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Massage Today
November, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 11

Where Did All the Graduates Go?

By Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCTMB

A very strange thing is happening in our profession. It has been going on for some time. The numbers are frightening and hardly anyone talks about them. Do you know that massage therapists are disappearing at an alarming, almost inexplicable rate? What, pray tell, is happening to all of them?

It is absolutely amazing how many massage schools there are "out there" and how many people graduate from them. Yet, the total size of our profession has not grown anywhere near the rate it "should" have. It seems we have an incredible percentage of our graduates dropping out of the field and fairly soon after graduation.

The following statistics are courtesy of ABMP. They have been conducting very thorough surveys since 1988 to track the profession and provide it with improved services and products. Here is what they found in their bi-annual surveys to determine the total number of practicing therapists/practitioners in our profession.

1998 = 139,390
2001 = 174,565
2004 = 140,500
2006 = 243,000
2008 = 278,000
2010 = 293,500
2012 = 321,000

In 14 years, there has been a net gain of 181,610 massage therapists. That is an impressive number. The massage profession is growing, on average, 12,972 per year. Hip hip hurray!

graduates - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark But wait, for the same 14-year period, according to ABMP's bi-annual school universe survey, massage schools handed diplomas to 748,752 individuals. That is a yearly average of 53,482 diplomas. What happened to the other 40,510 each year? Where did they go? How could there be such a huge drop out rate, almost 75%? I am shocked.

This is a significant indictment of a large portion of our education sector that seems to be fleecing people who, after their school experience, either run away or are unable to find career opportunity. I know that not all people who go through a massage school program intend to practice professionally. I went to school with some people who were in the program for personal growth, their own health, or to just practice massage on their family. However, that was less than 10%. Not a statistically valid number, I am sure, but let's just say 10% never intend to practice.

Some become so excited about healthcare that they immediately or eventually go on to other fields like physical therapy, nursing, chiropractic, etc. I just had a pre-PT graduate in a seminar who is taking a break from college and attending massage school, but who intends to get her PT degree and incorporate lots of soft tissue care into her PT practice. I know of MD's who have gone through massage programs to learn about this alternative therapy to better utilize it or prescribe it. This sector might be another 10%. Together this explains about 8,100 out of 40,510 each year on average for 14 years. That's still 32,410 MIA's. Does anybody wonder or care what happened to them?

I have asked colleagues what they attribute the high drop out rate to and many opinions are given, most based around inadequate training in what it takes to develop and maintain a practice. Opinions are abundant, excuses plentiful, but it is difficult to explain a 75% dropout rate without casting suspicion on unscrupulous recruitment.

In my opinion, we have a moral crisis. It mostly goes back to the "Seven Deadly Sins of Massage Education" I listed in the August 2012 issue, coupled with two additional factors. We have recruited people into the profession promising easy work and high pay. Both lies. Not everyone and not just anyone can do this work, yet everyone is told, "sure you can." One student was told by her high school counselor, "go to massage school, its easier than cosmetology." The example set for most students, in way too many schools, is dishonesty. Dishonesty occurs from copyright violations in teaching materials, to instructors who are unskilled in the teaching process and sometimes in the work, or worse sexual predators, to false promises of "at your convenience employment for big bucks," to exploiting students in school clinics. Most programs' graduates are inadequately trained in technique, self-care, and business/marketing skills, while given unrealistic expectations. When reality hits, they fail, get injured or run away.

Those 32,000 people a year are a cash cow for schools. I am not against profit or success. Massage is great knowledge for people to have and will probably positively impact their lives and the lives of their family and friends, whether they practice professionally or not. So, the question becomes, is this a problem for concern, or just a statically interesting phenomena? Are these 32,000 people each year happy with their outcome? If so, fine. But if not, we have a real problem that needs to be addressed, and soon.

At one time, massage was rated as the profession with the highest job satisfaction score. Yet, we lose 32,000 people a year. Are we still satisfied? Are we content with this failure rate? Should all schools be required to survey their graduates after two or three years and find out if they are doing massage, and if not, why? Are prospective students being advised of this dropout rate? Should they be?

Best Laid Plans

A year ago I announced my intended retirement and a "Farewell Tour." The best laid plans. Then I met with the Social Security Administration and the IRS. Always do that before planning retirement – they are very much involved. Seems I dare not retire until I am 66, my new "full retirement" age, or the IRS will take about 50% of what I make over social security and there is no way I am going to submit to that. The "Farewell Tour" is temporarily cancelled and I am gearing up for another two years on the road. I will be presenting my medical massage certification series one more year and adding a new series of seminars – Neural-Reset Therapy (NRT). I look forward to sharing as much as I can with as many as possible in the next two years so that when I do retire, I can go anywhere and get a great massage!

Send the Bums Home

The elections are upon us. As usual, I am against the Ruling Class (incumbents) and urge you to send them home. The Ruling Class is the problem, not the 1%. In three election cycles, we could have this mess cleaned up if everyone voted against every incumbent. If you really think about it, you'll do it!

It's That Time Again

Most faiths have a holiday during this time. There is a reason for this season besides shopping and gift certificates. Make it a joyous time for those around you.

I want to thank Massage Today for another year of ink and all of you who read this column. Think more next year, and join in to help bring the massage profession up to its potential, for the sake of suffering humanity. If the world doesn't end in December, I look forward to seeing you next year, here and out there at seminars or wherever we are destined to meet.


Click here for more information about Ralph Stephens, BS, LMT, NCTMB.

 

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