Proceed With Caution
On Thursday April 27, 2023, the Arkansas Board of Health (BOH) held their quarterly meeting and one of the new business items on their agenda was the Massage Therapy Technical Advisory Committee's (MTTAC) request to develop and implement a state massage licensing exam alternative to the MBLEx.
Last summer, MTTAC voted to create two ad hoc committees (sub committees tasked with very narrow and specific scopes of exploration) made up of volunteers from MTTAC and other Arkansas massage therapists. One ad hoc's specific issue was the question to develop an alternative exam to the MBLEx (the profession's national standard in entry-level licensing exams). There was much robust (and sometimes heated) discussion amongst that ad hoc committee from July to November 2022. There were also presentations from Federation of State Massage Therapy Board (FSMTB) who maintain and update the MBLEx on behalf of member states (Arkansas was one of the FSMTB founding members) that clearly and rationally explained why this idea of a "state exam" would not only be redundant (the MBLEx is a owned by Arkansas as a member of the Federation) but also regressive (there was much work done in the 2000s to move away from state licensing exams in favor of the MBLEx). The MBLEx is available to the state free of charge and administrative burden on Arkansas- the only cost is the responsibility of the student/exam taker (common across many professions for licensing exams).
It is worth noting that not everyone who applied for the "Exam Ad Hoc" was appointed to it, the Chair of that ad hoc committee (and Co-Chair of MTTAC) resigned during the process, those who were appointed to this ad hoc didn't attend every meeting, and that when the final vote was held in November on recommendations to send to MTTAC there was no quorum.
The Exam ad hoc eventually voted to recommend that MTTAC request creating and implementing a "state exam" alternative. This was a terrible idea that never should have made it out of the ad hoc, let alone be adopted by MTTAC in full.
Take a beat to consider if you'd want to go to a surgeon who couldn't pass the national standard of entry level competency exams - I don't think you would. Competency exams are important to ensure public and consumer safety- and we already have a perfectly fine exam that is respected not just by our massage profession, but other medical professions as well! Why would Arkansas attempt to "fix" something that isn't broken?
Last month, the Board of Health made no motion regarding MTTAC's formal request and without motion, the question to develop an "alternative state exam" failed or died (for now). Do not be mistaken, this was a great outcome for the profession of massage therapy, but an embarrassment for our MTTAC.
This is the first time in MTTAC's history that BOH has denied (or more accurately, remained neutral) a formal request of MTTAC. This outcome has weakened MTTAC as our governing agency. Anytime MTTAC goes before BOH on the behalf of our profession and is denied, it weakens the credibility of MTTAC and Arkansas massage therapists as a whole. We have now demonstrated to the Board of Health that we will bring before them frivolous issues urged by a small faction of our massage therapy community. If we continue this route of pursuing trivial, nonsensical requests we will lose all credibility we have struggled to gain in recent decades and our MTTAC will be left weaker with each denial.
The time has come to wave a warning finger at MTTAC.
A time will come when massage therapists in Arkansas will have a REAL need from the Board of Health and if we continue on this track we have been on in recent years we will be left in a weakened position to ask for it. The minority has had their say and pursued their issue to its highest authority (as is their right in any democracy), now it is time for the will of the majority to be respected and continue. This was a close call of a bad idea that could have been halted at multiple opportunities and stages. I am so thankful that BOH could see reason and deny this issue.
My personal plea to MTTAC members is thus;
MTTAC, proceed with business as usual but be ever cautious not to be swayed by fringe voices that would weaken your credibility or threaten to circumvent your authority. Protect our profession and continue Arkansas' tradition of being a progressive leader in massage therapy!
Peace and Healing,
Kirby Clark, MMT, BCTMB