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Massage Today
December, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 12

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

So, you're going to work in a medical spa. Congratulations.

You could probably tell from my last letter that I felt this was the right direction for you to take. Medical spas are the wave of the future. In fact, I think that over the next two decades, the distinction between spas and medical facilities will continue to blur, until eventually, we will barely be able to remember the days when we thought of them as such separate facilities.

Consider this: major medical establishments such as John's Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic are aggressively pursuing the development of wellness facilities and spas. They have "seen the light" and have already contacted professionals in the industry to help formulate their plans. These new facilities will feature the latest technology and some of the best physicians, but they will also offer people the comfort and hands-on care found in spas. Practitioners will spend more time, on average, with each person, who may well be called a "guest," as in the spa model, rather than a "patient," as in the medical model. Traditional doctors and experts in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) will work side-by-side to develop detailed life plans for their guests, attempting not only to stave off disease once it arises, but to create optimal health throughout each individual's lifespan.

Many new facilities will focus on longevity. I personally know of several well-funded startups focusing on this aspect of the medical spa, with treatments and programs tailored to those who wish to maintain youthful looks and health for as long as possible. This paradigm is nothing new - the Pritikin Longevity Center started back in the 70s, and it's interesting to note that Pritikin has just recently amended its name to "Longevity Center & Spa."

So, longevity centers are moving toward spas, and spas are moving toward longevity centers, and the whole medical industrial complex is moving somewhere right into the middle of it all. Knowing this, how can you fit in?

The Holy Grail

First of all, it's important to understand something that is going on in the spa world right now that will impact your chances at success within it. Currently, there is a great quest going on, and there are a number of players seeking the elusive "holy grail" of the spa world. What is this holy grail? Nobody knows for sure exactly what it will look like, but everyone knows it will include a chain of spas or spa-like facilities that capture the public's imagination (and dollars) in a big way. It will be the key brand in a future dominated by wellness-oriented spa facilities. From what you've told me, the owners of this medical spa that is hiring you believes they have a chance to become this key brand. Believe me, there are dozens of others who believe the same thing.

To succeed in this early phase of the new medical spa world, there are several things you can do to make yourself more attractive to those people seeking this "holy grail." By understanding their mindset, you can help them on their quest. This will benefit you on your own personal quest for success and fulfillment. It's important, though, not to get too caught up in the fervor of this quest. People hot on the trail of the holy grail often get blinded by their own ambition. Successful navigation of this next tricky part of your career path requires two apparently opposing qualities: a cool, calm rational perspective and also a truckload of enthusiasm.

Keep Your Cool

I understand you're excited, but in this situation, your excitement may not serve you. Let me explain.

If you hop on board the dreamboat created by the owners of this new medical spa, you're going to be in for a rough ride at first, because their concept is not proven yet, and the clientele is still being created. So, rather than jump feet first, keep a cool head, and ask yourself some practical questions:

Who's paying for all this? You're going to be moving to a new city to start this new job, which will require a big investment of time, cash, and faith on your part. You don't want to get carried away right off the bat and go into debt. It's not a breech of etiquette to inquire whether your new spa employer will help defray moving expenses.

Can I participate in the success of the business? Since you're getting in on the ground floor of this enterprise, with all the attendant risks, you can reasonably expect to benefit from the potential upside in the event this brand really does become a major success in the future. It's OK to ask about stock options or employee profit-sharing plans.

Will I be paid for training time? You're going to be learning a lot of new therapeutic skills in your new position. Do your employers envision you paying for this training yourself and volunteering hundreds of hours to get up to speed, or will you be compensated?

There are other questions, of course, but I think you get the idea. You're someone who always strives to do the best possible job, Lou, and I know you're going all out in this new position, but I'm worried that you're going to overextend yourself. Remember, you've got to take care of yourself to be able to help others!

Medical Spa Rah-Rah

All of these warnings notwithstanding, let's not forget that you're also embarking on an extremely fun, challenging and exciting mission. At this early stage in the development of the medical spa category, the fledgling field needs all the enthusiastic boosting it can get, especially from those of us who find ourselves working in the trenches, trying to make a consciousness shift in the minds of millions of people.

So... get fired up! You're going where few spa therapists have gone before. You'll be working with people who have serious medical conditions, people who've recently undergone surgery (cosmetic and otherwise). You'll be standing side-by-side with doctors who'll expect you to know what they're talking about when they reference medical codes and other arcane information. The people on your treatment table are going to expect more than just relaxation. They're going to expect results.

It's up to you to become an ambassador for this new field. By getting more serious about your skills, developing them further, and soaking up all the knowledge you're going to be surrounded with, you will soon add immeasurably to your value as a therapist, as an employee, and as a contributing member of society. It's a worthy path you're on.

The next time I have a chance to write, I'll fill you in on some of the details regarding the hands-on skills you'll likely need to develop in your new position. I have a few other friends who work in the medical spa field, and I'm sure their experience will be of help to you.

Until then, take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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