The Hospital Massage Conundrum

One of my notable realizations is that the type of massage I do – therapeutic/medical massage, a combination of pain relief and relaxation – would have a great home in a hospital. Whatever the problem may be, working holistically (that is, not just focusing on the disease or disorder or broken bone, but taking the whole physical and mental state into consideration) has so many benefits, and massage plays a big part in this type of treatment. And where best to complement Western treatment but in a hospital? Even in school, I had the grand idea of one day giving massages in such a setting.

Many hospitals in Britain include massage services, and one article states that “more than 100 hospitals and 200 health services around Britain offer ‘touch therapy’ such as massage to patients alongside conventional medicine.” [source]. There’s even a growing number of hospitals in the US that offer massage [PDF].

And the research promotes this addition. Just pulling some titles from the abstracts located here, massage has been shown to reduce hospital stay for adults and preterm infants; increase relaxation and decrease anxiety in intensive care patients; cause women in labor to release more endorphins, which lowers the need for pain killers; decrease anxiety in pre- and post-op patients; and decrease pain and anxiety for cancer patients (as previously discussed). Another study that I recall reading in school showed the positive effects of short chair massages for nurses at a hospital. Just like giving massages to caregivers, being able to help and support those who help and support others is a true gift.

But massage employment is a tricky situation, especially in this city. When I first looked into it, the few massage posts I found for hospitals required two years of experience. Now that I have this experience, all of those job postings are gone. As a temporary solution, I decided to pursue some massage-related volunteer work at one of the hospitals nearby. I could get a taste for the hospital environment and maybe even network among departments and staff in hopes of future employment. And everyone loves volunteers, right?

Well, in theory. But I’ve contacted volunteer coordinators at the three largest hospitals in town and they’ve all turned me down (to be fair, though, only two turned me down outright; one just never responded to my email). I’m fully trained, fully licensed, fully insured, and willing to use my special skills for the benefit of others… for free! But they said no.

When I asked one of the coordinators about this refusal, she mumbled something about how being “hands-on” was a liability issue. Never mind that I have complete liability coverage through my professional organization, and never mind the fact that I’m trained and compliant in Oregon’s health and safety standards. Because most volunteers don’t have this education, the hospital probably has a blanket rule against hands-on work for its volunteers.

This just means that they need to have proper positions for massage therapists on the actual staff. But they don’t. My dream job is at Providence Hospital’s children center, where they utilize physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and nutritionists for holistic wellness. But there are no massage therapists on staff. And if hospital directors can’t see for themselves how useful massage would be because volunteers can’t do hands-on work, then they won’t ever create these positions.

And therein lies the problem.

I haven’t given up hope, though. My next plan is to contact the hospitals’ HR departments and market my chair massage as “employee wellness”. And I have a few contacts who might help with my networking. Naturally, I’ll keep you all posted if anything comes of it.

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  1. Posted December 10, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Hey Natalie, I just stumbled on this blog entry while researching working as a massage therapist in a hospital setting. Have you had any progress in your volunteer efforts?

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      Posted December 10, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Hi Autumn- Thanks for your comment! I didn’t progress at all in regards to working/volunteering at a hospital, unfortunately. I would up opening my own practice instead, and for right now that doesn’t leave me with much time to volunteer. I think that the best way to get to work at a hospital is via cancer massage, ie Gayle MacDonald’s class or something similar. Good luck!

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