Nicole Wasylyk


Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender

Courtesy of Nicole Wasylyk

Current Experience & Certifications

Past Experience & Education

  • Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender – Meriter-UnityPoint Health, Monona, WI
  • Athletic Training Resident – University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics
  • Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer – Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA
  • Old Dominion University, MSEd, Athletic Training
  • Boston University, (B.S.), Athletic Training

A Day in the Life of an Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender

Courtesy of Louisa Noble
(Orthopaedic procedure performed in Ecuador)

When you hear the title, Athletic Trainer what do you typically think of? Someone that tapes feet and cares for injuries during sporting events, I imagine. Well you are not wrong, but their job description within a sports setting and even outside of one reaches far beyond these examples. If I told you that an Athletic Trainer assists in Orthopaedic surgeries, you probably wouldn’t believe me. I totally get it. I was oblivious to this until an Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender first assisted on my ACL reconstruction surgery back in 2015.

Incredibly enough, my search in shadowing professionals led me back to the Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where I had the pleasure of shadowing Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender, Nicole Wasylyk during which she assisted in an ACL reconstruction procedure performed by the surgeon who conducted mine, Dr. James B. Ames.

CC BY-SA 2.0

I met Nicole at DHMC’s Outpatient Surgery Center in Lebanon, NH where she immediately took me under her wing, issued me a pair of scrubs, and introduced to me to the surgical team who was prepping for the ACL reconstruction case soon to begin. I watched as she assumed a variety of roles and responsibilities such as patient transfer, surgical preparation, and most impressively, serving as a first assist to Dr. Ames and performing the harvest and graft preparation of the hamstring. A technique involving a great deal of focus and precision, from what I could tell in addition to the praise from Dr. Ames, she performed it flawlessly. Attentive to her crucial task at hand, Nicole possessed the ability to not only conduct her piece of the surgery in an efficient and confident way, but she remained conscientious of my presence and offered explanations and teachings throughout the entire process.

I spent the rest of the afternoon observing a shoulder reconstruction procedure, where Nicole kept me company instead of assisting, but again providing insight on the process throughout. In just the short time of meeting Nicole and watching her excel at this progressive role Athletic Trainers have acquired, she not only gave me a glimpse into the life of an Athletic Trainer/Physician Extender, but she also provided me with the realization that professions and specialties can possess so much more than what is initially assumed as their “job description.”

Some words from Nicole…

Her Highlight:

“The highlight of the work I do is my direct patient contact; whether it be in clinic, the operating room, or even over the phone, I enjoy connecting with patients and educating them on their disease process/injury from diagnosis to rehabilitation. I have a unique role where I am able to interact with a patient during almost every phase of their care/recovery. I see patients at the time of initial injury, follow them through surgery (if needed), and through follow up until they have restored full function and ability to perform daily activities. It is great to see the full spectrum of an injury and watch patients progress during every step. Being in the OR is definitely my favorite – it is always a great learning experience because everyone’s anatomy is slightly different and it is exciting to be a part of a procedure that can restore someone’s function/reduce symptoms. I also enjoy the research I do; it is currently a mix of retrospective studies and case reports in a clinical setting. I think it is crucial to advancement in medicine to evaluate how we are treating patients, how they respond to those treatments, and ways we can improve outcomes. Clinic based research is more rewarding for me than lab based as I feels it is more practical and can be translated into meaningful clinical practice changes.”

Her Future Plans:

“I’m still debating where I would like to advance to in the future; I’m happy that I took time away from continuing my schooling (I completed undergrad/grad school/residency) to try to identify what makes me satisfied/happy in a job.  My current goals are to apply to physician assistant school because of the number of opportunities it opens.  I love orthopedics but I also have a strong interest in emergency medicine, I want to move into a more autonomous role and have the ability to jump specialties. There is also great opportunity for clinical research as a PA.  I’m glad I didn’t continue on to PA school initially because I needed this time to build my confidence, gain experience, and truly decide my path.”

Her Suggestions:

“Suggestions I have would be to ask questions just as you have been, continue to observe different settings (and even different facilities). This is the third orthopedic department I’ve worked in and each one of them utilizes staff differently.  Although each of them have PAs, every facility uses them differently which is also something to consider when it comes to finding the right job and fit.  Write down your interests, likes/dislikes, and goals then look at what jobs would best align with those.  Always remember that it’s never “too late” to change your path and to some extent you should always be thinking of “whats next.”  Staying in that midset promotes life-long learning as well as personal/professional development and advancement.  Everyone I know has taken a progression to where they are now; some began as a nurse and progressed to a nurse practioner, others were in business or a non-medical field.  If you are still unsure of what path to take, think of other degrees that give you a broad base experience such as public health, which can open so many doors because of all that you can do with that field.  When I began my career, I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist – turns out, I despise rehab! I don’t find enjoyment in the therapy itself, I get overwhelmed by everything that you can do with a patient.  I admire those who can and I understand how important of a role they play; I wish I had their patience, knowledge, and skills in that area.  I have learned through my career that I LOVE the diagnostic part of injuries – doing the investigating of what is wrong and how do we fix it.”

“I’ve seen family and friends stay stuck in jobs unrelated to what they want to do because they’re afraid of choosing the wrong path.  There is no wrong path, my best advice would be to pick something that interests you and makes you happy and go for it – people change and if your ideal job changes over time that’s great (and likely expected).  But you just have to make the jump and do it! You can’t reach your goals if you never get up and move.”