This 3-part blog series is all about the advantages and challenges of starting a massage therapy career later in life. We’ll find out why it’s such an attractive career for people in their forties, fifties, and beyond, and the special skills that mature students bring to the classroom. Today, we’re sharing more stories from Vicars graduates who came to massage therapy as a second career.
Twenty years ago, Hazel Bell made a phone call that changed her life.
Working at the time as a clinical assistant in a medical office, she had seen an ad in the paper for Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Edmonton. “The ad said: ‘How would you like to be a massage therapist?’ so I called,” she says.
Hazel enrolled at Vicars at the age of 45—a member of one of the school’s very first classes. Two other people in the class, including her sister, were around her age. She attended school one day a week while continuing to work full time.
“My children were older so I could take the time for myself,” she says. “It was challenging, but I was very focused on succeeding and eventually having my own massage therapy business.”
Hazel went on to become sole proprietor of Body Craft in Sherwood Park. She’s seen massage therapy change over the years, particularly the greater awareness therapists have of treatment for specific conditions. She also sees a more robust psychosocial environment for students, something that Vicars puts a lot of emphasis on.
While listening to clients is paramount in any successful registered massage therapist’s practice, Hazel adds a twist.
“Learning to listen with your hands is key,” she says. “My clients say I communicate with my hands.”
Now in her mid-60s, Hazel has no plans to retire any time soon. She’s prepared to reduce her hours eventually, but she loves being an RMT too much to consider stopping entirely.
“Massage therapy changed my life. It gave me a career, a business, and an income,” she says. “It’s been a fabulous experience.”
Hazel was a mentor to Rhonda Watson when Rhonda was a Vicars student in 2016-2017. Rhonda owns Radiate Wellness in Edmonton and returned to Vicars last year as an admissions advisor.
Before she was an RMT, Rhonda was a successful business analyst. The stable 9-to-5 schedule worked well for her while her children were in school, but once they were grown, she was ready for a new start. She was interested in health and wellness, and wanted to help others. Massage therapy was the perfect fit.
“I was really anxious, wondering if my study skills were still going to be there and if I could retain information,” Rhonda says. “It’s amazing but you really don’t lose those skills.”
Rhonda treated school like a job: she set herself a study schedule and went into “the office” every day. She was motivated to succeed despite the challenging workload, and she revelled in the culture at Vicars.
“It was a very supportive environment, from the staff to my fellow classmates,” Rhonda says. “If you’re running into difficulty, there are people there to help you. They really do set you up for success.”
Now that she’s an admissions advisor at the school, Rhonda fields a lot of questions from prospective students that feel familiar to her.
“The most frequent questions I get from callers are ‘Is it too late for me?’ and ‘Am I too old?’,” she says. “I tell them my story and how concerned I was before school started that I would be the oldest person in the room. In the end, there were lots of people in their thirties and forties—and up—in the class and that was fantastic.”
When she’s talking to people considering a career in massage, Rhonda has three key points she always makes. The first is about lingering perceptions about massage therapy.
“You don’t have to be strong and muscle-bound to go into massage therapy,” she says. “Instead, it’s all about the science of body mechanics and the right way and wrong way to perform massage.”
A related message is about self-care, something Rhonda is passionate about. “Although massage is about correct techniques and practicing safely and effectively, it is a physical occupation,” she says. “You need to understand your capacity, and what your limits are so you can pace yourself and not be exhausted at the end of the day.”
“Massage therapy is something you can do well into your older years, like Hazel [Bell] is doing,” she says as a final message. “You may not know what your career is going to look like going into school and you don’t have to have all the answers right away because if you keep your skills current, the training is something you will have for the rest of your life.”
The physical aspect of massage therapy, along with encouragement from two mentors, is what compelled Smithers, B.C. resident Karen Jukes to enrol in Vicars’ blended learning program on the Calgary campus. Even as a child, Karen had been interested in massage therapy, but her love of the outdoors led her into a degree in forestry. When she had children, she needed to find work with more regular hours that was closer to home. She started at a physiotherapy clinic, first at the front desk and then progressing to becoming a physiotherapist aide, where she was taught a few simple massage techniques. She loved her job but wasn’t willing to go back and do a four-year physiotherapy degree at her stage of life. One of her bosses suggested becoming a registered massage therapist instead.
Karen enrolled at Vicars in 2017, graduating in 2019. Her previous experience with distance education—she did her forestry degree by correspondence—meant that she had the self-motivation and discipline necessary to succeed while working part-time. “When you’re working and you have a family, time management is the priority,” she says. “My kids are into a lot of activities so when things got really hectic, my husband could step in to manage their schedules.”
Karen also found support from a woman she met on a hike who owns Invermere Massage Therapy Clinic. She mentored Karen, eventually offering her a position at the clinic after Karen graduated and where she works now.
Karen’s motivation for her second career was that she wanted to help people and she wanted to be physical because she didn’t like sitting in offices. “Massage therapy gives me the opportunity to be in movement throughout the day as I’m helping people,” she says. “I’ve been working at the clinic for three years now and just love my job. I couldn’t be more thankful.”