Where Do You Work? Robin Anderson

Robin Anderson

Robin Anderson is an AMTA member massage therapist and the Director of the Massage Therapy Program at Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also presenting at the AMTA 2019 Schools Summit. Learn more about how she joined the profession, what she loves about teaching, and what you can learn from her presentation at Schools Summit. 

What drew you to the massage therapy profession? How long have you been practicing?

My “first” career was in sports radio broadcasting. Back in the early 1990s, there were very few females that worked in sports broadcasting. I took kinesiology as a minor so I would better understand the function and movement of athletes in my reporting. When I got married and had children, working nights, weekends, and holidays were not conducive to raising a family. I obtained my personal training certification through American Council on Exercise and began working as a technician in a physical therapy office. I really liked working with the PTs and thought about going back to school to become a physical therapist, but I couldn’t afford it. I was raising a young child, and my husband travelled a lot for work at the time. It was the PTs in my office that encouraged me to become a massage therapist as an alternative option. I went back to school and tried my first anatomy and physiology course to pursue an associates degree in massage therapy. I LOVED it and never looked back. I have been practicing for 12 years, and I have had the good fortune to work in many different practice settings – spa, health club, medical office, private practice, outcall, sporting events, and hospitals. I began teaching about 8 years ago and found a new love in education.

What is your current work setting like?

I am the Director of the Massage Therapy Program at Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland. I work primarily in a public education facility that is part of the School of Health Professions, the largest health education provider in the state of Maryland; it has 14 allied health degree programs such as nursing, respiratory therapy, medical laboratory tech, radiography, veterinary tech, and even mortuary science. Our department has two massage therapy lab classrooms that convert into our on-campus clinic space where our students provide therapeutic massage services for the college and surrounding communities to gain experience working with clientele. Our students also participate in simulation laboratory experiences with other allied health programs to learn interdisciplinary collaboration. I also continue to maintain a very small limited practice where I see clients on weekends in my private studio or on an outcall basis. I am also an ergonomics assessment specialist and do some occasional consulting work. 

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

Robin AndersonOne of the things I truly love about my job is teaching the students and helping them start their careers in massage therapy. I am a graduate of the program that I lead. As a motivation to my students, I continually reflect on my experiences as an adult student and help relate to them and their own challenges and triumphs during their educational journeys. Another element I enjoy about my job is the education itself. I recently completed my master of education degree with a concentration in adult education and training, which focuses on instructional design and evaluation for adult learners. I have enjoyed my own learning so much that I began doing educational based research on effective teaching methods for various competencies. Since I have a background and certification in ergonomics assessment, I have been focusing on effective methods for teaching body mechanics that help to prevent injury to massage therapists when introduced in an entry level education program. I have formulated my methods with educational theory and ergonomics principles and my research has served as a means to test its effectiveness.  You can read my research article in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.   

What are the challenges with your current position?

Working in a public institution has its challenges.  I do not always have the ability to operate autonomously as a program in the way that a private school owner does.  I must follow many policies both from an institutional level and within the School of Health Professions division, just as every other allied health program is required to do.  As a public institution and a degree program, the state has standards of academic rigor that are expected as part of student educational experiences. Also, as a program within the School of Health Professions at my college, all of our programs are highly accredited so in order to keep my program in this prestigious division, we have obtained and maintained our COMTA accreditation since 2009.  Another big challenge in a public institution is the promotion and marketing of my program.  While many may think that public institutions have big advertising budgets, this is not necessarily true in all cases. In fact, sometimes we are operating on very tight budgets and have to find unique ways to cover all our operational and instructional costs to maintain our programs.  Nationwide, many programs are experiencing low levels of enrollment and I am feeling that as well.  My program is very successful, with a 100% passing rate for first time test takers of the MBLEx for the last few years, but there seems to be just fewer people these days that want to become massage therapists yet there are lots of jobs out there.  The demand is growing, as there is more evidence to support our role in health care as pain management specialists.  We do our best through word of mouth and grassroots efforts in social media to spread the word about our successful program.  

How has AMTA impacted your career?

AMTA has had a significant impact on my career in so many ways.  I have been an AMTA member since I was student 13 years ago. I attended my very first national convention in Cincinnati in 2007 where I had the opportunity to present a poster on my case report which won a Bronze Level award from the Massage Therapy Foundation. After that first conference, I have made an effort to attend National Convention whenever I can; I have attended at least 6 of them in the last 12 years.  I have also volunteered with my state chapter and served as a state delegate in the House of Delegates for a couple of years, which was such a great experience to be involved with other therapists for the good of the profession; great continuing education opportunities too. I have also felt that way as an attendee and speaker at the Schools Summits. I have met educator colleagues from all over the country and I love collaborating and socializing with them.  Due to all of this involvement, I feel that is why I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Massage Therapy Foundation almost two years ago. I love the work I do with this awesome group of volunteers who also feed off of the energy of massage therapy research and its importance to our field in practice and in education. I am very honored and proud to be involved with the MTF and our collaborations with the AMTA Board members as well.

You are co-presenting with Brent Jackson at the AMTA 2019 Schools Summit. Why should massage therapy educators attend your session?

Interprofessional Education (IPE) is a current nationwide initiative amongst health care career training programs at many levels from medical doctors and nurse practitioners to pharmacy technicians and physical therapy assistants. According to recent data, medical errors are the one of most common causes of death in this country. While we as massage therapists are generally fortunate to not necessarily have a direct influence to that statistic, being collaborative members of a interprofessional patient care team to provide quality care is a skill that is needed for all allied health professionals. If we as massage therapists are to truly integrate into a medical environment, we must also learn this and embrace the spirit of it, so that we can operate effectively in a health care environment and in turn, other allied health care professionals can become knowledgeable about the contributions that massage therapy can make to quality patient care. I am fortunate to have been exposed to these educational initiatives as part of my college division and my students have benefitted from some truly stellar IPE experiences that have helped to shape their future career paths. My colleague, Brent Jackson, and I both come from schools in which we have been able to benefit from this educational knowledge and we would like to share it with you. Our goal is to help massage therapy training programs see a developing aspect of the future of massage therapy education in the light of the opioid crisis and the acknowledgement of our profession as a key component to pain management. We hope to provide some insight and framework to help you aspire to incorporating these elements in curricula with a health care focus.

What are some takeaways from your session that attendees won’t read about in the session description?

We hope that massage therapists understand that being welcomed into the medical arena is not a right, but a privilege and an opportunity. We as massage therapy educators must equip our students with knowledge that will allow them to demonstrate some basic competencies in these settings. Some may think that this is not for entry level education and better suited for continuing education and advanced trainings venues, but in reality, our presentation focuses basic skills and competencies needed to work in a health care environment, which many prospective students are seeking to learn in their initial educational training programs. Not every future massage therapist wants to work in their own practice or in a spa or franchise setting, so as educators, we should create awareness about the medical environment and teach our students about the concept of IPE to create a holistic educational experience for our students. Additionally, if we don’t begin to add these elements to our curricula soon, other allied health programs with similar scopes of practice such as PTAs, OTAs, and nursing will once again pull the medical aspects away from us. So we hope our presentation inspires educators to work together towards creating skills standards for massage therapists working in medical environments. 

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"As a professional member of AMTA, I have found comfort in knowing that all the effort I put into obtaining my massage certification is recognized and protected. AMTA standards validate the profession."

Kim K., AMTA member since 2003