Protect. Respect. Do your part. We are committed to providing an exceptional educational experience while safeguarding the health of our community.

Massage Therapist Describes Road to RHB Program

By Austin Robinson
CHS Contributor

Jill Cole has been a massage therapist for 24 years, and her interest in the therapeutic application of touch arose from an experience during recovery from a sports injury. A soccer injury resulted in torn ligaments, which required surgery and physical therapy. Post-recovery, Jill was still experiencing issues with mobility and pain when she decided to visit a massage therapist. This began her journey into the world of healing touch.

We caught up with Jill to find out more about massage therapy, how it fits into the Integrative Medicine program at UKHC, and how Jill is preparing to enter the College of Health SciencesRehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program.

Originally from Lexington, that healing experience was the first time she felt a connection with her entire body. The educated touch of a seasoned massage therapist provided Jill pain relief in her knee, feet, hip, and back, gave her improved mobility and increased her overall well-being. The experience piqued her interest in massage therapy, but unfortunately, at the time there was no program in Kentucky. Jill moved to Colorado to attend the Boulder College of Massage Therapy in Colorado. While there, she worked with the University of Colorado-Boulder football team and the Denver Broncos.

After moving back to Kentucky, Jill worked with athletes at UK, as well as the triathlete and running community in Central Kentucky.

Currently, Jill is the Massage Therapy Coordinator in Integrative Medicine at UK HealthCare. Prior to UK, Jill spent 12 years teaching and training massage therapists, developing education curricula, and designing clinical training programs as the Director of Education and Director of Clinical Education with the Lexington Healing Arts Academy.

Here’s 4 questions with Jill Cole, MA, BCTMB, LMT:

What is massage therapy?

Massage therapy is the manipulation of muscle, tendon and ligament, skin, and connective tissue by a trained, certified medical professional. In Kentucky, a massage therapy student must complete approximately of 600 hours from an approved, accredited program, and pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEX). This includes coursework and clinical hours in anatomy and physiology, pathology, kinesiology, ethics and fundamentals of bodywork theory. Once the entry level hours are complete, students may choose to practice or pursue additional certifications. Certification and licensure vary by state.

Where do massage therapists work?

Massage therapists work in private practice as well as hospitals and other medical settings. With state licensure and interest in how massage can help, many therapists have the opportunity to be hired into full-time positions in health care settings, or start their own businesses. It’s really amazing to see the growth in the field and to see therapists being hired into salary positions with full benefits.

What brought you to UKHC?

Prior to UK, I was the Director of Education and Clinical Education at Lexington Healing Arts Academy and ran my own private practice. Coming to UK was an opportunity to continue my education and to work with individuals in oncology. Oncology Massage, in particular, is dear to my heart. It’s a personal and professional connection to oncology. I developed a 100-hour certification course for oncology massage while at Lexington Healing Arts Academy. Through this I formed a community partnership with the Integrative Medicine Department at UK HealthCare.

I completed a master’s degree in higher education leadership last summer and started with UK in the STEPS program in purchasing. Five months in, I was able to transition to a clinical position as a massage therapist with Integrative Medicine. I love massage, especially oncology massage. My partner of 14 years is a breast cancer survivor. The ability to teach educated touch to therapists is dear to my heart because at some point, most therapists are going to work with some going through cancer treatment or that is a cancer survivor.

What’s next for you?

I am planning to apply for the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program soon. The Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program really resonates with me because it aligns with my goals in doing research. I thought, ‘How can I take questions from patients, or from things I’ve experienced over the past 20 years, and better understand how massage can help?’

The Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD program can help me fine tune my research skills, help my patients, and help the field of massage therapy. Esther [Dupont-Versteegden, PhD and director of the program] is a wonderful champion for students. I’ve learned so much from her passion, dedication, and insight to foster someone’s educational pursuits and her ability to help them grow through the process.

Integrative medicine is so important. There are so many things we [Integrative Medicine] can do to help support the patient in their journey because any given diagnosis affects every aspect of a person’s life. Whether massage, music, acupuncture, narrative therapy or animal-supported therapy, Integrative Medicine is positioned to help the whole person.

Click here to learn more about Massage Therapy, Integrative Medicine, or the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program.