FSMTB Unveils Plan for Continuing Education

Last week, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards published a document outlining their proposal to jump into the continuing education market. They are calling the new program Maintenance of Core Competency – to be abbreviated as “MOCC”. I don’t know what planet this thing came from, but it sure ain’t from this solar system.

Coming fast on the heels of the unresolved conflict-of-interest mess with the FSMTB President spearheading legislation in her home state of Iowa that would eliminate the education hours from that massage law, the timing of this MOCC release is strange, to say the least.

But let me get to the main event here: When you have a problem on your hands, there’s nothing more aggravating than a solution that is worse than the original problem itself. That’s exactly what has happened.

For many years, those of us who teach continuing education courses, as well as the sponsors of continuing education, have had to put up with an absurd and ineffective system for CE approvals. Most regulated professions have a single national entity that handles this function; we have the national provider approval program run by NCBTMB, as well as individual approval processes operated by about 10 state massage boards. The standards are inconsistent, and it forces CE providers to go through redundant and costly approval processes to be able to offer their courses in more than one location.

There was a cause for hope when we started to see some activity about this last year at the national level. In a press release entitled “FSMTB to Establish New Continuing Education Approval Program” (dated March 29, 2011), the organization announced:

“…the launch of a project to develop a new national program for the approval of both continuing education courses and providers. Once it is established, the program will provide state regulatory agencies with a centralized quality assurance process for all courses taken by massage and bodywork therapists for the renewal of State licensure or State certification.

As the representative for the regulatory community, FSMTB has responded to requests from its Member Boards to create a unified system to ensure that continuing education courses are taught by qualified instructors, relevant to the scope of practice, and meet the needs of the regulatory community.”

This all sounds wonderful, but the MOCC Proposal does not resemble this in any way. What happened to FSMTB’s clearly stated plan?

The MOCC Proposal introduces a totally new concept to our field: that there is a limited group of subjects that are specific to the “core competence” of massage therapists, such as ethics and boundaries, hygiene and sanitation, scope of practice, and unsafe massage practices. These subjects are supposed to be more important to “public safety” than all the other subjects typically studied by massage therapists in CE seminars – which are lumped into a new category called “professional enhancement”.

Based on this concept, the MOCC Proposal makes three recommendations:

1) Requirements for the renewal of state licensure should focus on public protection and maintenance of core competencies. All therapists should complete a required educational program for re-licensure focused on public safety issues. FSMTB would be the provider of this educational program.

2) A transition phase addressing maintenance of core competence as well as current continuing education for professional enhancement will be needed. FSMTB will provide state massage boards with guidelines to assist in the transition phase.

3) After this transition phase, professional enhancement and continuing education is voluntarily attained at the discretion of the therapist and not mandated for licensure renewal.

Instead of working to get broad-spectrum CE mandated for license renewals in all states, the MOCC Proposal recommends doing the opposite. In light of the relatively low number of education hours to enter our field, CE is essential to help practitioners continue to build and strengthen their base of theory and methodology. The narrow scope of “core competencies” suggested in the proposal as the only mandatory elements for renewal do little or nothing to advance levels of skill and awareness of the craft. While looking into how some of the other associations and federations of state regulatory boards of licensed professions handle their CE approval process, I did not locate a single one that imposes a limitation to “public protection” on continuing education the way the FSMTB is proposing to do.

The proposal also contains a statement that, “It is important to the FSMTB that all stakeholders have a voice in the process. The FSMTB requests feedback on this proposal from the Massage and Bodywork community and other interested parties.”

That’s a very open-sounding invitation, but does it strike you as odd that the MOCC Proposal makes no mention whatsoever of NCBTMB and the Approved CE Provider program they’ve been operating for the past 20 years? I would consider NCBTMB a stakeholder – and I’m relatively certain they’re an interested party. Last May, a rep from FSMTB attended the multi-stakeholder summit held by NCBTMB that looked at improving their CE approval program; it doesn’t appear that the invitation was reciprocated.

As I see it, the recommendations contained in the MOCC Proposal will drive the two organizations further apart, and will make it impossible for a global solution to be developed. This is both foolish and unacceptable. There is general support for continuing education being tied to license renewal, as it benefits both practitioners and their clients. Ongoing coursework in certain key subjects (like ethics) can continue to be written into state standards to ensure that licensees stay current with the behavioral aspects that influence their work.

If we’re going to have a single entity handling CE approvals on behalf of the entire profession, which should it be: FSMTB or NCBTMB? In reality, it could be either one – but it would take new levels of cooperation, along with well-crafted agreements to satisfy all the legal and structural considerations. Creating a unified approval program should be the focal point of discussions between and among the major stakeholders in this arena. Anything else is a waste of time.

When it comes down to it, FSMTB is a collective of the state regulatory boards; it has no regulatory authority in and of itself. They cannot force this plan on any state that doesn’t want it. Any state approving their own providers will be free to carry on, and any state that wants to continue to accept courses taught by the NCBTMB-Approved Providers will be free to carry on. The MOCC Proposal states that another document will be forthcoming that details recommended standards for states that choose to continue their own approval process.

As mentioned above, this is currently just a proposal and FSMTB is seeking feedback. I definitely encourage you to give it to them. Click this link.

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