“There are numerous reasons I’ve been at UPMC for over 30 years.”
When Kathleen N. was just a kid, athletic training became a big part of her life, and it’s stuck with her to this day. Kathleen’s dad was in the Coast Guard for 20 years performing search and rescue operations. When he retired, he became a volunteer health care provider at their local high school. Kathleen was inspired and got involved in student athletic training summer programs at nearby Miami University as soon as she could.
“My brother played football at the time and would come home with injuries, like a sprained ankle. My dad and I would study how to help him and got really interested in it. At the time, our go to first aid manual was the Cramer First Aider. You could say we performed a lot of trials and made many errors when attempting to help my brother.” Kathleen jokes.
When it was time for Kathleen to head to college, she knew just what she wanted to do. She attended Ohio University and earned her bachelor's degree in exercise physiology and athletic training. From there, she secured an athletic training position at a large high school in Toledo, Ohio. Then, it was off to Pittsburgh, where she’s been ever since.
Kathleen moved to Pittsburgh in 1992, accepting a position at UPMC Sports Medicine providing athletic training services for South Fayette High School, a school that UPMC Sports Medicine still partners with today. When the opportunity to become a team leader within the athletic training department was presented, she accepted the position and transitioned to the Community College of Allegheny County. Kathleen’s next move opened up a world of possibilities for this successful, professional woman who was once a smalltown girl.
Her success at UPMC allowed her to become an athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She would work with some of the world’s most elite dancers for 18 years, helping them prevent and recover from injuries, and helping them to continue strong careers.
“During my time working at the ballet, I learned that dancers are truly elite athletes. Working with the ballet and for Dr. Fu allowed me the opportunity to provide health care for many Broadway shows as they came through Pittsburgh, along with Cirque du Soleil.”
Even in the 1990s and early 2000s, performing arts groups were very familiar with Freddie Fu, MD, and the renowned sports medicine program he built, so when they were headed to Pittsburgh, they gave him a call looking for health care for their performers. Dr. Fu passed away in 2021, but his contributions to the performing arts – from the expertly orchestrated care of their athletes to enhancements to the surfaces they perform on to the countless shows he attended – live on today.
“When I think of the person who had the most impact on me at UPMC, it's obviously Dr. Fu. He presented opportunities to me that I would never have had, including the ballet,” Kathleen says. “I'm from a small town. We never had ballet. I never even knew what ballet was. When that position came about, he had an international fellow from Germany, and his wife was a professional dancer. Dr. Fu asked the fellow to come with me to the ballet. He sat with me during rehearsals and taught me about ballet technique and common injuries that could occur. Dr. Fu totally supported me through every transition.”
As Kathleen grew more experienced and enhanced her athletic training skills, she steadily climbed the career ladder. She worked with athletes of all ages and experience levels, including at the Pittsburgh Marathon and the 2005 National Senior Games.
Then came Kathleen’s time to lead. She accepted a promotion to an athletic training manager and then senior manager, which meant she wouldn’t get to be a hands-on athletic trainer anymore, but that she would have the opportunity to advocate for athletic trainers within the department and continue to grow the program.
Today, Kathleen is the director of athletic training and development at UPMC Sports Medicine. The position involves countless responsibilities, all of which Kathleen is passionate about. From providing athletic trainers with wonderful opportunities – just like Dr. Fu did for her – to growing the program, coordinating health care for special events, collaborating with a team of UPMC Sports Medicine experts, guiding major facility renovations at the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center, and more.
“There are numerous reasons I’ve been at UPMC for over 30 years. The support I have received from our administration providing career advancement and so many learning opportunities really helps motivate me. Many of our competitors don’t offer the robust career ladder and educational opportunities that we do for athletic trainers. We have an awesome group of almost 200 athletic trainers throughout western and north central Pennsylvania. Our athletic training team leaders and managers go above and beyond every day to ensure staff have all the tools and resources to be successful.”
“Outside of our athletic training department, I get to work with numerous other health care professionals, human resources, talent acquisition, clinical marketing, and media relations – just to name a few – who are just as passionate as I am. It makes my job very easy when I trust, respect, and like who I work with. They are all my work family.”
Kathleen describes herself as someone who pushes the boundaries. Whether that’s getting her MBA during the pandemic or working with the athletic training management team to secure work for the athletic trainers during the many months that sports were not in session, or simply questioning the way things have always been done to make them better. She doesn’t settle for the status quo.
“If someone says ‘no’ or ‘it can’t be done,’ I take that as a personal challenge,” Kathleen says.
Kathleen lives in the North Hills of Pittsburgh and is very active in the community both for, and outside of, work. She advocates for women in sports, participates in a women’s golf league, and is an avid yoga practitioner. She makes frequent trips to nearby North Park to exercise and enjoy nature.
Her children played many sports over the years, allowing Kathleen to enjoy her passions for family, sports, and athletic training even more. Now that her kids are grown, Kathleen likes to vacation in Florida spending time practicing yoga and paddleboarding.
While Kathleen is very active outside of work, her career is the true passion of her life. When asked what makes her get up and go to work every day, Kathleen focused on a few key things that motivate her. “I'm energized by my work family and helping others,” she says. “That's what I'm really passionate about, being able to help others, whether it's athletes or our staff. My job is to advocate for staff and encourage them to take a chance on themselves.”
“Our athletic trainers work hard and are very passionate about athletic training and helping others,” Kathleen says. “That’s what motivates me, and when I see it motivating our team too, that’s what’s truly gratifying. I am grateful for the many opportunities that working for UPMC has provided me and hope to share those same opportunities with others.”
At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means a fulfilling career and life.
Stories like this one have helped UPMC earn local, national, and global honors over the years. See how our commitment to Life Changing Medicine continues to receive recognition.