Although Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories, has only about 20,000 people, there are 15 or more busy massage therapists in town.

Vicars graduate Shirley Harrison was one of them until the pandemic nudged her into early retirement. As in larger centres, Yellowknife RMTs work in clinics, spas or in their own homes, with the same business standards and customer service approaches. But living in a smaller Northern community means there are some unique differences.

“Everybody knows everybody,” says Shirley. “People are comfortable going into somebody’s home because office space is very expensive. I suspect that in Calgary or Edmonton, I might not want to go to somebody’s basement, but it’s normal here.”

Shirley addressed a wide range of needs in her practice, from sports injuries to pre- and post-pregnancy care, to general stress relief. “In Yellowknife a lot of people work for the Northwest Territories government, and have very good extended health care benefits packages that include massage,” says Shirley.

“Many clients came to me because they wanted to use their benefits. Once they felt comfortable and safe then they wanted to see me on a monthly schedule.

The thing I’ll say about Yellowknife is that if you are pretty good at your job, and you’re consistent, you’ll have more business than you ever could imagine. I never advertised, and I was always as booked up as I wanted to be—with lovely people.

“If people are worried about the cost of the massage training program, you can recoup that very quickly,” she says

Shirley wrapped up her massage therapy career in Yellowknife sooner than she expected at the onset of Covid. Three years on, she still misses it.

“My clients were just the best in the world,” Shirley says. “There was not one person that I didn’t look forward to seeing when they came through the door.”

Like several Vicars alumni featured in this blog, Shirley trained at the Edmonton campus as a mature student. “That was a very scary thing, going back to school in my mid-forties,” Shirley says. “Not only because I was older but because I had never done anything science-based before.”

Vicars School turned out to be perfect for her. She loved the one four-day weekend per month schedule, as she still had a teenager at home. “I would fly down to Edmonton for that one weekend,” says Shirley. “When I returned home, I studied constantly because I was terrified of failing,” says Shirley. “The teachers really understood everything about being an adult student so the whole experience for me was wonderful.”

After graduation she worked for a year at a Yellowknife spa, which gave her some extra on-the-job and time management experience. By then, the last of Shirley’s three children had left home. She wanted to set up her own business, so she and her husband renovated their basement into a massage studio with a separate entrance from their home. Sometimes clients would run into each other coming or going, but no one really minded, says Shirley. It’s all part of living in a small Northern town.

More often than not, clients came in generations. “I would have the mum or dad as a client and then a grandparent would come, and then the son or daughter because they are in soccer,” says Shirley. “It was really fun to get to know families like that.”

As with other RMTs who run their own businesses, Shirley loved the flexibility of her schedule, and the work-life balance. “I started going to the gym in the evenings after my workday,” she says. “I became very fit and strong, which you have to be to do massage—and then doing massage helps you to stay fit and strong.”

One aspect of her practice caught her off-guard: her response to people’s pain. “I think many massage therapists are very sensitive people and we pick up on peoples’ energies,” Shirley says. “I know it was mentioned at school but for me to experience it was a huge surprise.”

“One time I experienced sudden neck pain, and it turned out the client had broken his neck in the past and neglected to put it on his intake form,” she says. “Or I would get headaches or become nauseated, mirroring what they felt,” she says.

Shirley had to learn to ground herself to manage her responses. Part of that involved developing a little ritual before a client arrived: “It really helped create a space between me and them.”

Shirley lives just outside Yellowknife, in the wilderness, which means she can be alone, as she says, a little bit too much. “The wonderful thing about running my business from home is that I would have to be physically and mentally prepared for clients,” she says. “I would have three or four clients a day and I would have to get out of my own head and think about them.” She loved the rhythm of seeing and caring for her clients, a gap that she’s still looking to replace.

Shirley has a couple of tips for RMTs who are thinking of working in a small community.

The first is the importance of the professional barrier between RMTs and clients, something all massage therapy students learn at Vicars, but that has special resonance in a small town. “There’s a fine line between being compassionate and getting a little bit too comfortable and too personal with your clients,” she says. “You have to keep clients at arm’s-length. You can’t become their friend.”

The second is advice she got from Janine Borger, one of her instructors, that she found particularly helpful. “I really encourage people starting out to go with their own strengths, their own personality and remember that whatever you offer and whatever your approach, people who are looking for that will find you,” Shirley says. “Go with who you really are. Don’t think you have to be somebody else because you don’t. Just be a very good version of yourself and people who want that will show up.

“I loved being a massage therapist and I’m so thankful for Vicars because it was very doable, and it really did change my life. It gave me a profession that I was proud of,” Shirley says. “When people would ask me what I did and I would say I’m a registered massage therapist, they would get that look on their face, that everybody-loves-a-massage-therapist look!”

It was a casual conversation at the doctor’s office where she worked that changed Diane Sheridan’s life.  

One day a colleague’s sister dropped by for a visit and mentioned that she had just finished school. Diane asked her what she had studied. When the woman said massage therapy, Diane says it was like something went “bing” in her head. 

The woman was a Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate.

“By the end of the week, I was pretty much signed up to start,” says Diane. “I really didn’t have time to think about whether that was a good idea or not.” (Spoiler alert: it was!)

It wasn’t a completely impulsive choice, though. Diane did some research on various massage schools in Alberta before applying.

“I chose Vicars because no one else was offering the four-days-a-month program,” she says. “Really my whole reason for applying to Vicars was based on that.” 

Diane applied in November hoping to be admitted at Vicars Calgary campus in January of 2019. But the schedule option she wanted to take didn’t start until the following September. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait that long to get started with her training: she was able to begin Vicars online courses in anatomy & physiology and pathology right away. As a result, by the time she started school she had a head start on the curriculum.  

It was only once she was in the program did Diane realize what a great choice she had made.   

“I thought that because I had a nursing degree already it would be really easy,” Diane says. “The fact that the program was challenging, and it really did exercise my brain, made me aware that Vicars took this very seriously and that it was it was a really good education.” 

The four days a month at Vicars also gave her back her sense of self. Diane had moved to Sundre from England with her husband and four children nearly two decades ago and had put her nursing career on hold to raise her kids. 

“When you go through life as a mum, you lose your identity a bit,” she says. “People in Sundre know me as the English gal or the twins’ mum, but for those four days a month when I attended class at Vicars, I was just Diane.” 

Any qualms Diane had about her age were quickly dispelled. “We had [students] in our class ranging from 21 years old to me at 53,” she says. “On the first day I sat down next to one young woman, and we became fast friends straight away and have been super good friends ever since.” 

Diane’s time at Vicars wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, though. Her first year of blended on-campus and online classes began in September 2019, and was supposed to continue with the same schedule until June 2020. The pandemic changed that—like everywhere else, Vicars had to temporarily shut down on-site instruction. Having a blended curriculum gave the school a leg up in adapting to the new circumstances, however, and zoom lectures started immediately.

“Vicars was right on top of the situation right away,” she says. “There wasn’t any worry that we were missing out on curriculum because we weren’t physically in class.”  

The full realization of the quality of Vicars’ education for Diane happened after graduation in June 2021 when she was working in the field.

“Clients would say ‘I’ve never had this done before’ and I was thinking ‘Hang on. What are other schools teaching?’ because the particular therapy was a huge part of the Vicars approach to treatment.”  

Diane had gone into massage therapy thinking that she wasn’t seeking a new career, but rather something extra she could do after her workday—massages for family and friends—given that her kids were soon graduating. “The whole premise of taking massage therapy was to exercise my brain,” says Diane. “But as I was going through school, it became very apparent that I was doing a lot of work and making a lot of sacrifices. I realized it would be stupid not to actually see this as a proper business opportunity.” 

While Diane changed her mind about her approach to massage as a profession, her vision was always to work from home.

“I had always worked for someone else, and I just didn’t want to do that anymore,” she says. “I had my massage therapy room set up even before I started school!”   

Diane soft-launched her business, Beckett Park Therapeutic Massage, in August of 2021. In her planning she assumed that the business would take a while to build up allowing her to keep her job at the doctor’s office. But once her doors opened, she was immediately busy.

“I had put a couple of ads in the community pages of the paper and had people calling at 11 at night and six in the morning,” says Diane. “Between my office job and my business, I was working 70 hours a week.”   

It took Diane three months to hand in her notice at the doctor’s office. “It was really difficult because it was my financial safety net and I had to believe that my business would carry on and pay the bills,” she says, but: “It was the best thing I ever did.”  

Two years later, Diane is earning twice what she earned in the doctor’s office, and she works half the hours.

“The whole vibe of my working life has changed and it’s amazing,” she says. “If I want to (book a) morning off to play pickleball or get a pedicure, I just do it.”  

But it’s not just about the financial security.

“I have just the most amazing clients who say the most wonderful things,” says Diane. “It’s such a lift when somebody comes and says this is the best hour of their day or the best hour of their month. I just think how lucky I am that I get to do this every day.”   

Diane’s clients aren’t keeping it a secret. Her business was voted number one in Sundre in The Albertan newspaper’s Peoples’ Choice Awards for massage therapy this year. 

“I just couldn’t believe it,” says Diane. “I’ve only been in business for two years and I’m just so grateful to be recognized like this.” 

That recognition is the icing on the cake for Diane, given how much she loves her profession. “It’s not that you’re helping people and taking away from yourself,” she says. “You’re helping people and it’s filling your cup as well.” 

When Louise Drinnan started at Vicars School of Massage Therapy, she had no illusions about how challenging and time-consuming the two-year training would be.

She remembers telling her family that she was going to be married to the course for two years.

“I told them that if I drift, I’ll catch up with you after graduation,” she says. At the time, the single mother of two young children knew that the best way forward in her life was to pursue the career she had always wanted: massage therapy.

Louise attended class every week, which enabled her to work at her own pace and still get a good education. She and her classmates formed a study group that met weekly, something she says made all the difference in keeping up with the curriculum.

“Our instructors were incredibly supportive,” Louise says. “There was always someone to hold your hand if you needed that,” but they also encouraged the students to “go do it,” she says.

During the last part of the second year, Louise and some of her classmates found themselves intimidated by the heavy workload. But Dan Hvingelby, one of their instructors, gave them some advice that really stuck with her.

“He said ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” says Louise. “’One bite at a time.’”

During her training, Louise fell “completely in love with the human body.” And it changed how she felt about herself. “It gave me confidence and purpose,” she says. “My son was too young to notice but my daughter was a teenager and old enough to see the difference in me.”

Part of that change was a renewed ability to cope and persevere for the sake of the new and satisfying career that she hoped the training would bring.

Louise’s yearning for a career in massage therapy had started when she was a teenager. After high school, she worked a number of jobs in the healthcare and wellness industries before joining an insurance brokerage as a receptionist to support her two young children. The stable hours and benefits of her job were valuable, but massage therapy was always in the back of her mind.

She had looked at courses at different schools around Calgary. The monthly class offered at Vicars School of Massage Therapy appealed to her. She thought she could make that work if she were allowed to take her vacation one day at a time. This would have allowed her the days off she would need to make it work (at that time, the monthly class schedule was offered over a three-day weekend on campus in addition to the at-home schoolwork).

“I made the mistake of telling my then-boss what I was thinking,” Louise says. And that was the end of that. Her employer was not going to make an accommodation that would result in Louise leaving to start a new career.

Louise stuck it out at her old job for another two years. It took a family tragedy to propel her into action. Louise had a female cousin with whom she was very close when they were children. They grew apart as adults and her cousin moved to rural Ontario. Then one day in February 2011, Louise’s cousin was found frozen to death by the side of a road.

The shock and grief of losing her cousin hit home for Louise. “That was my reset,” said Louise. “You don’t know what’s around the next corner and if you have a dream, you should chase it.”

Six months after her cousin’s death, Louise started in a weekly class at the Calgary campus.

“It was a big leap of faith,” Louise says. “I left the insurance brokerage, didn’t have a part-time job, and didn’t learn I had funding for massage school until the Friday before the course started.”

Louise graduated from Vicars in 2013, and after a short stint at another clinic joined The Wellness Studio as an independent contractor in 2014. She’s been there ever since.

“It’s a multidisciplinary chiropractic clinic with a really great team.”

Louise’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her work have a direct, positive effect on her clients. “I have this one client with dystonia, which is uncontrolled muscle spasms, whom I was treating biweekly for five years” says Louise. “At first, she was in a pretty constant state of spasm, but now between acupuncture, meditation, and massage, she can go weeks without a spasm.”

Another major source of satisfaction is when clients come back after a hiatus. “They tell me they were seeing someone else for a while, but they came back to me because the other therapist didn’t do the work that I do,” she says. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Just knowing that I’m having a direct, positive effect on somebody’s life, when I help them move better and feel better,” says Louise. “That’s what I consider to be a good day.”

For Lucie Bozdech, becoming a Registered Massage Therapist wasn’t just about starting a new career. It was about starting a new life. And she couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Lucie came to Canada as a little girl after fleeing Czechoslovakia, now Czechia, with her family during the Cold War.  

As an adult, she wanted to discover her roots and get to know her aging grandmother better, so she went back, thinking she would be there for a short stint teaching English. She ended up staying nine years. Eventually, howeverafter her grandmother’s passing, a marriage, and a divorce—it was time to come home. She returned to Canada with her toddler son, looking to reinvent herself. 


Lucie researched colleges and universities, trying to find a program or course of study that would resonate with her. At the urging of a good friend who was already a successful massage therapist, Lucie began looking into massage therapy, booking appointments with several schools.  

The first place Lucie walked into was Vicars School of Massage Therapy in Calgary. 

“As soon as I entered, I thought ‘Oh, this feels right,’” Lucie says. “Sarah [Ward-Bakken] was the presenter and she answered all my questions and I was convinced right then that this was the school for me.”  

Lucie took Vicars’ full-time, two-year course, choosing the weekly class schedule.  She found she was able to work part-time, care for her son, and keep up with the required practice and at-home academic assignments.   

“What made Vicars stand out for me was that they are so flexible in meeting your lifestyle needs,” she says.  

Any illusions she had about massage therapy training being easy were quickly dispelled, though.  

“It was extremely intense, as intense as getting a university degree,” Lucie says. But she loved every moment of it. “I’m from a medical family. Anatomy, physiology, circulation—I loved the science-based curriculum and practical knowledge.”  

When she graduated in 2015 and was looking for a job, she found the Vicars School name opened doors. 

“In every interview, people said with a Vicars grad they knew they would be getting a highly trained massage therapist who performed very well, hands down,” Lucie says.  

Lucie found her dream job at Salt Water Wellness Centre in Cochrane, owned by a registered massage therapist, which employs eight massage therapists.  

“It’s such a positive environment,” says Lucie.  

Massage therapy’s stress-free, positive, nurturing aspects are huge reasons why Lucie chose it as a career. She gives an example of one of her clients, an older woman who had lost her husband after nearly 50 years of marriage, whose doctor told her to try getting a massage.  

“When she came in, I felt the heaviness of the grief in the room,” says Lucie. “I slowly started talking to her during the massage and she cried and then opened up and poured her heart out to me.”  

After each of her subsequent monthly massages the client left feeling a little bit better.  

“The other day she gave me a hug and thanked me for helping her through the most difficult time in her life,” says Lucie. “We’re not psychologists by any means, but it’s such an intimate situation to be in and for those of us who are empathetic it can be a wonderful addition to somebody’s care.”  

Another reason Lucie loves working at Salt Water is the 18-minute drive to Cochrane from her home in Calgary each day.  

“On that drive I see the foothills, the mountains, and the water and I think about how lucky I am,” she says.  

The other major reason she appreciates the career is the freedom that it gives her to travel. 

“I consider myself international and massage therapy is a skill that is international. When my son is done high school, I have zero qualms about moving anywhere in the world. That’s the beauty of this career: you can take it anywhere.” 

Canadian massage therapy standards are among the most rigorous in the world. Vicars’ students receive 2200 hours of training, a prerequisite for provincial and national accreditation. Standards in other countries vary. Czechia, for example, requires only 150 hours of training to obtain licensing. When Lucie, who is fluent in Czech, travels with her son to Czechia each summer, she works on a casual basis for a company that offers therapeutic massage to its employees. 

The other aspect of massage therapy that Lucie values is the financial reward. “You get back what you put in,” she says. “I work hard and that’s reflected immediately in my pay cheques, whereas at a nine-to-five job you can work hard but you won’t see the results until you get a promotion or raise.”  

Although Lucie works hard, she is always mindful of preserving her own health and strength. She’s met younger massage therapists who have issues from giving massages because they have neglected self-care. Again, it was her Vicars instructors who drilled the importance of correct body mechanics into her during training.  

“I remember that more than anything else from school,” she says. “That grounding in proper body dynamics and form is always in my head.” 

Looking back on her training Lucie says that the most important aspect about Vicars is how the students were treated. “All sorts of people come to Vicars from all sorts of situations, whether they had’t been to school for a long time, or they had full-time jobs, or spouses and families,” she says. “What I loved about Vicars is that they are there for you and will do everything to help you be successful.” 

What does a musical theatre actor and registered massage therapist do when she receives a major massage therapy award?

April Cook. Image credit: 10 Talent Management

When that person is April Cook, she makes sure all of the “supporting cast” shares the stage. For April, the 2022 Massage Therapy Association of Alberta’s (MTAA) Peter Martin Award winner, the supporting cast includes her family and friends, classmates, mentors and “the kind, patient, inspirational and knowledgeable instructors” that she had as a student at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

Originally from Prince Edward Island, April has been singing and dancing since she was three years old. As a young adult, she trained at New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy and worked professionally all across the country. Although performing has been her chosen path since she was young, she grew increasingly interested in helping others. After her father passed away in 2011, that desire to provide comfort and help to people who need it most became a motivation.

In 2020, April, now married and living in Calgary, decided to follow her heart, and enrolled at Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

While she loved learning massage therapy, April found the impacts of Covid and the necessity of working full time while going to school challenging. She took a break after first year to perform in a musical and decided to take monthly classes when she returned for her second year. “I really enjoyed the four days of focused learning and then having three weeks between to work at my own pace,” she says. “It allowed me more space to absorb all the information.”

April is the third Vicars School of Massage Therapy graduate to receive the annual Peter Martin Award, which is given for accomplishments in the recipient’s first year as a practicing RMT, and their dedication to advancing the profession in

Alberta. April plans to use the $750 prize to cover the cost of student loans and continuing education courses.

Corliss Robertson, one of April’s instructors and a reference for her Peter Martin Award application, says that April’s professionalism, her thirst for learning, and her contagious positive energy make her most deserving of this honour. Corliss singles out April’s excellence in the school’s Special Populations Clinic. “April really demonstrated her ability to make each one of her clients ‘heard’ and ultimately feel better.”

Vicars’ Special Populations Clinic welcomes people of all ages—from infants to seniors—and people living with mobility issues, cognitive disabilities, and complex conditions such as cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy.

April’s “aha” moment happened when she started in the clinic. “I realized that I was passionate about massage therapy,” she says. “When I’m working with special populations, it requires more education, more confidence, and more listening, and gives me the opportunity to create an even greater connection with the client.” That for April, is what sparks real joy. And it continues to be the focus of her practice.

After graduating last October, April worked for a company in Calgary that specializes in treating people with special conditions, with a focus on pediatric care. While she loved the work and the people, she’d always known that she wanted to start her own business. At the beginning of March this year, April opened the doors to Kind Heart Wellness, located within Evolve Strength in Royal Oak in Northwest

Calgary. “I offer treatments at my clinic and also mobile treatments for those who either prefer it or require it, because I want massage therapy to be accessible for everyone,” she says.

April credits the flexibility and financial stability of her massage therapy practice for enabling her to continue performing in musical theatre. She also sees how her theatre background benefits her massage therapy practice. “You can’t be either an actor or a good massage therapist without being a good listener, being empathetic, and staying calm and confident,” she says. “Because of my dancing, I know my body really well and can relate to people when they have aches and pains.”

“I really love that as a performer, I feel that I have this gift that I can share with others,” says April. “And now I have this whole wealth of massage therapy knowledge and skills that can benefit everyone. To me this is just so rewarding.”

April will be in a Stage West Calgary production of 9 To 5 The Musical, running from April 21 to June 25, 2023.

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. 

Hazel Bell

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.”

Rhonda Watson

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.”

Karen Jukes

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.”

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 the stories of some special Vicars graduates and current students who came to massage therapy as a second career. 

Elliot Lloyd

Elliott Lloyd treats a client at an outreach event during his second year as a Vicars student.

The link between a healthy body and a healthy mind is what drew Elliot Lloyd to pursue a career in massage therapy. He’d always been into sports, even signing up for an Ironman triathlon in his late forties. It was while training for that grueling race that he began getting massages, finding them an essential part of his regime.

After retiring from 30 years in policing, followed by a couple of related security and investigations jobs, Elliot realized he didn’t want to investigate anything anymore—he wanted to help people the way that his RMTs had helped him when he was training.

He graduated from Vicars in October—one of four people in their 50s in his class.

“I joined the police young, at 19, and while we had learning and courses in the police force, going back to school at 51 was hard work,” says Elliot. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”

For him, the key to successful learning is staying organized to deal with the course load and to keep the stress levels down. And his life and career have given him plenty of practice in that department.

“After the stress of policing, I find working one on one with somebody to help them relax or resolve a therapeutic issue—in a nice quiet room with music in the background—is almost as therapeutic for me as it is for them,” Elliot says.

Elliot has found that his life experience in policing, particularly in communicating with people, translates directly into massage therapy.

“I feel that when I’m dealing with someone in a student clinic, I’m probably more comfortable than someone who is maybe 19 or 20,” he says. “Having a lot of experience in listening and figuring out how people tick is really is the key to massage therapy.”

Sheryl Moroziuk

The idea of being a mature student gave Sheryl Moroziuk a lot to think about.

Sheryl had left her engineering job to care for her children when they were young. Once they’d reached school age, she didn’t want to go back to her old job. She was 37 years old, restless, and wanted a career where she could make more of an immediate difference in people’s lives. An earlier interest in physical training and body building led her to consider massage therapy, and to attend an open house at Vicars’ Calgary campus in 2017. She was intrigued—but the doubts lingered.

“I had a lot of concerns ranging from potentially being the oldest in the class to the transition in my own identity where I might be working on former colleagues or neighbours,” Sheryl says.

Nonetheless, she enrolled and was relieved to discover that many of her classmates were around her age. And once she got back into the rhythm of school, Sheryl found her age was not a hindrance but a strength.

“As a mature student, I had my priorities in order,” she says. “With kids and a family, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.”

A few months after she graduated in 2019, Sheryl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Rather than letting it be a setback, she decided to view it as another opportunity to turn her own life experiences into professional strengths.

“When you’ve experienced the limited range of motion and lack of mobility that older clients go through, it makes you more empathetic,” she says. “You do more thorough assessments of clients and you have a lot of wisdom to incorporate into your practice.”

Sheryl has a mobile service with a full client base, and fills in for other therapists in a few clinics in her area. She loves the flexibility and freedom to choose her own schedule.

“I’d worked at a lot of different jobs, hoping to contribute and have a purpose,” says Sheryl. “Massage therapy has been the longest running interest of mine and it’s still going strong.”

Did you know that over the past four years, one in every four students enrolled at Vicars School commuted each month from their homes and jobs in BC to Calgary or Edmonton for their massage therapy training?

Vicars offers an exceptional education that prepares graduates for all aspects of a successful massage therapy career, from anatomy to treatment planning to business skills. And regular readers will know that Vicars School is accredited by the same body that accredits massage schools provinces that regulate massage and massage education.

But BC has several excellent accredited massage programs, too. So what’s so special about Vicars that inspires so many students to choose us, despite the time, inconvenience, and cost of travelling to Alberta each month?

We chatted with recent Vicars grads Ainslie Conway and Andrew Wautier to uncover why they chose Vicars.

Ainslie Conway knew that she wanted to be a registered massage therapist (RMT). She also knew that she wanted to keep living in beautiful Whistler, BC while she went back to school.

The one thing that she wasn’t sure about was whether she’d be able to find a school that would give her both the high-quality education and the flexible student experience she was looking for.

In addition to raising two young children, Ainslie and her husband own Back In Action Physiotherapy clinic in Whistler. She wanted to find a massage therapy program that would give her the most thorough training possible, given the sacrifices in time, livelihood, and family attention that going back to school would require. She also wanted to make sure her training would match the quality of the other services delivered at the clinic.

“We have high-level athletes among our clientele, and we have the Canadian Snowboard physiotherapy team and the Canadian ski cross physiotherapist lead working with us,” Ainslie says. “Expectations are high.”

And then—as if her standards weren’t high enough already—life threw another challenge her way. The COVID pandemic erupted just as Ainslie was researching massage therapy programs.

“I found that none of the colleges I talked to in British Columbia had a solid plan about how to train or offer clinical hours during COVID, while Vicars School had been offering blended-learning programs for decades and had a plan in place,” she says.

She had already hired several Vicars graduates at the physiotherapy clinic, and had been impressed by their performance, work ethic, and ability. Vicars School’s much lower tuition cost was also a factor in her decision.

The Vicars program is a full-time blended-learning experience, consisting of four in-person classroom days per month and on-campus student clinics. Between classes, students work from home, using high-quality online learning and study-at-home materials. About 30 hours per week is required in independent study.

The unique combination of a blended learning schedule and an education that meets the national curriculum standards means that Vicars attracts students from all over western Canada, the Territories, and beyond. The vast majority of them—25% of the all Vicars students in the last four years alone—are from BC.

Because she lives in Whistler, Ainslie found the time restraint of flying into and staying in Calgary every month about the same as if she had attended a Monday-Friday program in Vancouver.

“I would have been driving five hours a day, every day to go to school in Vancouver,” she says. “And I would also have had to go into the student clinic on weekends.”

To get the most out of her visits to Alberta, Ainslie tacked on a couple of extra days to her stay in Calgary each month to earn her clinical hours at the Vicars student clinic. She was able to keep her travel costs down by teaming up with her fellow out-of-towners—including three other students from Whistler, who became her car-pool buddies to and from the airport.

Including Ainslie, there were nine students in that monthly class who travelled from outside Alberta for school: seven from BC, and two from Saskatchewan. Once pandemic restrictions were eased, the nine of them shared a house when they were in Calgary. Beyond just saving them money on accommodation, having the house (complete with kitchen and laundry room) meant they could travel with only carry-on luggage, eat better and more cheaply, and have a support system while away from home.

Back at home, Ainslie’s husband took on more of the household responsibilities, and her mother pitched in with childcare when needed. While the blended learning pathway was not easy for her and her family, Ainslie says the positives very much outweighed the negatives.

“It was great for the family because the kids saw what it was like to learn as an adult,” she says. “They were even involved in my studying, with colouring and drawing diagrams.”

Ainslie also found it led to better communication with her husband, both personally and professionally.

“He has three physiotherapy degrees and has worked for three Olympics, so he’s very experienced and was a great resource,” Ainslie says. “But massage is a different perspective, and I was able to identify when I needed his knowledge and when I didn’t.”

Ainslie was able to work part-time in her first year of study by allocating 40 hours a week to her schoolwork and filling in at Back In Action around her studies.

“In my second year, I definitely had to reduce my work hours. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of practice time required, and I wanted to ensure I could dedicate the time to be the best that I could be.”

Reality check: she remembers that to balance the full-time commitment of blended learning, she had to take some me-time when she returned from Calgary each month.

“It’s a very heavy content load and by Sunday my brain would be exhausted from trying to absorb everything. I found it important to take the Monday off when I got home, just to process it all and regroup.”

Ainslie graduated from Vicars in June 2022. Before she could practice professionally in BC, however, she needed to pass the board exams in a regulated province. Like many Vicars graduates, she chose to write her exams with the College of Massage Therapists of Newfoundland and Labrador. She was successful, and is in the process of transferring her registration to BC so she can get to work as RMT at the Back in Action Clinic.

Like Ainslie, Andrew Wautier travelled from BC to Alberta each month to train at Vicars. Andrew flew from Prince George and graduated from the Edmonton campus in 2022.

As a certified athletic therapist who works in disability management for the Prince George health authority, Andrew wanted to offer more one-on-one treatment to his clients to improve their outcomes. The problem was that his services were is not currently covered by benefits programs.

“As an RMT in a clinic setting, my clients would have their massage therapy covered through benefits and insurance programs,” Andrew explains.

Andrew looked into options for massage therapy training in BC, but with a full-time job and a young family, the requirement to attend daily classes for two years was just not possible. A friend told him about Vicars School of Massage Therapy’s blended learning program, and he enrolled in early 2020.

He flew into Edmonton once a month, staying with his sister and tacking an extra day onto each stay to fulfill his clinic requirements. In the two-year period, he only had one flight delay that set him back a day and one month where he missed an entire trip because COVID. Once he completes his BC registration, he’ll begin seeing clients at his home studio.

“The blended learning program is great for adult learners who have to keep full-time jobs and have families, and who know what their time is worth,” Andrew says. “Vicars did a fantastic job of that in terms of balancing people’s time.”

No matter where you live in Canada, a diploma from Vicars School will set you up for success. Our graduates are trained to the same level as therapists in regulated provinces, and are in high demand from employers and clients everywhere they go. Take the next step on your career journey by signing up for an online or in-person open house event!

This is the second instalment in a series about pediatric massage: massage therapy for children ranging from infants to adolescents. Check out the first post to learn about massage therapy for infants, including its potential benefits for both parents and child and the science that assesses those benefits. Today’s post is a conversation with an experienced Vicars graduate who has incorporated infant massage into her practice.

Shannon Collum, RMT, is a Vicars graduate who lives and works in Duncan, BC. She owns Maple Bay Massage Therapy there. As part of her general therapeutic practice, Shannon also has training in infant massage education, and offers one-on-one and group sessions with parents and their babies.

Shannon Collum, RMT

I recently talked to Shannon about this part of her practice.

Robin: Can you give me a brief overview of your experience with infant massage?


Early in my career, I found I was working with a lot of pregnant clients. It just happened by word of mouth—I think it helped that a lot of my friends were at the right age to start having babies!

As I went on, I realized I wanted to offer even more services in this area. We had learned the fundamentals of infant massage in school, but I knew there was more to learn.

I found a continuing education course for RMTs on infant massage and at the same time I trained as a doula, learning how to give support to mothers during and after childbirth. I was fascinated by it and knew there were at least some of my clients who would be interested.

I’ve been a massage therapist for more than 18 years now. Teaching infant massage has been a bigger part of my practice at some points than others. But it’s something I enjoy and that I’m glad I can offer to my clients.

There are so many different continuing education options out there for massage therapists—so many different directions and areas of practice for people to choose from. Would you recommend taking infant massage, and pregnancy massage?

When new grads ask me for continuing ed recommendations, I always say that it depends on what resonates with you. What are you interested in? Because if you’re not really engaged with whatever it is, you’re not going to make a success of it.

For me, I’ve always had a connection with babies and children—it’s always been a part of my life. If an RMT feels the same way, furthering your education by taking ongoing training in pregnancy massage and training new parents may be a good choice for you.

And you have to be practical too, of course. Think about the focus of your practice, where you work, and your current and potential clientele. If you’re based in more a retirement community this will obviously be less of a focus in your practice!

How do you introduce the idea of infant massage to pregnant clients?

I have it listed on my website as something I have experience in, and so some of my clients bring it up to me themselves or even find me that way. But usually it will organically come up in a conversation with them about what they’re experiencing, their hopes or even what they’re nervous about.

The last time it came up was I was working on a woman who was quite far along in her pregnancy. I was performing abdominal massage, and I was explaining to her how we do the strokes in a specific direction around the abdomen to promote digestion. I explained that this is also what we do with babies, and she says, “Wait, we can do massage on babies?!?!”

Do you find that do you usually get that surprised reaction? In your experience, do parents know that this is an option?

Some do, some don’t. And some are confused—some think that I do the massage; that they bring the baby into the clinic. But I explain that it involves teaching the parents what to do and how to do it in a way that is comfortable, safe, and joyful. And for most people, I find, that’s a lot more appealing.

So how do these sessions work?

I like to set up a class, either one-on-one or in a group setting, outside the clinic. It’s usually a set of four short sessions. That way, baby isn’t overwhelmed by a new environment and the parents are able to practice with the child between sessions. My goal with these sessions is for the babies and the parents to feel relaxed and have fun together, and for the parents to leave feeling confident and excited about having learned a new way to connect with their baby.

I normally don’t teach the classes for babies younger than two months. Before that, massage can be overwhelming and too stimulating. Babies still don’t understand the world, and they are getting bombarded with new information every second, so we wait until they’re a little more settled.

Earlier, you were telling me about a recent client you had for infant massage that was a bit of an exception to this rule. Can you share that story?

Of course. That experience was exceptional in a few ways: it was only one session, it was at my clinic, her baby was a newborn, and we fit it in after I had just given the mother a full massage!

This woman was living and working in a very small community up north on Vancouver Island. Because of the remoteness and lack of medical care, her employer transferred her down here to Duncan for a month or so before her due date, and for a couple of weeks to recover postpartum. She booked a few prenatal massages for herself while she was in town. Because I saw her regularly for a few weeks, we developed a rapport and had lots of conversations about her pregnancy and upcoming baby, and we ended up talking about infant massage in a general sort of way.

Not long after she gave birth, she came in for a last massage before heading home. She then revealed that the doctor had told them their baby had significant torticollis and she wondered if I could help. They weren’t going to be in town long enough for that, and baby needed some specific help as soon as possible, so we arranged for baby and dad to arrive at the end of her next appointment. I ended up working with them for about 15 minutes in the treatment room, laying baby on the warm massage table in front of us. I demonstrated a few techniques specifically for that issue and had them try them out and walked them through a few other things. I was able to start the process of improving his positioning and they felt more confident taking him back up north without an RMT nearby. Everybody was happy.

What sticks out to me about this story is that this was a therapeutic massage, essentially. I usually think of infant massage as being about helping the baby sleep better, helping with bonding, helping with digestion…

But when you think about it, babies have just gone through a quite physically demanding experience! Especially in that case, as he was very newly born. But even after that, they’re constantly building muscles that have never been used before.

But you’re right, a lot of times people don’t realize that something like torticollis can happen to babies. Extreme versions don’t happen a lot. Usually, it’s mild and corrects itself over time. But in this case, it was extreme, and he wasn’t able to keep his head straight.

The infant massage outcome that is probably most well known is how it strengthens bonding between parents and baby, helps babies sleep, and can help with things like colic and digestive issues. What people don’t always think about is that it can help alleviate postnatal depression for both parents. It seems most effective when massage is built into their daily routine. For infants, massage sessions should be short but frequent; a little quiet time after baby’s bath is great.

But there can be more direct physical benefits, too. I remind parents that birth is hard for babies too. As newborns, they’re not moving much and they’re often end up facing in one direction for long periods in car seats, carriers, and strollers. It’s a tough life!

And, of course, as babies get bigger they turn into active children, and children’s bodies are going through a lot, too. Starting massage at a young age can really help as they age and start getting growing pains and other bumps and bruises. Because they’re starting life with more body awareness, they’re more likely to be able to communicate about what is happening in their bodies when they need help.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with infant massage! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I almost forgot to mention, although it is really important to me, is that learning how to give a massage to your baby or child can actually help them start to understand bodily autonomy, consent, and the concept of healthy touch. Those are big concepts, but understanding them starts with day-to-day routines like this.

One of the things that we teach parents is to make sure that they’re only massaging when baby consents. This is more nebulous when they’re very young and you’re just starting out, but you start to learn your baby’s body language. You can tell when they’re up for it and when they’re not. And when they’re not, you just hang out with them so they’re still getting one-on-one time and see that their refusal doesn’t equal rejection from their loved one.

It’s showing kids, from a young age, that they have a say in what happens to their body. And that’s a really huge thing, in my opinion.

Still to come in our blog series: Research on the effects of massage on conditions in older children and the benefits of massage in strengthening the parent-child relationship beyond infancy.

During the 20-plus years we’ve been teaching massage therapy, we’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a typical RMT, or a typical massage student.

Some people choose massage because they’re interested in holistic wellness; others, because they’re fascinated by human anatomy and want to be front-line health care professionals. Some have a head for business and want to own their own clinic; others want to work side-by-side with a wide range of professionals. Some want to work full-time as RMTs; some want to combine massage with their other skills.

And some are like Timmie Horvath, and can check off “all of the above.”

Timmie graduated from Vicars School of Massage Therapy in 2021. She opened her clinic, Sacred Wellness Massage Therapy and School of Healing Arts, while she was a second-year student. Business has grown so much in the last year that she’s already had to expand to a bigger location.

I recently visited Timmie at Sacred Wellness in St Albert for a clinic tour. We talked about what drew her to massage therapy, what it’s really like being your own boss, and how her Vicars education (and especially the business plan assignment) prepared her to start her own clinic.

Robin Collum: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What were you doing before you became an RMT?

Timmie Horvath: Before I came to Vicars School, I was already a holistic health practitioner and my main business was teaching wellness. I have a business called Sacred Wellness School of Healing Arts—since 2015, I’ve taught Reiki certification courses in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Before I did that, I was a licensed practical nurse in community nursing care.

I decided to go back to school to become a registered massage therapist because I was missing that one-on-one client interaction from my nursing days.

I find it so interesting that you have that combined background. On the one hand, the evidence-based science side of things, the anatomy and physiology. And on the other, the experience with alternative therapies. You have been able to combine those two points of view in your practice. And you took a big leap of faith by starting your business while you were still in second year—signing a lease and everything! Can you tell me about that experience?

If I had taken the program at a different time in my life, I suspect that I would have applied to work at a clinic or spa or somewhere. And I just want to say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I actually think that’s a very smart, financially stable thing to do and it can be very rewarding if you find the right fit.

But by the time I went back to school for massage therapy, I was already quite comfortable as an entrepreneur. I was still running my teaching business while I was in school. I had the feeling that because I already had a business and a brand of my own, that it just made more sense to build them together, to keep things from getting messy later on!

In my second year, I had an opportunity to rent a space in downtown St. Albert. So I went ahead and did that and started my practice—also called Sacred Wellness. It was a big risk, of course, because I was still a student and I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to building a

practice because I had to focus on school. But it was such a lovely place that I didn’t think it would be available when I had graduated.

It was really challenging to do it that way—I’m not sure I would recommend that to anyone—but it was an opportunity and it’s paid off for me.

When I graduated from school, I already had a little bit of a start on my practice. I was established in my location, and had regular clients. I recently moved to a bigger space, and I have a couple of contractors working with me. One is a Vicars student!

It must have helped that you weren’t starting a new business completely from scratch. You had already built a successful brand and had professional networks. But launching a business is still no walk in the park.

Absolutely. One of the most helpful projects was the second-year business plan assignment.

If I were to do my business plan again I would make some changes, but really not that much. It almost acted like a vision board.

I remember earlier this year looking at it and being like, “Oh my god, I did it !” The timeline wasn’t correct, obviously, I did things at a different time, but my menu of services and what I was looking to do—I actually did that!

When I was still in my first year, there were at least two second-year students who started their own businesses while they were still in school. And I remember talking to one of them and I said “How did you get approved for the loan?”

And she said, “You know that business plan assignment you’re going to have to do? That’s what I used. I sent it to the bank and they gave me the money I needed.”

I think the outcome of that business plan assignment goes one of two ways. You realize “Yeah, starting my own business is going to be hard, but I can do it.” Or you’re like, “Yikes, I don’t want to have anything to do with this!” And, either way, it’s a good thing to learn!

It really forces you to look get into the details, doesn’t it? I think that assignment is equally valuable for students who have no interest in working for themselves. It’s just as important for an employee or a contractor to understand the expenses that go into running a business, what good business practices are, and all that. It can help you negotiate a good contract for yourself.

Yeah, absolutely. And that also informs how I work with my contractors as well. Having been a contractor, I think, okay, this is what I would expect to receive to work on commission. This is what I would expect the clinic to take care of. And this is the amount of advertising.

What did you learn from doing the business plan, and the other business assignments?

It was so incredibly valuable because it really forces you to look at all of the numbers.

Now, massage in general, it’s very low overhead. Your biggest investments will be your rent and maybe your table, depending on how much money you want to spend on a table. But these things like a table you buy at once, you should use it indefinitely, right?

But I did have to accept the fact that I was going to be paying for a space and that I would just be paying out of pocket for that for however long it took. And especially being a student, I didn’t have a lot of availability. So even in my tiny amount of availability, if I booked out completely, it still wouldn’t cover all of the operational costs. And I knew that and I accepted that. I had that discussion with my husband.

And I said the benefit of this is that if I really stick it through for the six months, then I won’t be starting from scratch when I graduate.

What I really learned is that I think the biggest myth in the massage industry and maybe in business in general is that you make more money with your own business. That can be true, but it’s wrong to assume that if you’re getting paid as a contractor that you’re automatically making less money. And it’s certainly more stable.

I think people who start their own businesses are an eccentric bunch of people. Because it is not the easier path. But for me, I enjoy these things. Why knows why? [laughs]

I think Maryhelen Vicars, who founded the school, would agree with you on that!

All of this is to say that I would have done it anyway. I would have eventually ended up running my own show, and I really enjoy it. But I felt prepared to so right out of the gate because of the training that I received from Vicars School.

And I just want to share that this is probably one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done, and that it’s just really been an amazing, fulfilling career so far.

What kind of massage therapy professional do you want to be: a contractor or employee, or an “eccentric” entrepreneur striking out on their own? Whichever path you choose, a successful career starts with the right education. To begin your journey, contact our friendly admissions team by calling us toll-free at 1-866-491-0574, or sign up for a virtual open house!