I Am Not a Doctor

Psst! Can I share with you something very important? It’s so important that it’s on my client intake form. I show it to you and you sign it on your first visit. I’m not whispering, either, because this isn’t a secret:

I am not a medical doctor and I will not diagnose you.

See? No big secret there, right? Right. Most of you already know that I am a licensed massage therapist and that I work on sore muscles, headaches and stress related issues. You know that I take my work very seriously, reading and researching pathology, medications, diseases and disorders. I try to learn about different medical procedures, especially the most common ones. After all, you all need surgery sometimes, right? And medicine, injections, ultrasounds, braces, procedures and various other therapies. This is normal.

Massage is not a one-stop-shop.

Oh, how I wish it was, but it isn’t a “fix” for everything. Not one single type of massage will fix a broken bone. It just isn’t so. I don’t proclaim to know how to fix everything that is wrong with a body. No matter how much I’d like to help, sometimes my help is referring you to someone else.

I will not give you medical advice and I will not tell you to ignore your doctor.

What am I talking about, you say? Why am I writing this to you? You and I haven’t really run into this much, have we? When you ask me a question that is meant for a doctor I tell you that. “You should probably ask your doctor the next time you are there. When are supposed to go next?”

I read question and answer discussions every day. Massage therapists discussing various pathologies, disorders and treatments. The other day I got fired up mad at a massage therapist! I mean fired up! I said ‘dad-gum’ and ‘ain’t’ all in the same sentence! This therapist posted on a forum what he/she called an “urgent warning” against a certain medical treatment. A very well-researched, commonly used medical treatment. (Yes, there are always side-effects and negatives.) He/she based this warning on something that was felt during the massage treatment. He/she felt a hard substance, a knot-like nodule on someone’s sacrum. Without an x-ray, MRI, CT-scan or any other image he/she concluded that this person’s pain came from that spot. That spot “must have been caused by”a certain medical procedure. She/he claimed to do some type of work and “fixed” what the doctor couldn’t fix. He/she accused the doctor of making it worse. We, then, we were warned of this and told to tell all our clients to never get this done, to stop if they were already getting this done.

I was appalled at this! We, licensed massage therapists, have a Scope of Practice that specifically tells us what our job is and what our job isn’t. Arkansas State Law prohibits me (us) from practicing medicine and prescribing. This person was asking us all to violate that! And I (and others) called bull. This person hadn’t been to medical school, talked to the person’s doctor, discussed any treatments. He/she only touched this person’s back. And guessed. We cannot do that.

I am committed to the integrity of my laws and code of ethics.

People come to massage therapists in pain. Sometimes people are so desperate for relief and answers they will believe anything. We MUST be trustworthy practitioners. We MUST not violate the trust people have in us. I MUST always put your safety and well-being first. What if someone has been seeking treatment for a disease/disorder for years without success and I told them not to do the only thing that could bring relief? What if he didn’t question my expertise and ignored all medical professionals except me? What if he didn’t get better because he trusted me and I was wrong? I don’t ever want that to happen.

I didn’t go to medical school. I don’t know how to diagnose you. I study things and read reviews. I try to decipher research papers and discussions. I even develop opinions about certain medications and procedures.

But I cannot and will not ever interfere with what your doctor prescribes.

If you ask me about things and I am knowledgeable I will try to help you find questions to ask your doctor. I will lead you to the right places to research certain things. Or I will simply tell you that I don’t know.

5 Replies to “I Am Not a Doctor”

  1. Tracy,
    I think people can get so frustrated from pain that they are looking for miracles. However, part of a good knowledge base is knowing our limits. You said it beautifully. Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome. I see so many discussions online and so many people cross the line. I understand that sometimes we know things but we have a scope of practice for a reason. Safety first! Thank you for reading, Jessica!

  2. Amen! I have always had a good working relationship with physical therapists, chiropractors, doctors of osteopathy, and medical doctors so I can turn any question out of my scope of practice to someone with credentials I trust. I will say “My educated guess is…” or I will list possibilities, but like you, I refer to an appropriate professional. I currently work along side an acupuncturist who is also registered nurse so the in-house brain picking is easier and more immediate for me and my clients. I find it troublesome when ego interferes with patient advocacy. Thanks for your insights.

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