When our crack team of distance-learning experts went looking for the perfect platform for teaching our core sciences online, they chose Moodle, a virtual learning environment that’s open source, secure, and easy for students and instructors to use.

Moodle and similar platforms have transformed the way education is delivered and consumed all over the world, and our blended-learning program at Vicars School of Massage Therapy makes the most of what’s offered.

Our curriculum team, led by Linda McGeachy, has put thousands of hours into creating and adapting course content and visuals to make the online portion of our program the dynamic, interactive, and effective experience that it is now. We have come a long way from the three-ring binders that we used to fill with assignments and resources for students working from home!

Making the switch to Moodle transformed more than the at-home experience, though. When we began to deliver the core sciences online instead of via classroom lectures, we freed up hours of in-class time for hands-on learning.

Vicars’ Moodle is the brain vault for the school. It houses all the academic and support material students will need for their two years at Vicars. All of our curriculum material is on it: resources that supplement in-class teaching; the two courses that are delivered online only; and wrap-around supports for students to make the most of their learning experience. It has everything our students and instructors need.

While that sounds promising, what does it mean for a first-year Vicars student, let’s say someone who has never heard of Moodle before? Is there a steep learning curve?

While many of our students have experience with on-line learning from high school or other post-secondary education, some students may have worked in jobs where computers weren’t used and have less experience online. But our systems manager and Moodle expert Heather McGeachy says students quickly become familiar and comfortable with using it.

“I’m available for them before they even start school, either through a Zoom tour or quite often in person,” Heather says. “It takes less than 20 minutes and I’ve never had a student come back after a one-on-one tutorial and say they don’t know what they’re doing or can’t navigate Moodle.”

That guidance begins as soon as students register with Vicars. They receive access to Moodle right away, and most take advantage of the head start by beginning their study of the first course, Anatomy and Physiology, as soon as possible. As part of the site introduction, students follow a sequence of steps to learn the school’s policies and how the Moodle site works.

The policy review used to happen on Day One of class, but that’s a busy day, so doing it on Moodle is a good way to make sure it the content is well understood. At the end, there is a short quiz as a low-stakes introduction to the way we measure learning progress on Moodle.

Moodle also has forums for each class that include the instructors, as well as a school-wide forum for all current students at both campuses.

“Our virtual student lounge is the online space for students to connect with classmates across the entire school,” says Heather. “They can use it to set up study groups or carpools and buy and sell used textbooks and supplies.”

A deeper dive into Moodle takes a first-year student to the two online courses that they complete virtually. “Only Anatomy & Physiology and Pathology are done entirely online,” says Linda. “They’re the only two courses that are not taught in class and that students are responsible for doing outside of classroom time.” Once registered students have access to Moodle, they can complete as many of the chapters and units as they have time for.

“Quite often, before the end of second year, students will have completed one or both of the online courses and be ready to write their final exam,” says Linda. There are opportunities for writing the final in-person throughout the year.

For students, especially those with work and or family commitments, the flexibility of working in their own time and at their own speed is a definite plus. “Pulling the core sciences out of the program in class allowed for more time for students to practice hands-on,” says Linda. “And instructors have more interaction with the students learning in class.”

Moodle also houses all of the day-to-day material for the rest of the curriculum. “There are checklists, what to read, what assignments to do, what to hand in, quizzes, and each student can see their current marks at any time” says Heather. The material also prepares students for the next module of learning.

That advance preparation makes maximum use of instructors’ knowledge and expertise. “Students walk into the classroom and know what the instructors are going to talk about in that module because they’ve had to complete the online material in advance,” says Linda.

Linda and her team develop not only the curriculum content but the video resources on the Vicars Moodle that complements the in-class learning process. Because instructors may only have one chance to demonstrate a technique, the videos serve as references for students when they are practicing and perfecting techniques.

“We make our own videos so that we have the right content in Moodle. There are all kinds of things out there online, but we want to ensure students have the specific material they need to train properly,” she says.

Keeping the focus on quality and consistency, the team have developed and centralized all the curriculum content to be taught. “Instructors don’t develop the content,” says Linda. “Instead, we’ve developed all of the PowerPoints that they use as the backbone of their lesson plans.”

“The important thing for us at Vicars is that the material we have for students is of the consistent quality that we know they need to succeed,” says Linda. What this means for students is that no matter which class they are in on either campus, the same high-quality material is delivered to each person in the same way. Students benefit by getting a consistent approach to a core understanding of the massage practice.

Instructors develop their lectures from the Vicars-customized PowerPoint notes. And if a textbook goes out of date, the PowerPoints are updated. Adding a new textbook in the place of an outdated one can take months of work: it is never enough for the Vicars curriculum team to just purchase a publisher’s package.

“When we ask for feedback about the Moodle experience, students say that it’s easy to use and works well,” says Linda. “And that’s largely because we live in an online world so there’s familiarity. What they tell us they really appreciate are the many (custom) resources that we’ve developed and provide for them. They have all they need for success right there.”

Massage is a hands-on career and, of course, you need plenty of hands-on training. But learning to be an effective therapist takes more than manual skills. Much more!

An effective massage therapist knows the anatomy and physiology of the human body exceptionally well. They know about symptoms of pathology and what massage therapy can (and can’t) do to help. They understand scope of practice, contraindications, professional ethics, and how to look after the business side of their career.

These are the parts of our program that are delivered online, using our exclusive materials and videos as well as curated resources from our chosen textbook publishers. This part of the program is delivered over Moodle, the robust online learning platform we use.

At Vicars school, our highly successful and nationally accredited curriculum is a blended learning program; it’s a combination of in-class instruction and interactive online learning.

Blended learning offers flexibility and can be more affordable than a conventional college program that may require you to be on campus 9-to-5, five days a week. The work you do at home is a combination of assignments, readings, projects, and online quizzes, all accessed through Moodle. You have detailed checklists with required readings and assignments that must be completed for their next class.

All this helps, but working from home can be challenging, especially if all your previous education has been in the classroom. If you’re not familiar with Moodle or haven’t used an online learning platform before, we have an orientation guide to help you navigate the system and our staff and faculty are available for further technical support when it’s needed.

We asked our curriculum experts and instructors for their advice on how to stay motivated and make the best use of your time. Here are their tips:

1. Choose a subject you care about

Their first piece of advice was fundamental: in any adult education, do your career research first. When you choose a course or program that you’re passionate about, learning is less of a chore. You won’t have to force yourself to log in, and even the toughest assignments won’t get you down.

2. Make a schedule (and stick to it!)

Beware of procrastination. “I’ll do it tomorrow” will leave you with a pile of assignments that gets more difficult to tackle each day. The best way to avoid that is to create a study schedule and stick to it. You will want to block off times that you will dedicate to working on specific tasks. The Vicars coursework is designed to fit within 15-20 hours of study each week. Breaking your assignments down into smaller chunks will make everything more manageable and less stressful.

For example, within each subject of our online curriculum, the reading directions are listed with their corresponding questions or assignments, to make it easy to follow along every week. Moodle includes a calendar to help you keep track of your coursework and a completion tracking tool to help ensure that you haven’t missed anything.

3. Use Moodle’s opportunities to stay in touch

Just because you’re not in class, doesn’t mean you are on your own. Your fellow students are an incredible asset both academically and emotionally. You will of course collaborate in class and in clinic, but you can also stay connected with your classmates and instructors when you’re not on campus by using Moodle.

You can use Moodle to send direct messages to both classmates and instructors. There are also general, school-wide forums to discuss challenging topics, make comments, and ask questions of instructors and fellow students. Your classroom forum, open to students in your own class, can act as an extension of your on-campus discussions.  If you have a question, other students are likely wondering the same thing and will benefit from the answer. Specific questions about Anatomy & Physiology and Pathology go to the dedicated science instructor for your campus.

4. Start early if you can 

As soon as you’re accepted into the program and complete your registration, you will have full access to Moodle, and can begin the two core science courses that are required: Anatomy & Physiology, and Pathology. All your resources and assignments are available online, and you will have access to the general forums and to instructor and technical support as needed. There is no charge for this opportunity to get started early, and many advantages.

If you can start a few weeks or even a few months before your on-campus class begins, you can get used to the Moodle environment and start learning. You can work through the materials, submit homework, and challenge the quizzes. The work you put in ahead of time will take some of the pressure off as you get used to the responsibilities of first year.

Admissions staff at Vicars School of Massage Therapy are used to fielding inquiries about tuition, class sizes, or financial aid. But lately, admissions advisor Rhonda Watson has also been answering a lot of questions about another topic: CTMCA accreditation.

“More people have been asking whether we are an accredited school, and we love it,” Rhonda says. “It tells us that they have done their homework and understand that a diploma from an accredited school like Vicars is the way to make sure that they will find the job they want and be prepared for success as soon as they start work.”

Since it’s such a popular topic, we decided to put together a blog post answering some of the biggest questions that we get on the subject.

Is Vicars School of Massage Therapy accredited by the CMTCA?

Yes! So far, Vicars is the only private massage therapy school in Alberta to have full accreditation. We earned full accreditation status in 2022 and the further distinction of the CMTCA’s highest ranking—five-year accreditation—in 2023.

Not all massage therapy programs are created equal. This is especially true in a province like Alberta, where the massage therapy profession isn’t regulated by the government, and neither is the content or quality of massage therapy education.

What Is CMTCA accreditation?

Program accreditation through the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation (CMTCA) is a way for massage therapy programs to demonstrate that they meet Canada’s national program standards.

The CMTCA is a completely independent organization whose job it is to review massage therapy programs in Canada. This assessment is based on a long list of criteria, including the quality of the curriculum, student experience, facilities, and overall organization of the school. Their process includes both an in-depth review of the school’s documentation, and a multi-day site visit at each campus.

By granting full accreditation, the CMTCA is announcing that the school:

  • Meets the curriculum standards of the regulated provinces (more about that below);
  • Awards diplomas only to massage therapists who have proven themselves skilled, knowledgeable, and effective; and
  • Delivers what it promises: qualified instructors, relevant content, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Why does accreditation matter?

Accreditation matters because the quality of your massage therapy career will depend on the quality of your education. And the best way to judge the quality of a school is by making sure that it meets Canada’s national standards.

In provinces where massage therapy is a regulated health profession, schools have to follow the national curriculum and delivery standards, accreditation is mandatory, and the professional regulatory groups (called “professional colleges”) only recognize programs that meet these standards.

Alberta is the Wild West in comparison, so it is up to people who want to become massage therapists to do their research and make sure that they’re choosing a quality school.

At Vicars, we believe that massage therapy students deserve to know what kind of education they’re signing up for, and that clients deserve to know that their RMT has the knowledge and skills to give them a safe and effective treatment.

“This kind of objective assessment from an expert organization like the CMTCA is an important stamp of approval for any Canadian massage program,” explains Maryhelen Vicars, the school’s founder and president. “But it’s even more important here in Alberta where massage therapy and massage education are not regulated by the government. Accreditation is also an essential step toward any future provincial regulation.”

Vicars is the only independent massage therapy program to be accredited in Alberta (the two others are run by publicly funded institutions).

“It’s unfortunate for the profession, and for Alberta massage students, that this kind of consistent, evidence-based education isn’t already mandatory for Alberta massage schools,” says Maryhelen. “The more schools that choose to get accredited, the higher the quality of massage education in Alberta will be overall.”

Accreditation is important for people who are dreaming of beginning a career in massage therapy and are trying to decide which of Alberta’s massage therapy programs is the right choice for them.

What it comes down to is that if a massage therapy school hasn’t passed independent approval processes like CMTCA accreditation or the MTAA school approval program list, you have no way of knowing if the education they offer is really going to prepare you for a successful career.

“People shouldn’t only have to rely on what the admissions reps from each school tell them when they’re researching a new career,” says Rhonda. “Being able to rely on unbiased sources like the CMTCA nationally and the MTAA locally means they can be confident about their choice of school.”

Will graduating from an accredited school benefit my career?


Your success as a massage therapist will depend on your hands-on assessment and treatment skills, your knowledge of the human body, your understanding of massage theory, your business know-how, and your ability to practice massage in a safe and sustainable way. These are the skills and knowledge that you will use to build your client base and keep them coming back for more.

That’s what you’ll learn at an accredited school.

That said, clinic owners and other employers know what accreditation means, and they know what schools they prefer to hire therapists from. Vicars therapists have always been in high demand from employers and clients. Accreditation has just made our grads stand out even more.

When RMTs are able to say that they have graduated from an accredited school, it is further proof that they are worth every penny! We’ve even heard from RMTs who graduated before our accreditation was official, who have told us that CMTCA recognition has benefited their professional reputation.

The general public is also increasingly aware of that not all massage therapists are created equal. More and more clients now know that choosing therapists from accredited schools makes it easier for them to find qualified, effective therapists.

Does accreditation mean that my Vicars education will be recognized across Canada?

Accreditation is a huge step forward for Vicars graduates who want to practice in regulated provinces.

It’s not a silver bullet, though. In order to become registered in a regulated province, you will still have to go through their professional college’s application and acceptance process. That process will vary province to province.

The important thing to remember is that going to an accredited school means that your education will match what students in regulated provinces learn. So no matter what their process looks like, you will have the knowledge and skills that you need.

For many of us, physical aches and pains are the trigger for making an appointment for massage. We know that massage therapy can speed our recovery from injury, and even help us live better with chronic pain.

But did you know that massage can also help with the pain of living with depression, anxiety, trauma, or stress?

Tessa Burns, a clinical psychologist and owner of Serenity Now Wellness in Calgary, uses an approach in her practice called integrated body psychotherapy. Simply put, it’s about how the mind and body are interconnected. That approach evolved into Serenity Now Wellness, an integrated therapeutic centre comprising counseling and physical therapies such as acupuncture, nutrition, naturopathy, and massage. The RMT on staff, Laura Dunlop, is a graduate of Vicars School of Massage Therapy.

Tessa says that in counseling, sometimes a roadblock can happen when a patient is delving into stress or trauma. The feedback between brain and body manifests itself physiologically.

“The patient will be holding their shoulders tight and stiff, for example, because the body is reacting to their brain telling them it isn’t safe,” says Tessa.

Helping patients relax helps with receptivity in counseling. She’s also found that when the body is physically manipulated, as with massage therapy, patients can get a more profound result from counseling and feel the benefits more wholistically.

“A lot of the work that we do will be very challenging and there will be a natural tension when you are doing really emotional work.”

In her practice, she encourages patients to have a massage after a counseling session, to help relieve that tension.

She cites books by physician Gabor Mate and the late neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert as excellent sources for research and experiences in mind-body connections.

As a graduate student in 1972, Dr. Pert discovered the brain’s opiate receptor – the cellular site where the body’s painkillers and “bliss-makers,” the endorphins – bond with cells to weave their magic. Her discovery led to a revolution in neuroscience, helping open the door to the “information-based” model of the brain which is now replacing the old “structuralist” model.

While there are centres specializing in physical health that will bring in counselors on occasion to help patients, Tessa approaches things from the other direction.

“Because I’m a psychologist I see everything from the mental health lens,” she says. “I focus on the benefits of touch therapy because I want to address the physical aspect of mental health.”

The mechanisms and effects of massage therapy are not yet as well researched as those of other disciplines, such as physical therapy, have been. Victoria-based writer, educator, and consultant Eric Purves is trying to address that. With years of experience as an RMT and with a master’s degree in rehabilitation medicine, Eric’s specialty is the biopsychosocial science of pain in massage therapy, where the emphasis is on facilitating and supporting a person rather than “curing” their disorder.

His focus over the past decade is contributing to and synthesizing the massage therapy research that does exist and incorporating it into massage therapy practice. He translates research evidence into practical applications through workshops, courses, and seminars intended for professionals who treat people with touch or movement techniques.

When it comes to massage therapy’s benefits, research by such leaders as Dr. Tiffany Field, who founded the Touch Research Institute, validates that massage therapy can reduce certain types of pain, decrease anxiety and depression symptoms, and even promote weight gain in premature babies. But the specific biochemical and biomechanical reasons that this occurs remain elusive.

In a 2011 literature review of research on massage therapy’s effect on the stress hormone cortisol showed that there isn’t conclusive evidence that can link the two. Author Christopher Moyer of the University of Wisconsin has written that “…other causal mechanisms, which are still to be identified, must be responsible for massage therapy’s clinical benefits.”

But those benefits are real, and there’s research to back it up. An earlier paper by Dr. Moyer, published in The International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, notes the parallels between the therapeutic alliance in massage and the private interpersonal contact between a psychotherapist and patient as an area for future research to explore. He wrote that the effects of massage therapy “on anxiety and depression, when quantified, are similar in magnitude to the effects observed in hundreds of psychotherapy studies.”

There’s evidence that the intangible aspects of getting a massage—the empathy, trust, and respect between client and therapist—have tangible benefits for the client’s mental health.

Eric Purves’ knowledge and experience confirms the importance of the therapeutic alliance, the positive relationship between client and clinician. He says it is one of two components important for the mental health benefits of massage and is the foundation of every successful massage treatment.

The second important component is person-centered care. In his former clinical practice and now in his workshops, Eric stresses the importance of listening to and validating a client’s concerns as the first step in person-centred care.

“We want to move the focus from treating a particular condition to treating the person who has the condition so that we are treating the whole person,” Eric says.

Eric has also found that that validation is often a transition point for clients. When clients feel that someone is listening to them and believing them, it helps them begin a journey towards living well.

“They are able to move from an ‘I’m trying to fix you’ to ‘I’m here to support you’ situation,” he says. “It makes a huge difference in helping them learn to manage their condition and live well with what they are experiencing.

“There is a lot of data that suggests that the person-centered care approach in massage therapy, particularly for people with chronic conditions, whether it’s mental health or a systemic disease or a pain problem, tends to work. And clients get better not because they are being fixed, but because they’re learning to live well with what they have.”

Eric joined Vicars School as a curriculum advisor in 2022. He has worked with Curriculum Director Linda McGeachy to help ensure the school continues to meet a high standards of educational excellence as required by national accreditation.

Students who train at Vicars follow an intensive two-year curriculum that incorporates knowledge and techniques addressing whole-body conditions. Part of that curriculum focuses on how to be part of an effective health team managing mental health conditions.

At the very start of the students’ first-year classes is an introduction to the different pathologies of the body, including the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and mental health.

“The concepts in the pathology course are built on throughout the full two years of training,” Linda says. “The theory is reinforced in the clinical setting, where students will work with clients with a range of conditions and disorders, including mental health issues.”

Linda also arranges for mental health experts to speak with students in coffee chats so that students will know where and how to refer clients if necessary. Other speakers from societies representing neurodiverse populations, such as those living with ADHD or autism, also come in to share their knowledge with Vicars students.

Vicars training is based on person-centered care and the therapeutic alliance.

“We don’t look at the disorder by itself,” says Linda. “We focus on building empathy and trust so that there’s a healthy relationship with the client.”

At Vicars, effective massage treatment is always a collaboration between the client and the therapist. A well-trained massage therapist never performs a one-size-fits-all treatment. Instead, the therapist begins with a thorough interview and assessment and develops a customized treatment plan based on the client’s needs and goals.

“It’s important to understand what some of the manifestations of these conditions could be, so that the therapist can then be aware,” Linda says.

A Vicars-trained RMT will work with the client to ensure that they create a safe, calm, and welcoming treatment environment, where there’s no pressure, judgement, or stress. The RMT will explain the treatment plan before they begin and continue to check in throughout the appointment. They’ll also pay attention to non-verbal cues like muscle tension and breathing patterns to make sure that their client stays in their comfort zone. Throughout the treatments, the RMT will help their clients maintain healthy boundaries and will remain within their own scope of practice as well.

Vicars School students have been going to see physical therapists, social workers, chiropractors, and psychologists a lot lately.

But don’t worry—they’re fine!

What’s going on is that this is the time of year that our second-year students start an assignment that brings them into contact with their colleagues in health care. It’s a practical way for them to learn about other health care professionals, to learn more about what they do, how they do it, and how their profession works with ours. It is part of our community collaboration initiative.

Vicars School graduate Maggie Bruce, who secured her first RMT job through the Community Collaboration Initiative.

No single health profession has all the answers. It’s important for our students to learn the value of professional collaboration with their peers in other health care occupations, so they know where to refer their clients, and how to encourage others to refer patients to reputable massage therapists when that is appropriate.

Each health-care profession is a discipline with an approved scope of practice: the treatments and procedures that individuals in that discipline are trained for and expected to provide effectively. If a treatment falls outside their scope, they make referrals. Dentists don’t remove tonsils. Massage therapists don’t treat broken bones.

Referrals between professionals have always happened. In massage, we learn to keep detailed and clear records of each client’s health history, treatment plans, and results. Within our practices, we use that information to refer to as we prepare for their next appointment. When we get a referral, these records are used to make a report to the referring professional.

At Vicars, our community collaboration initiative brings our students together with other professionals in several ways.

The first is the simplest: throughout the year, qualified individuals are invited to be a guest for a massage at one of our supervised public clinics. The colleague meets their student therapist and the clinic supervisor, asks questions, and shares insights about how massage therapy complements their practice or profession, and then gives feedback about the treatment they received. Everyone learns something, and the encounter helps to break down barriers between different, but related, fields.

The second part of the initiative is the community collaboration assignment that students begin early in second year. Over the course of eight weeks, students connect with a health care colleague and begin to foster a professional relationship.

Each student reaches out to a professional who may refer clients or patients for massage therapy and who may hire massage therapists to work in their clinics—such as chiropractors, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists. The student sets up a meeting, during which they tour the facility and have a conversation. If time and space permits, the student will give the practitioner a massage on site.

The assignment concludes with the student later sharing what they have learned in an essay and with their fellow students in class. Instructors ensure that different students meet and report on as wide a range of health professionals as possible to contribute to the class’s shared knowledge.

As the third part of our community collaboration work, Vicars School is building a roster of multidisciplinary employers with which we have a more formal relationship. At time of writing, these include Massage Addict, with more than 100 owner-operated clinics across the country, including Edmonton and Calgary; ProActive Health Group, which works with elite and competitive athletes in their two clinics and one mobile unit in Calgary; and Serenity Now Wellness, a Calgary-based counselling service that also employs massage therapists.

These businesses are encouraged to invite Vicars students on site to shadow and learn about the organization, and to host talks on campus. At these coffee chats, students hear from community collaborators about their real-life multidisciplinary experiences, especially as it relates to massage therapy. These talks also contribute to the students’ training about the challenges and rewards of massage as a business.

Some multidisciplinary clinics, explains chiropractor Greg Uchacz, founder of ProActive Health Group, take the interprofessional arrangement further than just sharing space and facilitating connections. He says his group is an example of an integrative centre where experts work together as a team to solve problems.

“The barriers between professional designations fall away and each person plays to their strengths,” when you get professionals all around the same table to address an issue, he says. “In the sports world, this is very well established.”

Massage therapists, chiropractors, athletic therapists, and sport physicians work together to bring out the best performance from elite athletes and teams.

At Vicars, we appreciate the time and energy put in by the partner businesses who are part of this initiative. And we’re happy to say that so far, our partners are getting as much benefit from the program as our students are.

With their involvement, they get an inside track on meeting and hiring Vicars grads. We don’t mean to be immodest, but we know that Vicars grads are in great demand all around the province. They’re a bit like cookies at the holidays: when you have hired one or two, you go looking for one more.

Calgary grad Maggie Bruce is a perfect example of how this relationship works as a win-win for students and community partners. Maggie went in October for a day at ProActive and shadowed a physiotherapist, the front office staff about the business side of the practice, and Dr. Uchacz, a chiropractor.

“It was cool to glimpse the world of a few different professions, and to see how other therapists operate.

“I have never been to a chiropractor before, so I was interested. I saw how he incorporated some of the stuff I do. He warmed up with some massage and then did some myofascial work,” similar to what she had learned at Vicars.

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 in BC where massage and massage education are regulated.

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 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. The online work generally takes 15-20 hours a week.

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 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 then able to transfer her registration to BC and works as an 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 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 made it impossible. 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.

“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.”