“Doctor Z” Brings Knowledge & Care to Trainer’s Room

Meet Rachel Ziner


RMHS Athletic Trainer Rachel Ziner (left) with the writer.

Maddie Rzepka ('22), Orbit Contributor

Like an explosion of fireworks, dozens of student-athletes pack into the athletic training room and spill out into the field house gym. The room – already small – is stuffed with supplies of all sorts: coolers, tape, a massive ice machine, diagrams of the body (both two and three dimensional), tables, rehab equipment, and so much more. 

The sign-in sheet lingers by the door, given attention only when an athlete is prompted to fill out its categories. 

Name. Date. Sport. Injury. Side. Treatment.

Athletes swarm the room. Their chatter is overpowered by the relaxing hum of the ice machine. Some are there for a heat pack to loosen up before practice. Some are there to fill up their water bottles. Some are there to complete rehab exercises. And some are there to get assessed for an injury. 

It’s the hour when she is needed, and Rachel Ziner steps into her role. Ziner is the RMHS Athletic Trainer. At only 26 years old, she has stacked up some impressive accomplishments. She attended the public schools in Danvers, graduating in 2013. She went on to receive her Bachelor’s of Science in Health Science at Quinnipiac University in 2017. After that she received her Master’s in Athletic Training in 2019 at Merrimack College. She then took a year off to work. “And then,” said Ziner, “I realized that I wanted to pursue the highest degree I possibly could, which is my Doctorate.” On May 6, 2022, Ziner obtained her Doctorate in Athletic Training from Temple University. 

Her athletes now call her Doctor Z. 

Entering the Field of Athletic Training

Not everyone can be an athletic trainer. Ziner explained, “You have to go to a CAATE accredited program. Merrimack, for example, is a CAATE accredited program for Athletic Training. So you need, now as of 2022, you need a Master’s degree in Athletic Training from a CAATE accredited program, you need to pass the Board of Certification Exam, then you have to apply for licensure in whatever state you are working in, because each state has a different practice act. So, in Massachusetts, there are certain things I can do, but when you go to Vermont or Maine or Rhode Island, they all have different state practice acts. So you have to apply for licensure in the state that you are working in. That’s just an application, not a test or anything.”

I wanted to be more involved in my patients’ lives and part of the action.

— Rachel Ziner

Athletic training was not the original dream for Ziner. “It’s funny because growing up I wanted to be an archaeologist. I love history and I really thought it was fascinating to discover history through digging up fossils and artifacts, and getting a glimpse into what life was like 2,000 years ago. It’s really fascinating.” Ziner’s own life experiences opened her up to a new possibility. “I grew up playing tennis and I was always getting hurt so I would go to PT (physical therapy). And I wanted to be a physical therapist for a little while. Did some internships, realized that lifestyle wasn’t for me. I wanted to be more involved in my patients’ lives and part of the action.” Ziner’s father proposed a new path. “My dad discovered Merrimack’s Master’s of Science in Athletic Training program. He was like ‘Oh, this might be really good for you. It’s combining sports and science.’” Two of Ziner’s favorite things. 

For Ziner, the greater involvement of athletic trainers in the lives of their patients was what truly sold her on the career. “I finally realized that athletic trainers were more involved and on the field and the first responders for injuries during games, and they can see the whole process through. It was just a more hands-on experience than physical therapy. So I kinda changed gears and that’s how I ended up in athletic training.”

Many Hats

Ziner is strategic in treating all of RMHS’ athletes in the afternoon rush. She has a system for the importance of treatment each afternoon. “So normally when everyone comes in, the rush at three o’clock, I tape whoever needs to be taped for a game, get them out to the bus, and then you take care of the people who need to be taped to go to practice, get them out to practice, and then usually the people that are doing rehab hang back and then we get a more in-depth interaction.”

…as an athletic trainer, you wear a multitude of hats.

— Rachel Ziner

She is ready to take on every new patient with fresh eyes. “I always say as an athletic trainer, you wear a multitude of hats. You have a different hat when you are on the field. That’s your game hat, you’re looking to prevent a major catastrophic event, whether that could be a seizure, a loss of consciousness due to a concussion, heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, you have all these acute injuries that you see that are life threatening. Then you have, your acute ACLs, ankle sprains, dislocated shoulders, more acute stuff like that that’s not life threatening, but still needs to be taken care of immediately. That’s the hat that you wear when you are on the field. When you are in the athletic training room, it’s triage, getting them out and efficiently to practice, to games, doing rehab, as quickly and as efficiently as you can. You don’t want to cut corners. You don’t want to provide subpar care to your athletes because that defeats the purpose of me being here.”

Physical Healing, Emotional Support

Each afternoon in the training room is different. But each brings an air of familiarity. One can expect “the usuals”, the ones who have needed treatment since the fall sports season. 

Devin Norris (‘22) is one of these athletes. He has been receiving treatment from Ziner since football season. Norris suffered a torn pectoralis major. After 4 months of a treatment regimen created by Ziner, including wall arm slides, horizontal abduction with resistance bands, and rows, Devin was ready to return to sports. He is currently running spring track.

Kate Leone (‘23) is also a regular and recently suffered a torn ACL during her lacrosse season. Leone tore this ligament during a practice one afternoon. Ziner was sent to give her an evaluation and a recommendation on what her next steps should be. “There’s a conversation that goes on so you kind of understand what is going on. Like what is wrong with you and what she is doing to make sure you get better,” said Leone.

We try to make our athletic training room an inviting place.

— Mr. Zaya

This is not the first injury of Leone’s that Ziner has treated. She said, “I pulled a calf, and I did some exercises – rehab – to get my calf stronger.”

Athletic Trainers are not only available for physical injuries.  RMHS Athletic Director Mr. Zaya said, “An athletic trainer is there to physically help with physical issues, and also some mental and emotional issues that come up. The social-emotional piece is huge. We try to make our trainers and our athletic training room an inviting place.”

Ziner is known for the inclusive and relaxed environment she creates in the training room. Athletes can go to her not only for injuries, but if they need to talk. Ziner is prepared to help with any issue, no matter the size, depth, or topic. Ciara Keane (‘22) said, “Super easy to talk to. If you need anything, go to her, she’s literally like the best, she’s awesome.”

“Everyday you should learn something new.”

Ziner is not only interested in athletic training. She is currently a Resident Assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with her girlfriend Emilie. She also hopes to teach athletic training in the future. 

In the winter sports season, Ziner began her teaching journey by taking Emily Martell (‘22) under her wing. Martell became Ziner’s assistant for the season. Through observation, discussion, and physical action, Martell learned what it is like to be an athletic trainer. Martell describes the experience as “definitely stressful at some times because at some games there was a lot happening and I would have to deal with an injury on my own, but it was very fun and I’m very glad I did it.”

Ziner’s philosophy for life is “You should be learning something everyday. Everyday you learn something new. Even if it’s just someone’s name, you are learning something new.” She applies this to her job as an athletic trainer. “If someone presents an injury to you that you either don’t remember, or have never heard of, there is no shame in saying ‘I have no idea, please let me do my research. I am going to do my best to find out whatever is going on and I am going to help you to the best of my ability.’”