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Your Massage Therapy Practice: Why Professional Development Matters

Jan 28, 2023

In a year when BC massage therapists are not required to do any professional development courses, I'm wondering what our fellow RMTs will do with that moratorium.  

Will it be the norm to skip any and all professional development and coast on what's been learned before?

Or will people still continue to learn, getting new skills, fine tuning old ones and using these developments to inform their patient care?

Time will tell, but I thought this a timely topic to write about, as it is something that affects myself - as both an educator and a practicing massage therapist - and my colleagues.

As an evidence-informed therapist, I thought I'd take a look at what research has to say on professional development, and the results were very interesting.


The Role of Professional Development

From the Institute of Educational Sciences, Hayes's descriptive report states that participation in professional development helps people to learn and apply new knowledge and skills that will improve their performance on the job (2010).  This is critical for massage therapists, so we can continue to grow as professionals, performing more effective treatments for our patients. 

The Joanna Briggs Model for evidence-based healthcare practices (2005) states that an evidence-based practice considers the best available evidence in clinical decision making, which influences the care that is delivered, takes into account client preferences and professional judgement of the healthcare professional. 

While this model has recently been updated (Jordan et.al, 2019), the fundamentals remain the same, and shows that people working in a healthcare setting need to keep up to date on the best available information to perform high-level care.


Methods of Professional Development

Given the transition during Covid-19 to a virtual world wherever possible, Samuel et.al. (2021) showed that virtual learning for healthcare professionals is on the rise and increasing in popularity, but still remains an emerging technology that has lots of room for development; a fact I've certainly seen in my Mastectomy Guide programs, where we support treating breast and top surgery patients with evidence-informed massage therapy.

At first I didn't think anyone would be interested in learning massage therapy online, given it's such a tactile profession, but to my astonishment virtual learning has actually been the more popular type of course. 

I believe this is for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • It's a great money saver because there is no travel, accomodation or food costs and the registration fee is less
  • It's helpful for working parents, as arranging childcare is easier and less time is taken away from the family 
  • Plus people can learn from the comfort of their own homes, or in their clinic space, so they have that sense of familiarity with their surroundings

The need to embrace innovations in medical technology and simulation-based teaching, such as online lectures, video case vignettes, online chat rooms and more, is highlighted in a study by Sahi et.al. (2021), where the medical community is encouraged to develop methods and evaluate the sustainability of technology-based learning in preclinical and clinical settings.


Credit-based Learning Vs. Personal Learning Plans

BC has traditionally held a credit-based system for continuing professional development, where a certain number of credits per cycle were required, and if they were not, then a penalty was issued.  This penal-based system has recently come under review and found to be lacking, therefore our governing body decided to move us into a Quality Assurance Program (QAP), which they are still designing.

I know when a change comes, it can be hard to accept at first because we have to think beyond what we know, and enter into new territory.  It can be natural to question, "Will this be better for me?" and, "How is this going to work?". 

While the details of the QAP are still to be revealed, I looked into more modern continuing professional development practices and what they consist of. 

Personal Learning Plans (PLP) are a newer method for enhancing adult learning that support principles of autonomy, self-direction, goal orientation, and practice-based learning (Filipe et.al. 2014).  PLPs revolve around three fundamental questions: What will I learn? How will I learn? How well have I learned?

To support these three questions, healthcare professionals go through three stages during a PLP:

  • First, HCPs reflect on the the learning they need to support their professional development, thereby creating their PLP.  
  • Second, HCPs choose the activities that support their professional needs, and complete said activities.
  • Third, HCPs reflect and write about the effectiveness of their learning, and submit a report outlining how their learning has supported their professional learning.

I believe this PLP process supports the more modern practice of people taking charge of their practice and moving it in a direction that is genuinely of interest, safe, uplifting and dynamic, and offers a chance for reflection and implementation; two aspects vital for adult learners to integrate their learning and take it into the real world. 

I believe it also moves us away from old-school principles of Aunt Agatha wagging her finger at us saying, "You didn't complete your learning requirement, shame on you, now take your punishment". 

Now, I'll admit when I first heard BC was moving away from the credit system, I thought it was absurd. I saw it as an erosion of our professional competency. I was afraid many RMTs would not continue to learn, instead coasting on old information as long as possible, doing the absolute minimum to maintain their professional development.  

And while there may be some people who choose to go this route, I hold hopes that more of us will continue to invest in our growth and development, not only for ourselves but for our profession at large.


Continuing Professional Development: Beyond Your Practice

When we engage in continuing professional development, we not only enhance our medical competence and skill, but we also enhance team building, interpersonal communication and accountability (Filipe et.al. 2014).  Courses help us connect with others, and when the courses revolve around a particular approach or method, it creates camaraderie, shared understanding and a sense of belonging to a like-minded community. 

This is really important for traditionally isolated professions like massage therapy, where we are in a room with one person at a time, and may not have much overlap with other HCPs.  Advanced learning opportunities give us a chance to connect, see how other people work and gain new ideas on what we can apply to our practice

I believe it also helps keep us current with other medical professions, whether they are paramedical or mainstream medical, and helps us maintain our professional integrity and legitimacy.


Conclusion: Continued Professional Development Supports Best Practices

Continued professional development and education creates a stronger professional practice, enhancing skills, knowledge and community bonds.  We are moving into a new age of learning, where emphasis is on autonomy, agency and interest.  There are new and exciting technologies we can partake of, enabling learning and development no matter where you live. 

Please consider supporting your own professional development, and your local course provider, by signing up to take CE courses this year, even if Aunt Agatha is not demanding it. It is better for you, and better for our profession. 


Eryn Price is a registered massage therapist in BC, Canada, and provides evidence-informed continuing education programs for therapists wanting to support the breast and top surgery demographic.  To learn more about The Mastectomy Guide CE programs, please visit www.mastectomyguide.com  




Filipe HP, Silva ED, Stulting AA, Golnik KC. Continuing professional development: best practices. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol. 2014 Apr-Jun;21(2):134-41. doi: 10.4103/0974-9233.129760. PMID: 24791104; PMCID: PMC4005177.Hayes, Mizell. 2010.  Why Professional Development Matters.  Learning Forward (NJ). ERIC number ED521618.  ISBN: ISBN-978-0-9800-3939-9. 

Jordan, Zoe PhD; Lockwood, Craig PhD; Munn, Zachary PhD; Aromataris, Edoardo PhD. The updated Joanna Briggs Institute Model of Evidence-Based Healthcare. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare 17(1):p 58-71, March 2019. | DOI: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000155

Sahi, P.K., Mishra, D. & Singh, T. Medical Education Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Indian Pediatr 57, 652–657 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13312-020-1894-7

Samuel, A., Cervero, R.M., Durning, S.J., Maggio, L.A. Effect of Continuing Professional Development on Health Professionals’ Performance and Patient Outcomes: A Scoping Review of Knowledge Syntheses. Academic Medicine, Volume 96, Number 6, 25 May 2021, pp. 913-923(11).  Wolters Kluwer. 



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