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Maximizing Your Professional Preparation

Through Clinical Exercise Physiology and Health Fitness Internships

Paternostro-Bayles, Madeline Ph.D., FACSM

Author Information
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: March 2009 - Volume 13 - Issue 2 - p 35-36
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3181996a3b
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In Brief

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the fitness industry is expected to rise by 27% for the years 2006-2016, a much more favorable increase than other sectors of the economy (2). This represents a positive outlook for students currently in academic programs of study in the health and fitness or clinical exercise physiology. A survey conducted by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association in 2004 projects a 44% growth rate for the fitness industry by 2014 (1).

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect information on the job outlook especially for exercise physiologists, job growth in many of the related allied health professions where exercise physiologists are typically employed is greater or much greater in comparison to other occupations (2). Although this is all excellent news for students preparing for careers in health and fitness and/or clinical exercise physiology, it can present unique challenges to students who are seeking to enhance their academic experience with as much hands-on learning through internships as possible. Also, students who are unsure of their career direction may use internships as a way to explore their options.

Internships provide many opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students beyond the typical practical application of specific content knowledge. The primary value of internships is in the application of "people skills." This may include, but is certainly not limited to, experience with various styles of verbal and nonverbal communication, time management, organization strategies, behavior change techniques, and all critical components of successful patient or client interactions. Successful professionals in health and fitness or clinical exercise physiology should have the ability to evaluate, interact, and motivate the people that they work with. This may be particularly important for some students whose strength is not in their academic performance but rather with their "hands-on skills" to successfully interact with clients/patients. Internships may be just the right environment for these students to excel.

For those students interested in the business aspect of the health and fitness industry, internships may provide them with an opportunity to view this industry as a business. Students may be expected to gain experience in basic accounting principles and management styles to remain profitable and competitive.


Internships also may be valuable to students who are not quite sure just what to do with a graduate or undergraduate degree in exercise science, exercise physiology, or kinesiology. Internships are an effective way to explore a wide range of career opportunities in both the clinical and health and fitness fields. Although the most popular employment opportunities are in private and commercial fitness clubs as individual or group fitness trainers, opportunities also exist in corporate fitness as well-coaches, in community or recreational fitness programs, and in the travel industry as managers and salespeople. Clinical exercise physiology students may wish to explore career opportunities through internships not only in the most notable allied health professions such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic, and physician assistant but also in other related fields such as cardiovascular technology, echocardiography, and stress testing. In addition, opportunities exist in community health education, health insurance case management, and research. For students interested specifically in careers in strength and conditioning, opportunities exist at the collegiate level and in sports-specific conditioning to name a few. The latter may require the student in training to obtain a wider array of internship experiences in addition to their academic preparation.

For students interested in preparing for careers in health and fitness and clinical exercise physiology, obtaining a nationally recognized and respected certification is an important part of the professional process. For the health and fitness professional, ACSM's Certified Health Fitness Specialist certification does evaluate both academic and practical competencies such as physical fitness assessment and interpretation of results, while not requiring specific clinical hours. For students interested in careers in clinical exercise physiology, ACSM's Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist® certification requires a minimum of an associate's degree and 600 hours of clinical experience. This certification is for individuals who mainly work with people who have stable cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic diseases. ACSM's Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist® is meant for those with a master's degree who are working under a physician's supervision with individuals who have cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, orthopedic/musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and immunologic/hematologic diseases. This certification also requires 600 hours of practical experience in a clinical program. Both certifications may require a significant commitment by the student to obtain clinical experience through a variety of internship opportunities. Students may find this valuable in ultimately providing direction to decisions regarding their careers.

Ultimately, investment in at least one or perhaps several internship experiences during undergraduate or graduate academic preparation will be both valuable and necessary. Internships may provide students with answers to questions regarding the direction of their professional careers or may demonstrate to a potential employer a level of commitment beyond which other applicants have not yet demonstrated. Internships along with certifications such as ACSM's Certified Health Fitness Specialist, ACSM's Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist® or ACSM's Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist® are one of the best ways to begin your professional career. For more information regarding ACSM certifications, visit the certification page at


1. IDEA Fitness Trends Report (2004). IDEA Fitness J. 2004;1(2).
2. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Handbook, 2008-2009.
© 2009 American College of Sports Medicine