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International bridging program


Everyone’s familiar with the stories about doctors, nurses and other high profile medical professionals who come here from abroad, only to find that their training isn’t recognized and they have to work in labs or drive taxis to make ends meet.

But what about registered massage therapists who trained overseas? Can they work here just by hanging out their shingle? No. Like every other regulated health profession in the province, massage therapists must be registered with the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO) before they can practise.

So, if there are gaps in their training, where do international massage therapists turn? Until now there wasn’t much they could do, but beginning this September a pilot project at Centennial College gets underway that will fill in those gaps and allow them to write the entry to practise exam.

Trish Dryden, acting director of the Applied Research Centre at Centennial and an RMT for 25 years, says CMTO came to Centennial in 2004.

“The regulatory body for massage therapy, the College of Massage Therapy of Ontario, came to us. They had identified, through their own processes, the need to provide additional supports and reduce obstacles for internationally educated massage therapists to get to practise. So they said, ‘Would Centennial College be willing to help us do this?'” Dryden says.

Centennial was, and this fall — thanks to funding from CMTO, the federal government, Queen’s Park and Centennial — 15 to 20 students will make up the first class of the International Massage Therapy Bridging Program.

Marjory Embree, registration manager at CMTO, says she gets three or four inquiries a week from newcomers who are massage therapists or who have some massage therapy experience. “There are a lot of people with training who are in a sense being wasted,” Embree says.

In Ontario, private colleges train massage therapists in two years; in public schools, such as Centennial, training takes three years.

Canadian massage therapy standards are high, Embree says, and therapists here can offer treatments that in other jurisdictions would be done by a physiotherapist or even a physician. As a consequence, those trained abroad must have certain training. There’s also the matter of cultural orientation, Embree says — something that will be addressed in the Centennial program. In Russia, for example, Embree explains that patients receive massage therapy naked, a practice that would not sit well with Canadians, she says.

The program at Centennial will run three days a week for 24 weeks, divided into two 12-week semesters. Students will also have to complete supervised clinical placements. Dryden says tuition is $400 a semester — although that’s bound to go up — and books could cost up to $800 depending on the texts students already have.

“(The program is) very-practice-based,” Dryden says. “The innovation of this bridging program is that we have integrated ESL specialists with the content. So when (students) get the language component of their training — the curriculum that we’ve created is very much based on how massage is actually practised — they will learn to do an interview of a person in English.”

Dryden expects that the students she welcomes this September will be rather more mature than not. As she says, they have already been working in their profession in their home countries so they’re bound to be a bit older. And, of course, they’re also going to be quite a diverse bunch.

Quick facts

– The international bridging program at Centennial College begins in September.

– Training runs three days a week for 24 weeks.

– Supervised clinical placements are mandatory.

– Centennial will accept 15 to 20 students in its first class.

– Tuition costs $400 a semester.