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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

National Board Moves Forward

NCBTMB Board Chair Donna Feeley and new CEO Chris Laxton discuss their vision of the board in 2007 and beyond.

By Kathryn Feather, Senior Associate Editor

As reported in previous issues of Massage Today, considerable changes are taking place at the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

In a departure from its previous organizational structure, the NCBTMB recently hired Christopher E. Laxton as its new chief executive officer. Chris and new NCBTMB Chair Donna Feeley recently spoke to Massage Today about their goals and plans for the organization, including what they hope to accomplish in the broader CAM community.

Donna Feeley and Chris Laxton. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Donna Feeley (DF): We are pleased to announce the selection of Christopher Laxton as our new CEO. He is a career professional with more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, management and communications, and 21 of those [years] are in health care. Most recently, he served as the CEO of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), which is a multidisciplinary organization of more than 10,000 health professionals providing and advocating for quality diabetes and self-management training. Chris also served as the executive director of the Washington-based Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology and in leadership positions with the National Association for Home Care. He is a graduate of McGill University of Montreal, has been widely published in health care journals, and has been a frequent lecturer on strategic planning, decision-making and the role of professional and trade associations to national and international audiences.

Chris brings a really powerful combination of vision and leadership and health care experience that we really need and have been seeking at NCBTMB. His ideas, we find, are bold and he's completely committed to advancing the organization both internally and externally. The employment of a CEO reflects somewhat of a cultural departure in the NCBTMB from hiring an executive director. In his CEO role, Chris has greater latitude in strategic leadership, staffing and program management, as well as oversight of our $9 million budget. What I think is really great here is that he and I are very much in unison in our goals and aspirations for the future of the profession. And as we develop and implement our strategic plan for the next three years and beyond, Chris will be reporting to a revitalized board with several new board members. He will be leading a new management team consisting of several new positions, and some of these we didn't have before. We have a new Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director, Gary Hannah. We have a brand new Director of Education, Mark Lausch, and we have a new School Outreach Manager, Michele Garrett-Heim. And ... as I mentioned, [those are] positions that have [not] existed in NCBTMB before. Chris also will oversee the other range of things that we offer, including legislative certification, continued education, re-certification and our administrative office staff. With that, I really have to say how excited I am to have Chris on board. He's got the vision and I think we are going to be a great team.

Chris Laxton (CL): I would like to thank Donna and the full board of the NCBTMB for the opportunity to provide leadership to what I believe is a tremendous organization. I would like to speak to you about the approach I will be bringing to NCBTMB and the role of CEO. I want to share my goals and objectives as we continue to promote the importance of certification to the massage and bodywork profession, as well as enhancing the role we can play in the CAM community.

During my 25-year career as a nonprofit leader, I've worked with a variety of communities that provide traditional medical interventions for chronic and long-term care, among others. I appreciate the importance of promoting and integrating a much broader role of complementary and alternative medical therapies into national health care. I have always been impressed by practitioners' hands-on interaction with consumers, and I can see that NCB [practitioners] are able to convey the value of massage, bodywork and other alternative health offerings. I think we also have a significant opportunity to enhance relationships with the consuming public, in general, to convey the preventive and quality-of-life benefits of massage and bodywork. So, in my first 90 days, it's my intention to conduct a comprehensive strategic and operational assessment of NCB.

Certification boards are, in my opinion, extraordinarily important to the credibility of any professional community. The NCBTMB has a very thorough process for understanding the science behind its profession and, I am proud to say, it has created a rigorous, credible examination for certification. We've evolved our exams and educational review by studying the scope of practice for some 16 years. Our extensive analysis of our profession is, as a result, unparalleled in our field.

However, we need to address head-on the customer focus of our organization. We must be more responsive to our base, better in our communications and aggressive in our outreach to stakeholders in the massage and broader CAM world.

We need to focus on forming collaborative initiatives and strategic alliances with state boards and other organizations as we continue to promote the benefits of massage, bodywork and CAM therapies.

I want to talk for a minute about the customer experience. While I believe we have a good system in place here at NCB, there is always room for improvement. The issue here, I believe, is not really a deficiency in the organization's infrastructure, but rather in our execution on a service level. Customers clearly have had a variable experience in NCB's efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness when they have called. My goal is to ensure that the customer experience we provide is not only positive and beneficial, but [also] delivered in a way that conveys each and every call is our most important call.

You know, when you think about it, each and every one of our certificants is a professional who supports the NCB's mission and very existence with their day-to-day devotion to excellence in their field. If these practitioners are out there keeping pace with the highest degrees of ethical, educational and professional best practices, they certainly deserve nothing less from us. So, I intend to drill down into the best ways to respond to our stakeholders' needs, working with our staff to implement executable ideas and very responsive systems.

NCB has a network of 82,000 certificants, more or less, plus an even larger pool of previous and potential certificants. This is a huge resource and represents the single largest network of massage and bodywork practitioners in the United States. It is incumbent upon us to increase the frequency and the currency of our communications to this network and to improve our responsiveness to these stakeholders. NCB, in coalition with other thought leader groups, can advance our mission more significantly and effectively than we possibly could on our own. There are a number of important stakeholders operating in the alternative health care market. By working together, we can advance our profession and the entire CAM scope of practice as a crucially important component in addressing the prevention and health promotion issues that accompany our aging society in chronic and general health in this country. Together, we can offer a powerful set of interventions for improving the quality of life for all individuals.

Massage Today: Donna, can you elaborate a little bit on the change in philosophy in terms of the hiring of a CEO, instead of another executive director?

DF: Having been a CEO, I'm sure Chris can provide his perspective on what he brings to the table.

CL: I've got two answers to that question. First, NCB is almost a 16-year-old organization. It has a budget of $9 million and a staff of some 25 people in Chicago, D.C. and Florida. For an organization of this scope, size and maturity, CEO is the appropriate title. Many of my peers with comparably-sized organizations carry that title. Second, I think one of the things we definitely wanted to communicate to you and our constituent stakeholders is that this is a new NCB - this is a new day for the organization. We've done things perhaps one way in the past and it's time that we do things differently. We want to be completely transparent and open with you. We want to take leadership for the good of the massage and bodywork community and for the public that it serves. I think really the CEO title is just one piece of that, and there will be others.

MT: Can you talk a little bit about how you plan to integrate and push the massage community forward into the greater CAM community?

CL: I'm somebody who believes strongly in strategic alliances. Through joining hands in coalition with other thought leader organizations, we can do much more than we can do separately. To my way of thinking, the CAM marketplace is perched on the edge of making a significant difference in the American health care system, as well as improving the quality of life for Americans. We have an aging population, and the largest disease burden in this country is chronic care. We have not done that well for this population or figured out how to do well. Massage therapy and bodywork, as key components of CAM, have important contributions to make. So, just in terms of first steps, one of the things I would really like to do is make some introductions and get to know the massage leaders in the CAM world: the NIH Center on CAM and the American Public Health Association and of course, many others.

DF: I've been a longstanding believer and promoter of CAM, especially how it integrates into the overall public health community. Massage and bodywork are used as CAM therapies for a myriad of health reasons, including the treatment of specific conditions, as well as a means for promoting health and wellness. We just joined the ACCAHC (Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care), and we will be starting to move forward with them. Chris and I will be making some visits to the Washington, D.C. area and introducing ourselves and NCBMB to key people. We also submitted an abstract to the American Public Health Association's special primary interest group on complementary and alternative health care practices, and we are hoping to be on their agenda at their conference this year in Washington, D.C. Massage and bodywork are some of the most utilized components of CAM at this point in time, and we are in a perfect position to help elevate the value of our credential in this arena. It's part of our strategic plan and a direction that we're moving toward, among others.

MT: Thank you.


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