COMTA-Accredited Program Serves the Underserved

By James Zazeski , AOSMT, NCTMB
2009-5-29

COMTA-Accredited Program Serves the Underserved

By James Zazeski , AOSMT, NCTMB
2009-5-29

New Jersey's largest massage therapy school, the Institute for Therapeutic Massage (ITM), has partnered with the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (ICAM) to create the nation's first Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) oncology massage certification program. Classes began nearly two years ago in May 2007 with the first class graduating on May 31, 2008. This year-long program includes classes in anatomy and physiology, oncology, pathology (general and oncology), general, hospital-based, and palliative-care massage. Graduates of this program are experiencing great success in obtaining positions as massage therapists in local hospitals serving the cancer population.

This program was developed by ITM's founder and executive director, Lisa Helbig, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's ICAM executive director, Dr. Adam Perlman, as part of their vision for the future of the massage therapy industry. "Partnering with CAM institutions like ITM is a mechanism that UMDNJ, and our Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is pursuing in order to provide the population we serve with access to therapies such as massage in a way that is financially sustainable," said Dr. Perlman.

Dr. Perlman, who is also UMDNJ's Hunterdon Endowed Professor of CAM, explains that while academically, the certification program emphasizes the human sciences and the art of massage, the heart of the program resides in the clinic experience, where students provide 125 hours of massage therapy to patients at UMDNJ's University Hospital Cancer Center in Newark, N.J.

The feedback that we have received from students , nurses and patients alike has been overwhelming, particularly regarding the impact that this program has had on their quality of life - both personally and professionally.

  • "I feel like I'm part of the intricate cycle of life; temporarily entering someone else's journey through a difficult time and providing some relief and hopefully, some understanding," said Margo Garrison, MT, oncology massage graduate.
  • "I find joy and satisfaction knowing that I may have eased the intensity of their symptoms, while giving them some much needed rest," said Eileen Sweeney, oncology massage graduate.
  • "My hospital experience has exposed me to the pain of others who respond with enormous gratitude for compassionate touch, like the patient in the end-of-life stages of cancer, who opened her eyes briefly to thank me for gently rubbing her chest," said Alicia Malay, oncology massage graduate.

From nausea, fatigue, infection and pain, cancer patients' bodies endure a number of side effects after being poked and proded throughout the day with treatment. As you would imagine, massage is a welcome relief. Patients have thanked us repeatedly commenting on what a blessing this program is, how good they feel and how much more comfortable they are after the therapy. "I don't feel the pinching pain I had in my stomach and I don't feel dizzy anymore," said one patient. And another, "I didn't feel like eating before the massage, but now I'm hungry."

When the nurses on staff started to believe in what we are doing, we knew that the program would be a success. These professionals work hard every day, and are dedicated to, and protective of their patients as if they were family. Sue Walther, a palliative-care nurse practitioner at the University Hospital, expressed gratitude for the program's impact. "I have had the distinct pleasure of being a minor liaison between the students from the Institute for Therapeutic Massage and patients throughout University Hospital," she said. "The surprise and smiles from the patients I approach regarding their interest in having a massage student visit them, compares to nothing I have seen. ... There are patients all over the hospital who would greatly benefit from this type of healing intervention." I have even had physicians order massage for their patients on days when the students are not here, leaving the nurses to wonder why there is not a full-time massage program on-site. The students are always eager to take on any challenge, ranging from patients in the intensive care units to any type of isolation situation (where patients especially appreciate touch). They are professional, upbeat, kind and grateful to be able to share their skills."

The need for qualified massage therapists who are trained in hospital massage, and particularly oncology massage, is growing as hospitals and cancer centers are increasing the use of massage therapy as part of their palliative-care programs. This program provides a comprehensive academic curriculum and practical experience working with patients in a variety of hospital units, including: Outpatient Infusion, Medical ICU, Cardiac ICU, Surgical ICU, and many others so that the students receive a well-rounded educational experience. The curriculum was prepared for both practicing massage therapists, who make up 25 percent of the student body, and those who have no prior training in massage therapy.

It always touches my heart when I see patients nod off during their massage or have smiles on their faces when our students leave their room after a massage. The power of touch and the compassion for others is what has made this program a success. For more information concerning this program, contact the Institute for Therapeutic Massage at (973) 839-6131.