Ten Questions for Dr. Leena Guptha With Laura Allen
November 14, 2013
Hitting the ground running, new NCBTMB Board Chair, Dr. Leena Guptha joins in on the conversation surrounding NCBTMB and its role today. In a recent interview with Laura Allen, industry professionals and beyond get to know Dr. Leena Guptha as a person, an industry professional and, most importantly, as the new NCBTMB Board Chair.
Get to know the Chair of NCBTMB
Laura: I have skewered the NCBTMB in my blog several times over the years, including very recently. It has been a tradition with me for several years to interview the executives and chairs of the massage organizations as they come on board, so I am interviewing Dr. Leena Guptha. In fairness to her, I would like to state that she had only been the Chair for ten days when I went on my last and most serious rant about the organization, so I certainly do not hold her accountable for the things I have complained about. Here is the interview I conducted with her.
Laura: Dr. Guptha, please tell us about your background, work experience, and education.
Dr. Guptha: Background: Daughter of a Scientist and a Philosopher, Wife of a Physician/Scientist, Mother of two Physicians, Grandmother of a two year old.
Work Experience: (Relating to Holistic Therapies and Lifelong Learning)
Practicing: 23 years of manual therapy across three countries, with my primary interests in basic science, musculoskeletal alignment, ethics, research and business.
Teaching: Science and Hands-On instructor at various Colleges including but not limited to Connecticut Center of Massage Therapy; University of Bridgeport; Chicago School of Massage Therapy; National University of Health Sciences; Pennsylvania Institute of Massage Therapy; Lehigh Valley College; and International College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Administration: Held positions of Director of Education, Dean of Academic Affairs, Campus President in corporate schools.
Research: The Ergonomics of Driving and Back Pain, teaching Research Literacy to graduate students, osteopathic dissertation supervisor.
- Volunteerism: NCBTMB, AMTA Chapter, AMTA National Board and the Massage Therapy Foundation.
Education; Massage Therapy (LMT), Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Naturopathic Medicine (ND), Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine (LAc), Complementary Medicine, Hypnotherapy (BCH) and Business (MBA Hons).
Laura: How did you first become interested in massage therapy?
Dr. Guptha: When I was a child, my father had a hobby of tinkering with cars, (not that I recall any of them actually road worthy, sorry Dad), suddenly one day while under the bonnet (hood) as he lifted the battery and twisted—he suffered an acute low back pain. My three wise uncles advised painkillers, anti-inflammatory medication, and six weeks rest on a wooden door.
This acute phase passed and he was back to work six weeks later. The next time it happened there was no possibility of time off. I saw him suffer in agonizing pain. I started feeling his back to see what actually hurt and what did not. As a child this lead me to develop a rudimentary sense of palpation and soft tissue. Then I took my first massage therapy course at age 18 and have studied many modalities since. Interestingly, my father still has not needed the spinal surgery earlier recommended by my uncles and proposed more recently by his physician.
Laura: What led you to volunteer for service at the NCBTMB?
Dr. Guptha: Through the development of a hospital based program and my own research, I felt strongly that therapists at the hospital should be nationally certified by NCBTMB. I took the exam too, later a newsletter with Cliff Korn on the front page came to our home in Madison, CT and this led me to become a volunteer.
Later, I moved to IL and visited the HQ of AMTA. During that tour, Liz Lucas said “you should become a member of the Association”. At a similar time I visited the Indiana to present at their state conference and there I learned about volunteerism at the state level. I then discovered the Illinois Chapter, who welcomed me with open arms, that led to various roles, including the passing of licensure during my Chapter Presidency. The Illinois Chapter encouraged me to meet the National AMTA Board, the first person I met at the meeting Laurel Freeman, encouraged me to run for the AMTA National Board.
A few years passed, and I was invited to be an appointed member of the NCBTMB Board of Directors by Alexa Zaledonis. Her zest for the massage profession and doing what is right was infectious and I was delighted to join the Board.
Today, seeking the Wisdom and the Pioneering Spirit of our founding educators, who turned a trade into a profession, with a solid grounding and deliverables, I volunteer as Chair of the Board. The historical path is inspiring. I volunteer today with Courage of my conviction that there is a rightful place for certification, specialized training, career path options, quality core education and approved providers of continuing education.
Laura: I know that you have read my most recent blog calling for the other massage organizations to make a concerted effort to get the NCBTMB removed from the statutory language and rules in the states. What is your response to that?
Dr. Guptha: Each person’s opinion has to be respected and without the benefit of a detailed dialogue with you and a fuller grounding of the contextual relationships, I would be giving an inappropriate response. With that said, I can say that I am confused as to why you would call for the removal. Our licensing exams have been in existence for 20 years, have gone through the profession for vetting four times, and are psychometrically sound testing tools. Most of the states accept NCBTMB’s exams as an option for part of their licensing requirements as a tried and true validation of knowledge to enter the profession safely and competently. What is wrong with giving therapists a choice in exams to take and a pathway to follow? While, admittedly, NCBTMB has not always done everything right, the value and quality of the NCBTMB exams have never been in question.
In regards to the CE Approved Provider Program, we recognized a few years back that we needed to strengthen the program and review it moving forward. Yes, we held meetings and came out with an advanced program that the profession felt was too restrictive and expensive. So, we went back to the drawing board, we talked to specific groups, held conference calls and put the program out for comment before our re-release last month. We totally understand that the profession is concerned about parts of it and we are more than happy to work through these concerns. This is not indicative of an organization that is not listening or is not responding to valid concerns raised. We are trying. We have to do better and we will.
I am deeply saddened to read disparaging remarks for an organization that was and will remain our alma mater, without whose credentials today, we would not have had the ability to re-invent and elevate ourselves as individuals and as a profession. However, I continue to welcome all critiques, and all constructive recommendations, and call on all serious members of our profession and our stakeholders to be part of the dialogue and solution.
Laura: What, if anything, does the NCBTMB plan to do about offering specialty certifications, and if they are going to do anything, is there a timeline for that happening?
Dr. Guptha: The NCBTMB Sounding Board was surveyed on specialty certificates and the initial responses appear favorable and supportive. I encourage readers to join the Sounding Board as a mechanism to feed views and input directly to NCBTMB. (The Sounding Board is open to all certificants and can be found on the NCBTMB Facebook page). There appears to be an interest to develop specialties beyond the basic Board Certification, such that an individual could be Board Certified with a specialized concentration in for example Oncology, Sports, Orthopedics, Hospice or Mother and Baby.
Our plan was once the Board Certification credential was established we would continue the discussion and development of specialty certifications with the emerging think tank as well as our constituents.
As an educator myself, I see this as a viable tool for NCBTMB to provide massage therapists who want to grow their skills and abilities.
Laura: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the NCBTMB?
Dr. Guptha: Maintaining and building the confidence of all stakeholder groups despite damaging and disparaging remarks however true or false they may be. Asking the alumni of NCBTMB like you to help us transform with the changing needs of our profession, and join with us to become a leader ahead of the curve.
Laura: How many people have actually taken the new Board Certification exam, and how many people have been grandfathered in?
Dr. Guptha: When we adopted the Board Certification credential, we understood that its success could only be judged over a period of years. Current certificants could transition into it at recertification time and do not need to take the exam; new graduates would strive to achieve the credential as they became successful in their careers.
The majority of our Certificants are still Nationally Certified and have the option to transition to Board Certification at their renewal time. Currently of those who meet the new standards approximately 3000 have become Board Certified. New graduates with entry level credentials will not be eligible until they have been in practice for at least six months, so we expect these numbers to rise through better communication, outreach and as therapists become eligible and choose to be certified.
Since our webinar last week and this week, I have become aware of confusion in the profession regarding transition to Board Certification, as well as Board Certification requirements from licensure. We have to do a better job reaching out and communicating both the value and the requirements. Though, our team is working on a daily basis to assist certificants successfully through the transition process, I would like to take the opportunity to address this with the audience here.
The value of Board Certification:
- Provides a credential higher than entry level licensure
- It distinguishes the advanced therapist from an entry level therapist
- Shows a commitment to the profession and to the consumer
- The medical profession uses and recognizes the Board Certification credential
- It creates a career pathway as in other healthcare professions
Requirements to Transition into Board Certification from National Certification:
- 750 hours of education
- Graduate from an NCBTMB assigned school
- Additional hours can be submitted from courses taken in continuing education or accredited college or university
- 250 hours of professional hands on work experience (25 hours will be accepted in volunteer work)
- Current CPR Certification, copy of current identification, sign to oppose human trafficking, Agree to the NCBTMB Code of Conduct, and agree to a criminal background check
Requirements for those seeking Certification for the first time:
- Passing the Board Certification exam
- Submit the above transition requirements after six months in practice
Laura: Please also address how far back the offer to grandfather people was extended, because I have heard from several massage therapists who let their certification expire years ago that they received an offer to be grandfathered, which definitely minimizes the value of this credential.
Dr. Guptha: Whilst, I am not aware that there ever was a true grandfathering period, we did announce that those who were Nationally Certified would have the opportunity to recertify, or transition, to the new program without taking the new exam. All other criteria would still need to be met. Based on that, the transition time period would end 12/31/2016, since all renewals under the old four year renewal cycle will have concluded.
On a case-by-case basis, those whose certification had expired with NCBTMB in the last year were reviewed once all of their information was submitted. If all other criteria were met they could transition to Board Certification because they did not have the new Board Certification available to them.
Throughout the review process, NCBTMB was sensitive to the following past issues:
In 2013, the grace period was changed to 90 days. Formerly the grace period was three years after expiration. Therapists that fell into this category and were not aware of the change, were reviewed and could recertify if they met all requirements.
- Experienced massage therapist that were disgruntled with NCBTMB in the past and who allowed their certification to expire, welcomed the new changes and wanted to be reinstated. These cases also were individually reviewed and, if warranted, they could recertify if they met all requirements.
All reviews that resulted in a successful transition to Board Certification were made in the best interest of the certificants, the profession, the community, and in acknowledgement of past mistakes by NCBTMB.
Laura: I have long been questioning some of the classes that have been approved for NCBTMB that I and many others feel hurts the credibility of the NCBTMB. There are evidence-based practitioners who will not apply to be a provider because of their embarrassment at being associated with some of the classes that have been approved here. Do you share the sentiment that classes that are based on things that have been scientifically disproven, classes that are based on religion, and classes that are based on products that people just want to sell to the public are inappropriate, and if so, what is the NCBTMB going to do about that and when can we look forward to that happening?
Dr. Guptha: This is a good example of a critique that is thoughtful and constructive. We agree that only qualified Approved Providers should be acceptable and we are actively engaged in ensuring this. My Blog on the ncbtmb.org website calls for experienced educators to form a think tank and from that I envision a collective wisdom, with recommendations, to emerge. I am delighted that you have agreed to participate in the think tank to address such issues with CE classes.
I can add that classes based on selling products specifically are inappropriate and do not qualify for CE credit. Our current course criteria can be viewed by going to: http://www.ncbtmb.org/continuing-education-course-criteria
It is my vision that, based on the considerations from the think tank, these will be reviewed and recommendations will be forthcoming.
Laura: This is your opportunity to say whatever you would like to say as the new Chair of the NCBTMB. Is there a message you would like to give?
Dr. Guptha: As I have just taken over as Chair, my first 90 days will be spent taking stock and gathering support of colleagues like you who are passionate about the educational system of our profession and have authored books for educators. I would like to tap into that positive and constructive energy, to build on the foundations of the alumni of all of our constituents to be by my side and develop a think tank to learn from old mistakes and ensure that we develop a progressive and meaningful organization that continues the advancement of the profession. Internal “navel-gazing” as well “external assistance seeking”, behavioral modification and reaching out to all stakeholders to work with us in a positive dialogue to find our rightful place in the profession are all priorities. These are some vital initial steps.
As it is still only the first month of my position as Chair, my priority is more about “listening” than speaking. I am still learning, evaluating, and I am inviting collaboration.
Moving forward, we acknowledge that every organization that aims to be effective and strives to pioneer inevitably takes some missteps. We acknowledge our mistakes and should we ever forget, we can count on you to remind us! That means we count. We have a role, and we matter. Let’s take that energy and focus forward. I want us to collaborate and move forward together with positive, constructive dialogue. Trust that we are able to—and want to—learn from old mistakes. I invite you and all other productive and passionate stakeholders to help us.
Now, to the “listening”…my questions are:
In what form, format, and media would certificants like to receive information regarding Board Certification?
What would Approved Providers like to see as the approval process and how can that be realistically implemented?
As a school owner/administrator how can NCBTMB create strong sustainable relationships, what do you need and want from us?
To the entire community and profession at large what specialty board certifications do you want to attain and how do you see that curriculum or requirements being integrated together, give examples of courses, activities or other professional models?
- We have made some mistakes. We have had our ups, we have had our downs. What do we need to do to build support and collaboration of our constituents and professional stakeholder groups?
In conclusion, I’d appreciate constructive strategies and comments. We will listen carefully.
Finally a quote from my ultimate mentor "......pilot takes off an airplane against the wind, not with it............ and the naval aviator lands despite the pitch and roll......... "