On November 12, 1996, in the foothills of the Western Himalayas, two planes collided in midair. All 349 of the people aboard both flights perished that day. Their deaths were not in vain. All aeronautical accidents are scrutinized to prevent future ones, and this crash instituted a change in international aviation laws and practices that are still in place today.
We in the U.S. are experiencing the equivalent of more than one midair crash a day in deaths related to COVID-19, with a daily average of 355 Americans dying from this coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-21. If we count the massive numbers of those struggling to muddle through long COVID, or post-COVID health conditions, a number now estimated at 18 million Americans,2 some with permanent organ damage from their infections, we’re looking at an additional 200 collisions every week.
When all the world appears blind to the ramifications of SARS-CoV-2 and is devolving into complacency, how are we to keep our health care standards up and our people safe? Is it our place as massage therapists and wellness professionals to maintain such strict adherence to Universal Precautions, and disease prevention and infection controls? To these questions, I in turn ask:
Are You a Professional or an Amateur?
This all comes back to the understanding that massage therapy is an allied health profession, thus our responsibilities are the same as if we were working in a fully medical practice, wherever we actually are. It is crucial for us to take disease and infection control seriously, and be ready to educate all our people on the basics so we can maintain the highest clinical standards.
It is also on us to make sure we are prepared to answer questions accurately or make appropriate referrals when we aren’t clear on the answers. We are experts in our field, and piloting our own aircraft doesn’t leave room for error. Which one are you?
1. Amateurs procrastinate. Professionals stick to a schedule.
Amateurs practice health protocols only when they feel motivated, or are asked to. Standards are often forgotten or set aside for other interests. If they or their clients get sick, they find excuses or call it “bad luck.”
Professionals don’t let their feelings dictate their actions, but welcome criticism and insight. They intentionally create and commit to proper protocols no matter what. They view their approach to health and safety as an asset, not a hindrance, and see how it will improve their overall outcomes in time.
2. Amateurs want fast fixes. Professionals focus on habits.
Amateurs crave the instant gratification of quick results and want success without having to put sustained effort into the grind. So long as their space looks inviting enough and they have a jillion modalities to offer, why do all that paperwork, make folks mask up and be a maid? “That’s boring!”
Professionals dedicate time to rituals that help them achieve their goals as a by-product, and are constantly refining their methods and abilities. Health care standards are essential to their practice, as brushing teeth and working out are essential to their lives, setting their business ahead of others by default. Their clientele notice the difference and feel safe referring others to them.
3. Amateurs want to relax. Professionals strive to improve.
Amateurs fall for trendy items and novelties that soon become useless, and take costly shortcuts. In practice, they may want to prevent illness, but resent having to do it. Once they get a can of disinfectant in the bathroom where clients can see it, manage a quick spritz on the face cradle once or twice a day, and run the vacuum once a week, they feel they’ve done their job.
The professional understands that each day they complete is a result of how much they’ve improved. They take note of their missteps and strategize for their future. They strengthen over time and search out refined ways to protect themselves, their people and their investments.
Not satisfied with a spritz and a smile, they send out reminders, policy updates and health guidance before appointments, do thorough intakes each time, disinfect thoroughly after every session, charge deposits for reservations, and keep updated records secure.
Professionals foster relationships and collaborate with other medical, health and wellness professionals so they all can provide a comprehensive team for their mutual clients’ best outcomes. They engage a housekeeping service to make certain their space stays in top condition, maintain and operate safe laundry facilities, and train those they work with to stick to specific protocols.
Professionals understand that many hands make light work for all, and empower their people to bond and play together as an interconnected tensegrity unit. They encourage their team to embrace the innovations demanded by science, stay up to date on their own vaccines and health needs, and lead by example in all they do.
4. Amateurs complain or quit after failure. Professionals regroup, grow and improve after disaster strikes.
Amateurs try to avoid failure, but rarely put in the work required to prevent it. They fear criticism and worry about what people may think if they make them follow the rules. They fall for the “sunk cost fallacy” every time, settling for less rather than taking responsibility, accepting their errors and growing stronger through adversity.
Professionals understand that failure is an inevitable and necessary part of growth, and learn from it. They treat failure and criticism as would a scientist—approaching the subject with curiosity and honesty, discarding irrelevant information and using more accurate evidence to become better at what they do.
Professionals seek out the latest in qualified research, fact check their sources, and collaborate with other pros to welcome, understand and apply updates. By practicing what they preach, they inspire and support others to do the same.
5. Amateurs live for praise. Professionals thrive on truth.
Amateurs are easily swayed by popular opinion. Their decisions are preordained by their personal belief system, and they limit new information to what they already agree with.
When offered the opportunity to update their beliefs, the amateur refuses or argues against the change. They rely on static traditions, doubling down the more they are prodded. They resent science and the constant renovation it demands. They hope for the best, blaming others for their mistakes.
Professionals actively question widely held assumptions about how things should be done and embrace new challenges and change. Their decisions are well-considered, based on objectivity and long-term gains. They rely on core, inclusive principles, not on uninformed opinions and immediate reward. They follow the evidence and seek out current data, taking full responsibility when things go wrong.
This style of processing information prevents professionals from making harmful decisions and hurting the people they serve. They are able to filter out chatter and noise with ease and can pick up on trends quickly and accurately, adapting their practices with compassion and flair.
Why Vaccines Make Sense
Inoculation has been used as a frontline defense and a cornerstone of public health for well over 1,000 years.3 The process of harvesting infectious fluids from pox-plagued people, diluting them and then transferring the solution via an open wound to an uninfected person began in China, in about 1000 AD.
In time, this practice traveled westward, until it reached around the globe as a reliable way to prevent serious infection and death from myriad microbes. Edward Jenner innovated the practice in the 18th Century by using a less lethal cowpox to induce immunity to smallpox. Simple variolation was further refined by Louis Pasteur using active but weakened (live-attenuated) microorganisms in the 19th Century, and inactivated vaccines were introduced in the early 20th Century.3
Vaccines and boosters limit the progress of variants and overall spread of disease by increasing the number of people who are safely immune. Immunity does not guarantee against infection, but it greatly increases your chance of survival should you encounter the disease, and reduces the need for hospitalization. Vaccines also prevent you from being an effective carrier, as your antibodies will naturally weaken any virus you might spread.
The more experience we have with newer technologies, the safer our labs have been able to make vaccines. Thanks to global efforts, we have managed to eradicate smallpox altogether and vastly prevent other serious, highly contagious diseases, like polio, measles and diphtheria.
It is important that we destigmatize the practice of vaccination and encourage others around us to participate so we can safely achieve herd immunity with the fewest amount of casualties and impaired survivors. By definition, science relies on constant inquiry, correction and innovation, so staying up to date on recent developments will keep your practice above the curve and evergreen.
Choose the Higher Path
Ultimately, our commitment to professional practice is what weds us to setting and maintaining scrupulous standards, whether it be how we market, whom or what we target as an income source, our bookkeeping and scheduling skills, the ways we continue to educate ourselves and apply new understandings in practice, and how we design and tend to our businesses and spaces.
Encouraging updated vaccinations and adhering to Universal Precautions and air quality control are essential to preventing infections and the spread of disease, so sticking to protocols no matter the season or the biohazard du jour is what we must always strive for.
—Epictetus, in Discourses, Book II, chapter 17
Remember: The keys to rising above and being a true professional are to stay curious, inquire further, admit you might not know what you think you know, ritualize daily tasks, and clear space frequently to allow for progress. The actions we take and the concepts we promote impact not only our own practices, but the communities we serve and our profession as a whole.
1. COVID Data Tracker, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home. Accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
2. “Study estimates 18 million Americans have Long COVID.” News Medical Life Sciences. news-medical.net/news/20220919/Study-estimates-18-million-Americans-have-long-COVID.aspx. Accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
3. “History of Vaccines.” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. historyofvaccines.org/history/vaccine-timeline/overview. Accessed Sept. 21, 2022.
About the Author
Julie Tudor, LMT, is director of the noted Facebook group, Massage, Health Practitioners and COVID-19, which promotes ethics and evidence-based practice. Tudor is a manual and movement therapist in New York, New York, who incorporates the principles of Feldenkrais, dermoneuromodulation, neurodynamics, and long-form improvisation with the foundations of cognitive behavioral and acceptance and commitment therapies in her work.