An illustration of health care professionals sleeping in a common area at work is used to depict the idea of stressed-out, exhausted health care employees.

People attracted to the health care professions tend to be givers who want to help and serve others—and now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and is joined by influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), medical professionals are especially susceptible to the effects of stress stoked by long hours and ever-evolving safety precautions.

For this reason, health care facilities are investing time and money into taking care of the people who take care of patients. Complementary interventions, such as massage therapy, are often at the forefront of efforts to combat medical professionals’ burnout.

On Dec. 15, the American Medical Association’s President Jack Resneck, Jr., MD, announced that fighting physician burnout must be “an urgent national priority” and that “as the nation experiences a ‘tripledemic’ this winter filling hospital beds due to influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19, physicians continue to hold together a health care system stretched far too thin.”

Chair Massage for Medical Professionals

Eric Bacigal
Eric Bacigal

A newfound emphasis on employee health and well-being is a positive result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Bacigal, vice president of team member well-being at Corewell Health medical system in Michigan, told MASSAGE Magazine.

“I think it’s caused us to really re-evaluate some of our ways of working” said Bacigal, adding that medical professionals need to engage in better self-care and put “that oxygen mask” on themselves first in order to function at the highest level and be available to patients.

When Corewell broke ground on a new, 12-story, 240,000-square-foot outpatient facility, slated to be completed in late 2024, its leaders planned it with employee well-being as well as patient comfort in mind; areas for employees to congregate, relax and recharge were part of the design from the beginning, Bacigal said.

The network’s roughly 80 locations also occasionally bring professional massage therapists in for employee chair massage. (This past year employees were treated to electronic massage chairs placed throughout the network’s facilities so they can take a quick break for some relief for sore backs and muscles. While it’s not intended to replace human touch, Bacigal said, it’s a stopgap, especially at times when COVID-19 restrictions tighten and therapists from outside the facility can’t always be brought into the buildings.)

“The feedback was unanimously favorable,” he said.

Hands-On Massage for Medical Professionals

Body Techniques, a nationwide massage therapy provider based in California that specializes in workplace stress management, has begun to focus on bringing the healing power of hands-on massage to medical professionals. Since the beginning of the pandemic, its leaders have noticed the need for massage therapy has increased.

Christine Blackmore
Christine Blackmore

“It’s truly something that we are passionate about,” said Body Techniques CEO Christine Blackmore. “As we made our way through the pandemic, it became very clear that health care workers were taking, truly, the brunt of so much of what was happening during the pandemic, so we realized … there’s a real need here.

“We put a call out to our MT teams nationally and found great interest and passion on the MT side to be available to go support health care workers,” Blackmore said. “We developed a service called Roaming Massage, where our MTs are able and cleared to work in clinic and hospital settings. They’re able to give hands-on care to health care workers in their own work environment.”

Blackmore explained that Roaming Massage MTs are assigned to a particular unit, floor or floors in a hospital, along with a time block in which to work. They check in with a person determined as their point of contact, then get a roster of those employees in the unit who are interested in massage that day.

“Then the MT meets [each] individual, maybe when they’re at the chart station or they just have a minute in the hallway to sit down and enjoy a little bit of hands-on massage,” she said. “And so, it’s been a really successful model in a fast-paced environment like a hospital where people don’t have a lot of time.”

She said massage has been “a huge hit” in hospital settings.

How Massage Helps Medical Professionals

Blackmore notes that health care workers, due to their relentless focus on the welfare of others, can often lose touch with their own bodies and sense of wellness. Offering them massage therapy “was really just a way to help them be embodied, bring them back to their own physical wellness and fill their cup so that they could get back out there and provide services to people and patient care again.”

Emily Bonzi
Emily Bonzi

In health care, says Emily Bonzi, Roaming Massage’s marketing manager, “especially over the last two years, everyone is at capacity and then some.”

Massage also helps close the distance between people that was created by pandemic precautions, Bonzi added. “Massage being a safe way to connect again with people is really something that we found was powerful for these health care workers.”

Blackmore heard about the benefits of massage therapy for medical professionals from a person close to her. “I have a friend who works in health care. She’s actually always worked on the labor and delivery ward. During the pandemic, it was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and she got pulled from her unit and was asked to go work on the COVID floors,” Blackmore explained.

“She was working double shifts, all night long, all morning long, and just humanly depleted just by the level of and intensity of what she was dealing with day to day,” Blackmore continued. “She actually ended up working at one of the hospitals where we sent in hands-on massage, and she was actually one of the people that was a recipient of that. And she said that just having somebody reach out to her and provide that human touch just brought a level of calm and comfort and just refilled her engine, because it was a moment of self-care … that brought her back to her focus, her purpose; she felt recharged and was able to go back out again.

“Fifteen minutes of massage for a health care worker can make all the difference, because their world is so much about caring for others,” Blackmore added.

Staying Safe in Health Care

Body Techniques therapists adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols developed by their company doctor on staff. Precautions include masks and vaccinations, which are often required by health care facilities. The company conducts trainings with its massage therapists and also sends out a company newsletter to keep everyone up to date on precautions.

“For some of our bigger tech clients here in California, specifically, we have very strict room-turnover guidelines and ventilation guidelines,” said Blackmore.

She adds that safety is a “dialogue that’s always evolving.”

Your Massage Skills Are in Demand

If you want to expand your services into the medical-professionals market, word-of-mouth is critical. “Doing a good job at the first spot often leads to the next and the next,” Bonzi said. Employment opportunities are available with Body Techniques.

As a massage therapist, you are in a unique position to help serve the public interest by supporting the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are on the front lines taking care of others.

Allison M. Payne

About the Author

Allison M. Payne is an independent writer and editor based in northeast Florida. Her recent articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “What is an Independent Contractor? Make Sure You’re Not Misclassified” and “Massage Franchises Offer Benefits, Bonuses and New Company Cultures in Response to Labor Shortage.”