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Massage Today
June, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 06

An Open Letter to the NCBTMB

By Gregory T. Lawton, DN, DC

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) has previously announced its intention to enforce the following criteria in June 2005:

  • 125 hours of in-class supervised instruction in the body's systems and anatomy, physiology and kinesiology (increased from 100 hours);
  • 200 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in massage and bodywork assessment, theory and application;
  • 40 hours of in-class, supervised instruction in pathology (increased from no requirement);
  • 10 hours of in-class instruction in business and ethics with a minimum of six hours in ethics (increase from a minimum of two hours of ethics); and
  • 125 hours of additional in-class, supervised instruction in an area or related field that theoretically completes your massage program of study.

I have attempted to get guidance (as have other school owners) regarding the NCBTMB's position on online (eLearning) supervised classes.

Almost every accredited college and university in the United States is providing online classes. This includes medical schools and other health profession training programs; state and professional licensing boards also recognize online training.

Most colleges and universities offer anatomy, physiology, pathology, kinesiology, business, ethics and numerous other courses online, and these classes lead directly to associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in numerous fields. Generally, the recognized minimum standard for an online class to be considered online, in-class, and supervised, is that 20 percent of the time spent in the online class is with an online teacher.

In Michigan, some massage schools have been pressuring the NCBTMB not to recognize the graduates of certain massage school training programs based on the in-class supervised standard. I expect that come June 2005, there will be a number of complaints directed at the NCBTMB regarding rival schools' curriculum.

I would like to get NCBTMB's (and have been unsuccessful to date) position on exactly what constitutes in-class supervised training. For example, some schools show videos in their classes or may provide a brief lecture followed by one-on-one practice. In a number of examples the instructor does not actually stay in the classroom for the entire class. Is there a percentage of time based on total class time that equals the in-class supervised definition?

My central question is in regard to online classes, which is obviously an important movement in education and will continue to increase in the coming years. Is the NCBTMB position that massage schools, as opposed to every other educational institution in the U.S., cannot provide online education? How does the NCBTMB intend to regulate community colleges and colleges that do and will continue to allow massage students to complete their health science, business, ethics and other lecture courses online, or does the NCBTMB plan on adopting a double standard - one standard for colleges and the other for post-secondary or vocational massage schools?

I have another example that results in confusion regarding the NCBTMB standard. Because my school offers a highly specialized medical massage training program, we attract a large number of medical health professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists and nurses. We provide advanced standing to these graduates of college-based programs, who, in many cases, earned hours in online classes in anatomy, physiology, pathology and other lecture courses. If this is no longer acceptable under the NCBTMB standard it would mean that we would not be able to accept credit hours earned in accredited college-based online programs.

Also on the horizon is the new associate's in occupational studies degree, which will prove to be an exciting new direction for massage schools. Many of the vocational and technical schools that provide access to this new degree program offer online training. Is it the intention of the NCBTMB to dictate to massage schools, colleges and universities, technical and vocational schools, and related governing organizations and associations that they may not include in-class online supervised training to massage students?

If this is the case, I believe that it is time for a pointed dialog between schools, educational and trade associations, and state education and professional licensure departments that have interests in or are involved in providing, overseeing or regulating massage education.

I sincerely invite a response to the questions that I have proposed in this letter regarding online in-class supervised education.

Thank you,

Gregory T. Lawton, DN, DC, Mac


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