The health care environment isn't going to be for everyone, but that shouldn't come as any surprise. You want to remember, however, that in most cases the differences are going to be about the environment, not about the skill-set you have as a massage therapist. Why? Because the people you'll encounter in a health care setting almost always benefit from massage in some of the same ways consumers in other settings benefit: mainly, stress reduction, decreased anxiety and general relief from pain.
There are some key difference to keep in mind:
Clinical vs. Relaxing: When most people think about massage therapy, they imagine a candlelit treatment room and maybe some soft music playing in the background. You aren't going to find these things in many health care work settings—if any at all. Particularly health care environments like hospitals, your work will be done in a very clinical setting. You might have to work around medical equipment, for example, and negotiate other treatment interventions, such as IVs and heart monitors. Additionally, you'll have to be ready to massage people where they are, like in a hospital bed or chair, which means you might have to sacrifice some ergonomics. Interruptions from medical staff and visiting family members are going to be more common, too.
Client vs. Patient: In many health care environments, you're going to be working with people who are sick, sometimes dying, and so you need to think about how you'll react. Will you be able to walk into a patient's room without bursting into tears? ARe you going to be able to go home and night and not carry the events of the day with you? Be honest with yourself when answering these questions, and really think about the emotional demands a position in a health care work setting might require before pursuing this career option.
Still, if you think this work environment is a good fit for you personally and professionally, here's what you need to consider:
Are there health care environments in your area that are open to using massage therapy? You might contact your local hospital, for example, and find out if they have a massage therapy program. If so, you might also ask if they would allow you to shadow a massage therapist for a day, or have any type of internship program, as then you could get a real idea of if working in health care is right for you.
Remember, too, that hospitals and other health care settings are going to be particularly interested in any evidence showing massage therapy works, so keep your knowledge of massage therapy research up to date. There are studies showing massage therapy can help with pain management, and this idea is going to be particularly poignent in environments where patients are dealing with pain.
Talking to the right people in the environment you're exploring is also a good way to get your foot in the door. When investigating a health care setting, ask about who supports or initiates complementary and alternative therapy programs, and then try to get in touch with them. You might be surprised, too, that supporters of massage therapy aren't always going to be who you might first think. For example, according to a 2009 study conducted by the American Hospital Association, hospital administrators top the list of personnel who are behind complementary and alternative therapy initiatives. But, be careful you don't simply find who supports massage therapy and simply send a resume or e-mail. Do your homework about the environment and have a full understanding of how you and your skills will fit in before reaching out.
For more information, see AMTA's Career Success Series: Working in a Health Care Environment.