There are some people who love to take continuing education courses and some who do not. There are some professions that require you to take them and some that do not. Massage therapy is a profession in which some, but not all, states and organizations require continuing education for re-certification, maintenance of a license or renewal of membership. This means it can get very confusing, especially if you move from one location to another where requirements may be drastically different. In the states where continuing education courses are required, there are also stiff and – in many cases – costly penalties for not taking them, the most drastic of which is losing your license.

In February, the Tennessee Board of Massage decided that it would audit 100% of its licensed massage therapists for continuing education compliance. According to the Board’s meeting minutes, this decision was brought about when 33 therapists were audited and the Board found that only 9 therapists were compliant with the continuing education requirements. For these deficient therapists the fines can be steep. The Tennessee Board charges a $150.00 penalty, a fee of $25.00 for each hour that the license holder was deficient and, in addition, the license holder must complete the hours they were deficient PLUS six penalty hours of continuing education.

For those states that require continuing education for re-licensure, any audits the state conducts are defined in their laws and rules. For those therapists who are deficient, some states may impose a fine, which can be up to $1,000. Some vary the fines depending on how many credits you have completed. This is in addition to your renewal fee. The state can also deny the renewal of your license until you complete the mandatory continuing education credits. This could lead to the loss of your job if you work for someone else or the closing down of your private practice for several weeks or months, until you can prove you’ve completed the courses. It is a steep price to pay for neglecting to obey the rules of your chosen profession.

Here are some helpful tips you should keep in mind when taking continuing education courses for license renewal:

  • Be aware of what the most recent requirements for continuing education are for your jurisdiction. Just as requirements differ from one location to another, they can also differ from one renewal period to another or even from one level of certification to another.
  • Keep a written record of the programs you take, including the name of the institution, the instructor, the name of the program and a brief description of it, the number of credits and, of course, the date(s) when the program was taken and completed. Retain any certificates or documentation from the institution or person who offered the class for the time specified in your specific state’s laws and rules.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to take continuing education courses. Many states allow a mix of on-site courses and home study courses. While you can take home study courses any time, on-site courses may only be given at certain times in certain locations.
  • Budget funds for the continuing education course you are required to take. The cost of a course can vary greatly, and that cost can escalate quickly if you need to travel. Estimate what your overall cost will be. The cost might range from $15 to $50 per credit hour. If you are required to take 24 credits every two years, try to put aside enough money each month so you won’t be hit with one big bill that needs to be paid off. The cost should also include any time/wages lost while taking a course. And, remember, the cost of continuing education is tax deductible.
  • When looking for courses, take into consideration the requirements as well as any possible restrictions regarding renewal or recertification. Some states require a specific number of credits in such things as ethics, law, business, universal precautions or HIV/AIDS. Some states require a certain number of credits be hands-on courses and others allow a percentage of them to be home study.
  • In deciding which classes to take, consider the type of learner you are. Do you learn better by reading, listening to audio, watching videos or by active participation? Choose courses that meet your needs.
  • Make sure you are taking courses that are recognized, accredited and accepted by professional organizations you belong to as well as the state licensing board having jurisdiction where you have your practice
  • If you have a private practice the cost of continuing education comes out of your own pocket, but at least you can claim it on your taxes. If you work for someone else, especially a large company, you may be able to request either full or partial reimbursement. Don’t be afraid to ask. They need you to be licensed and the cost will be worth it to them to keep you around!
  • Be aware of deadlines. You need to have completed the course – and received documentation to prove it – before you renew your license or membership. You will probably have to list the courses on your renewal form. In extenuating circumstances, you may be able to ask for an extension of time. This usually needs to be done in writing, ahead of time.

Taking continuing education courses will not only make you a more valuable employee, but if you are in private practice, it will assure your clients that you are keeping your skills current and learning new techniques that will benefit them.

The most important thing is to keep up-to-date on your license renewal requirements. This will help your practice run smoothly, without interruption and will allow you to be of greater value to your clients.