Residency Training in Athletic Training: “Vital to my career.”

By Stevie Culver

In some ways, Erin McQuillan’s AT position with an intercollegiate sports team is what most people think of when they hear the words “athletic trainer” however, Erin McQuillan’s path represents the cutting edge of specialized training for the modern athletic trainer.

McQuillan is the athletic trainer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s basketball team, specializing in concussion management. She’s worked at the university since 2019, and she comes in with remarkable academic pedigree. She studied athletic training for undergrad at UW-Madison, before completing her master’s in human physiology and her neurotrauma residency at Boston University.

“It was while I was out there [for my master’s degree] that I learned about the residency, because they ran the residency out of BU,” McQuillan said. “So I got to work alongside a lot of residents and kind of as my grad school was wrapping up, I decided to apply for it. I just think it’s a really interesting way to spend another year.”

During that residency, roughly half of McQuillan’s patients needed care for concussions and other spine-related injuries. Her time there gave her a chance to to build her skills with an emphasis on these neurotrauma injuries, which is not an opportunity afforded to all athletic trainers. McQuillan said her time in the neurotrauma residency gave her a chance to develop a more specific skill set for a job area she wanted to pursue.

In what McQuillan described as “a full-circle moment,” she went to the athletic training job boards after completing her residency and found a job at UW-Madison specializing in concussion management. Since then, she’s settled into a day-to-day workflow that offers a wide variety of health issues to work her patients through.

“I’ll see [patients with] some sort of complicated concussions, and focus on some kind of deeper evaluation… rehab and things like that for those patients,” McQuillan said. “I work alongside alot of our staff athletic trainers in order to provide a little bit more in-depth care and offer my expertise.”

When she isn’t working with patients with concussions, McQuillan spends her time working with the UW women’s basketball team, and finding a balance between those two roles is a constant challenge for her. McQuillan compared some of her work with concussion patients to puzzles because each patient unique and offers different challenges. Sometimes a given patient will need several different approaches for care before finding a good solution to move forward.

“It just keeps me on my toes a little bit,” McQuillan said. “Because every case is different, and that’s one of the aspects that I really like but is also really challenging.

”Part of what keeps McQuillan engaged in her concussion work is the constantly evolving nature of the field. She pointed out that not long ago, the recommended treatment for those with concussions was sitting in a dark, quiet room and waiting for symptoms to subside. Since then, as McQuillan has come into her own in a professional space, recommended concussion therapies have evolved dramatically.

“We’re doing a lot more focused, targeted rehab,” McQuillan said. “Treating people specifically based on their symptom profiles. And every time you read more research or go to a new conference, you’re learning new things to incorporate into your practice.

”Overall, McQuillan feels happy and supported in her position. She likes being at home in Wisconsin, and her job is challenging enough to keep her consistently engaged. For people looking to advance into athletic training, McQuillan said to keep in mind how much work is needed to get a satisfactory result out of it, especially residency.

“It was certainly the most challenging year of any of my school or any of my career in terms of workload overall, but just the amount of knowledge that’s thrown at you,” McQuillan said. “It was learning about new things every day. Thinking about them all day, falling asleep, having dreams about it… You get out and being able to have that year has been really vital to my career.”