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Executing an Effective Student Massage Clinic

Q & A With 2010 National Convention Teachers Presenters Peter Szucs and Kathleen Paholsky

At the AMTA 2010 National Convention, educators Peter Szucs and Kathleen Paholsky conducted an open forum on the topic of creating and managing a student massage clinic. Read on for their tips on how you can successfully design and operate a student clinic at your school.

What are some of the key considerations instructors should consider before they begin to design a student clinic as part of their curriculum? 

Designing clinic curriculum for a massage program should follow the same principles as designing curriculum for a lecture or lab-based class. Instructors should begin by crafting the “learning objectives” for the clinic--that is, what should the students know and be able to do when they have completed the clinic experience? Learning objectives should also match the mission of the school or program. For example, if your program focuses on wellness or spa modalities, then your clinic should have a similar focus and related learning objectives.

Learning objectives also need to take into account the licensing or certification requirements that a graduate will need in order to practice in the state where the program is located.  It’s a good idea to look at nationally recognized requirements and make sure that your clinic is providing students with the right experiences to meet these regulations.

Finally, all of the learning objectives need to be measureable—there must be a way to test or observe a student’s competence in each objective.

To summarize, when writing curriculum for your clinic, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What will the students need to know in order to practice massage in your state? 

  • Based on these requirements, what should be taught or practiced in the clinics?

  • How can we create activities and projects that allow the students to gain practical experience? 

  • How will we know if they are learning what we ask of them?

Another consideration is the clientele of the clinic. Along with having a well-designed course, it’s important to identify who the clients will be. Will the clients need to meet certain criteria?  Are there age limits, health, disease or medication restrictions? Should there be a pre-screening process? 

In addition to criteria for clients, you should also have criteria for the students working at your clinic. What level of experience and training should the students participating in the clinic hold? To ensure safety and accuracy, how intensive will the supervision be?

Still, another issue to be addressed is your budget for the clinic. Does your school or institution plan to use the clinic's income to cover expenses only? Is the clinic viewed as a source of revenue?

In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges instructors face in creating an informative and engaging learning experience?

Some of the biggest challenges are planning for the unexpected. These include therapist illness or absence, client scheduling difficulties, client health conditions, and what to do with down time. Careful planning for the "what-if's" can enhance the learning experience for all.

With recent changes in massage therapy education, how do you know that your clinics are preparing students to practice in real-world settings?

Regularly interacting with massage school graduates and employers is a great place to start. They have the most current information about the skills required, as well as new challenges massage therapists are facing in the workplace. An active advisory committee or board can also provide insight. Finally, meeting with other educators and therapists at conventions or conferences and reading the AMTA School Advantage newsletter for networking opportunities will also provide you with current data.

How do you see massage therapy clinics changing as massage therapy education evolves? How can instructors prepare for these changes?

Massage education requirements are slowly beginning to become more standardized across the profession. As this occurs, it is likely that there will be more standardized clinic requirements developed, too. The number of hours a student must spend doing hands-on clinic time, as well as the range of skills and abilities expected of the student, will also evolve as new standards come into play. Instructors and clinic managers should compare their clinics with other massage programs across the country as well. 

Peter Szucs, MAW, NCTMB, LMT has been a massage therapy practitioner, instructor and administrator for 10 years.  He received his massage training at the Health Enrichment Center in Lapeer, MI, finished a BAS in Therapeutic Massage from Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI and recently completed a Master’s degree in Wellness from Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA.   Peter is the Director of the Massage Therapy Program at the University of Western States, in Portland, Oregon.

Kathleen Paholsky has combined the rigors of academia with the discipline of major hospital protocols as an instructor and coordinator of the massage therapy program at Schoolcraft College and a Craniosacral Therapist  in the Integrative Medicine Department at Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, Michigan. A long-time proponent of blending bodywork therapies with Western medical procedures, Kathleen also integrates the adjunct components of massage therapy with online teaching at Schoolcraft where she is also on the Online Instruction Committee. She holds a BA in liberal arts from University of Detroit, an MS in nutrition and natural health sciences and a PhD in homeopathic philosophy from the Institute of Natural Health Sciences. She is certified in Visionary Cranial Sacral Work by the Milne Institute.

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