www.nsca.com/certification/) websites for additional information for certifications that are recognized as being of high quality. If you are interested in a career in physical therapy, as many of our students are, be prepared for stiff competition for the limited number of available seats in these programs. Some undergraduate students even delay applying until they work for a year or do graduate study in an area related to physical therapy. See A Look Back—Important People in Science for someone who was a pioneer in physical therapy and whose journey began in physical education.
A LOOK BACK—IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN SCIENCE
Frances A. Hellebrandt, M.D.
Frances A. Hellebrandt, M.D., made significant contributions to the fields of exercise physiology, physical education, physical therapy, and physical medicine. Her interest in muscle physiology and physical activity led her to enroll as a physical education major at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, where she served as an undergraduate assistant in the Anatomy Department from 1924 to 1927, and graduated with a B.S. degree in 1928. She then entered the UW Medical School and completed her M.D. Dr. Hellebrandt then completed a general internship at Wisconsin General Hospital and did her post-graduate medical training at several major universities, focusing on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). She was then hired as a faculty member at the UW Medical School and also as the director of the Exercise Physiology Lab.
Her research and training in PM&R and in exercise physiology made her a perfect candidate to lead efforts to rehabilitate soldiers returning injured from World War II (WWII). In 1944, after retirement from the UW, she accepted the position of professor of Physical Medicine and director of the Baruch Center of PM&R at the Medical College of Virginia. She established research and education programs for various modalities (e.g., hydrotherapy) and created a new residency program in PM&R, making it only the second one in the South. The program’s focus was on the rehabilitation of injured soldiers and she felt the war taught physical therapy (PT) two major lessons: the urgent need for the early use of PT to avoid contracture and disuse atrophy, and the evils of bed rest (note: she was well ahead of her time in this regard). She also emphasized the need to treat the whole person and promoted general physical fitness as part of the rehabilitation process—a view we take for granted today.
In 1951, the University of Illinois hired her as professor and head of the Department of Physical Medicine and chief of PM&R. Six years later, Dr. Hellebrandt returned to the UW where she established the Motor Learning Research Laboratory in which cross-disciplinary research was the means by which important questions were answered. She is probably best known for her theory of muscle overload and pacing, which was an extension of research by DeLorme, who developed progressive resistance training during WWII.
Over her career, Dr. Hellebrandt published over 150 papers on topics related to PM&R, exercise physiology, physical education, and physical therapy. She developed several unique research instruments, was extremely active in professional organizations, and has had a lasting impact on the training of those who seek careers in physical therapy. She retired a second time from the UW in 1964. Her contributions were recognized with the Anderson Award from the American Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, and by the American Physiological Society, which established an award in her honor (i.e., Caroline tum Suden/Frances A. Hellebrandt Professional Opportunity Award). She was both professionally and physically active throughout her long life, passing away in 1992 at the age of 90 (9, 20).
Brown, J.M., M.A. Brennan, and G. Shambes, “On the Death of Professor Emerita Frances A. Hellebrandt, M.D.,” Madison Faculty Documents, University of Wisconsin. https://www.secfac.wisc.edu/senate/2002/1007/1656(mem_res).pdf. Hudak, A.M., M.E. Sandel, G. Goldberg, and A.M. Wrynn, “Dr. Frances A. Hellebrandt: Pioneering Physiologist, Physiatrist, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Visionary,” Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 5: 639–646, 2013; Brown, J.M., M.A. Brennan, and G. Shambes, “On the Death of Professor Emerita Frances A. Hellebrandt, M.D.,” Madison Faculty Documents, University of Wisconsin. https://www.secfac.wisc.edu/senate/2002/1007/1656(mem_res).pdf.
Over the past few years, a special initiative, Exercise Is Medicine (http://exerciseismedicine.org), was developed by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association to encourage those working in the medical and the allied health professions to routinely promote physical activity to their patients. In addition to that goal, these health professionals need to know where to refer patients when they need more formal support for their physical activity program. For example, physical therapists need to know where to direct their patients after the mandated maximum number of rehabilitation sessions have been completed. Extensive resources for healthcare providers, fitness professionals, the public, and so on are available at the aforementioned website.
Last, but not least, if you are interested in pursuing a career in research so that you can teach and do research at a college or university, you should become involved in research while you are an undergraduate. You might volunteer as a subject for another student’s research project, take course credit to assist your professor in his or her research, or use a summer break to work in a researcher’s lab at another institution. If a particular area of research interests you, do a PubMed search to see who is currently active in the area; this will help you narrow down potential graduate programs. Finally, you also need to get online and determine what the requirements are for admission to the graduate programs you are interested in; this will give you time to take appropriate coursework to meet those requirements.