Kerry Gustafson, L.M.T., L.A.T., draws on her two professions—massage therapy and athletic training—to run a multidisciplinary clinic in Bellingham, Washington, where massage therapists, athletic trainers, acupuncturists and sports chiropractors provide a collaborative approach to health care.
MASSAGE Magazine spoke with Gustafson about her clinic’s multidisciplinary approach, where she sees the multidisciplinary trend heading, and how other therapists can succeed as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Advantages of a Multidisciplinary Clinic
When asked about the advantage of the multidisciplinary approach used at her clinic, Prime Massage & Sports Medicine, in Bellingham, Washington, Gustafson stressed the collaborative aspect.
“When a patient comes in, the practitioners sit down and have a face-to-face,” she said. “We’re communicating back and forth and having a dialogue, and the patient is a part of that process. They can fill in some of the details as we’re talking.”
Gustafson emphasized that the patient benefits when he or she feels included in planning a treatment plan. “I think that too much of medicine is disconnected,” she said. “It’s the patient running around to different places and hoping that people are communicating.
“When you have professionals in one practice together, you can discuss the treatment with the patient, and include them in the discussion,” Gustafson added. “The patient plays a part. And that’s where the healing begins.”
Collaboration in Action
Gustafson’s idea for the multidisciplinary clinic came from her collegiate experiences, working first for Washington State University, and then for UCLA and Oregon State University.
“I was an athletic trainer at Washington State University, working with the swim team,” she said. “Swimming is one of the only sports I can think of that is using the multidisciplinary approach.
“We were hiring a massage therapist, and as I was communicating with them about how to integrate their discipline with the rest of us, it occurred to me that there was so much more that I could learn,” Gustafson continued. “So I decided to go back and get my license [in massage therapy] and combine that with athletic training to better serve my athletes.”
While working at UCLA, at the PAC-12 Swimming Championship, Gustafson saw the benefits of the multidisciplinary approach.
“UCLA brought their sports chiropractor and their athletic trainer with them,” she recalled. “There was an awesome collaborative approach on the side of the pool. The athletes would do a warm-up, get adjusted by the chiropractor, and then come over to me and get loosened up.
“Then they would jump in the pool and start their routine for the races, and then they might come over and talk to the athletic trainer about their shoulder, which might have a sticking point in it, and the athletic trainer would have them do a couple of techniques, bring them back over to me, and communicate to me about what they found,” Gustafson continued.
“And then I would do my own tests and hand them back over to the athletic trainer or the sports chiropractor,” she added. “It was a whole team working with the athlete to be at their best.”
A Well-Rounded Therapist
When asked how her professions—massage therapy and athletic training—contribute to her career, Gustafson said they’ve made her a well-rounded therapist.
“It’s allowed me to not stop where one license ends and another begins,” she said. “It’s allowed me to have a more holistic approach with my patients.”
She said that when she makes an appointment with a massage client or an athletic training patient, she always tells them that they’re not coming in for just one service, that they will receive a blended service.
“When I’m doing an evaluation on somebody who has signed up for massage, I’m going to do special tests—muscle testing, orthopedic testing and neurological testing—to rule things out,” she explained. Based on what she finds, she will then determine if she needs to do another analysis, such as a running gait analysis.
“And then I can add that information into my clinical findings,” she added. “It’s always a back and forth.”
For massage therapists who want to work at or launch a multidisciplinary clinic, Gustafson said, “If somebody wants to get more into the sports end of sports massage, I think that if they found an event nearby—a race, a championship event, anything where either there’s a reputable athletic massage practitioner—whether they’re a sports chiropractor, or an athletic trainer or anybody else that’s a reputable person who works on elite athletes—then they can get a better sense for the techniques that should be used.”
Ask lots of questions, she added, and know when to stay out of the way and just observe.
“If you can work on elite athletes, you can help recreational athletes,” said Gustafson. “It doesn’t have to be elite athletes. But if you can work on that level, you can help anybody.”
On the Cusp of Something Big
Gustafson said she could imagine that the multidisciplinary clinic trend will spread throughout the U.S.
“There will be a lot of clinics popping up,” she said. “I was asked to speak about owning a multidisciplinary clinic as an athletic trainer at the Washington State Athletic Trainers Association Meeting last year, [and] I had all of these people in the audience saying, ‘I had no idea we could do that.’ It’s neat to present it, and have people see that it’s a possibility. I think that we’re on the cusp of something big.”
Gustafson has taken the collaborative approach from her college sports days and brought it to the masses.
“Athletic trainers tie in with doctors and physical therapists as the point guard for medical care of the athlete in the collegiate setting,” she said. “It’s my vision that athletic trainers and massage therapists can have the same collaborative approach in the private sector.”
Phillip Weber is a San Diego-based writer and co-founder of The English Adept, a language-learning website where he blogs frequently. He writes news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Sports Massage Therapist Heads to the Olympic Games,” “Massage Therapists Adopt the Food Truck Trend” and “Indy 500 Driver Gets Up to Speed with Massage” for massagemag.com.