As a massage therapist, there is one very good reason to further your professional development with continuing education: You have to. Most licensing or certifying authorities require a certain number of approved continuing education hours in order to stay in compliance with state or local regulations. Although your regulator may require that you further your education, you still decide what courses to take.
While some continuing education can be expensive, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, a little planning and budgeting can go a long way in making every one of those dollars count. I recommend planning a yearly budget before the year begins; it's not too soon to start planning for 2012.
Continuing education classes can represent a significant portion of your yearly budget, so choose classes carefully. In choosing which class to take, ask yourself these two questions:
1. Will taking this class bring me closer to achieving my long-term professional development goals?
2. Can I realize a positive return on investment (ROI) before I have to renew my license?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then I would reconsider taking the class.
Let's look at each of these questions in depth. The first question presupposes that you know exactly what your long-term professional development goals are. If you can't articulate them with specificity, then I suggest you revisit them. If you don't know how you want your practice to evolve, any continuing education class will do; however, if you can see the specific path you want to walk, you will be able to more easily choose courses to help you reach your destination.
Once you know what type of course interests you, focus on choosing the right provider to help you acquire this skill set. Do your research. Make sure the instructor is approved by your regulatory authority. Not everyone is, and if you sign up for a class with the wrong provider, it won't count toward your continuing education requirements.
In addition, make sure you receive the training you are anticipating you will receive. Some continuing education providers offer introductory classes that do not necessarily enhance your skill set in a given modality, necessitating that you take more advanced classes to learn hands-on skills. Contact the provider directly and request a written copy of the learning outcomes and objectives for the class in question. If the class is part of a series, ask for the learning objectives for all the classes. That way, you'll know exactly what your investment is before you begin. If possible, you also may want to ask any colleagues who have taken the class about their experiences. They may be able to give you some firsthand insight to help you make your decision.
For the second question concerning ROI, make sure you know exactly how much you're investing. A continuing education class that costs $1,350 may sound like a good deal, but if it's a multiday event then you also need to add in the costs of transportation, food and lodging. Keep in mind, also, the cost factor of not working with your clientele while attending the class.
If you pay for a class with a credit card, watch out for interest payments. If you only make the minimum payment on your credit card each month, you could pay almost 50 percent more in interest charges alone and it will take nearly six years to pay it off completely. So the $1,350 cost of the class may be more like $2,000 or more when all is said and done, and these expenses must be included in your ROI calculations.
If you work for an employer, check to see if there are any reimbursement options for professional development. Some companies make this available to employees.
Calculating ROI also requires you to estimate how many massage sessions you'll need to complete to pay for the cost of learning it. For example, let's say you want to take a four-day craniosacral therapy class and it costs $800. Add to that the cost of transportation, food, lodging and income lost while you're away from your practice, and you see the class will cost a total of $1,500. For now, let's assume you'll pay cash for everything. If you intend to charge $100 per craniosacral therapy session when you return to your practice, then you will need to perform 15 sessions to break even.
This really isn't the case, however, as it doesn't take into account the fixed and variable expenses associated with providing massage therapy. So let's say after you account for your taxes, rent and marketing costs, you keep 45 percent of what you make, or $45 of that $100. This means you'll need to do more than 33 sessions to recoup your investment, and this is not including any free sessions you offer to pique clients' interest.
Also, by their very design, most continuing education offerings are intensive in nature. They pack a lot of information in a short amount of time. To best prepare for taking a continuing education course, do these three things:
1. Practice self-care before, during and after the class.
2. Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation during learning can cause you to miss up to 20 percent of what's taught.
3. Arrange your personal life in such a way that you will be free from distractions. Make sure your clients know you will be unavailable, refer clients to a trusted colleague, make sure you have a reliable babysitter and make sure your car is in good working order if you are driving to the class.
Begin using what you learned in the class as soon as you return to your practice. Give away one free session to each regular client, friends and family to build interest and hone your skills. Join or start a study group in your area, preferably with some of the people who took the class with you.
With some careful planning, choosing the right continuing education will serve you well as you continue your professional development-and treating any continuing education class like the significant investment it is will continue to pay you dividends for many years to come.