A hospital-based massage therapy program can be a rewarding, viable career option for a massage therapist.

Massage therapy is increasingly embraced in many different medical fields, including oncology, cardiovascular and maternal medicine. Massage can have a powerful, positive impact for patients undergoing stressful procedures, surgery or chemotherapy, or for any patient experiencing pain or anxiety.

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) within the traditional hospital environment is increasing. In a nationwide survey, conducted in 2010 by the American Hospital Association’s Health Forum and the Samueli Institute, 42 percent of hospitals that responded said they provide CAM—such as massage therapy, aromatherapy and guided imagery—up from 14 percent in 2000.


How Is a Hospital Setting Different?

There are some critical differences in hospital-based massage therapy compared with a private office or spa setting. The hospital environment, in general, is vastly different from traditional massage therapy settings, with many patients requiring special considerations. Furthermore, the massage therapist must be willing to work with medical professionals as a member of the medical team.

Additionally, the fluorescent lights, noises, the hustle and bustle and constant commotion of a hospital are a far cry from the soothing tranquility of a spa. The most important difference, though, involves the clientele: The hospital-based massage therapist works with patients with varying degrees of illness, including those near the end of life. These patients require special accommodations to ensure massage is always beneficial and does not cause any harm or otherwise exacerbate their condition.



In a hospital setting, massage therapists are expected to understand the scope of their work. A patient may receive treatment not only from medical doctors and nurses but also from physical and occupational therapists, so the massage therapist must understand how her treatment fits into the patient’s treatment plan overall. The massage therapist is part of a team that works together to provide the best care possible.


Training for Hospital Massage

Postgraduate (from massage school) training is critical to provide services safely and effectively in a hospital setting—and as the demand for medical massage grows, hospitals are responding by creating specialized training for massage therapists.

Many hospitals have an integrative medicine department within which massage therapists work. Depending on the hospital, a medical professional may refer a patient for massage; patients can request a massage for themselves without a physician order; relatives or caregivers may obtain massage for a patient; or massage is offered on an outpatient basis, as well as to family members.


Work in a Hospital

For massage therapists who choose to embrace the physical and emotional challenges of working with patients, can work within the structure of a medical setting, and are willing to learn the requisite medical terminology, hospital-based employment can offer a financially and emotionally rewarding opportunity, one that allows massage therapists to truly make a difference in patients’ lives.


About the Author

Karen P. Armstrong, L.M.T., N.C.T.M., is manager of clinical massage and the oncology/hospital massage program at Beaumont Health System in Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak and Troy, Michigan. She teaches oncology and hospital massage continuing education through Beaumont’s Schools of Allied Health.