“I don’t know why we need to study ethics in massage school. Ethics are really just common sense and we already know what’s right and wrong. Besides, ethics is just about our personal beliefs about what we think is right and wrong, and you can’t really teach that in a course because we all have different beliefs. So what’s the point? Why not teach additional classes in courses we really need instead of ethics?”
Thank you for asking this question. It is one of the most consistently asked questions in the RMT program. The subject of Ethics unfortunately is also the most consistently misunderstood subject of study, not just for registered massage therapists but for many other healthcare professionals as well.
Why is this so? Precisely because many people entering a healthcare field fail to understand that the subject we call Ethics is in fact a subject or discipline of study. It is really no different than Anatomy and Physiology or Manual Skills for example. It is a subject with a knowledge base that regulated healthcare professionals must know i.e. the social contract and fiduciary duty, informed consent, confidentiality, professional boundaries, conflict of interest etc.
Knowing and understanding these concepts is not about common sense, it’s about learning the theory that incorporates these concepts and then learning how to apply this theory to clinical practice.
With respect to the belief that Ethics is common sense, if this were true then professional misconduct would not be the greatest area of concern for regulators of these professions. According to American statistics, at least 50% of all healthcare professionals will participate in some form of professional misconduct during the course of their careers. To get a real perspective on this point all you need to do is to visit the CMTBC’s website and note their disciplinary cases.
It will become almost immediately apparent to you that the area where most RMTs have difficulty is not related to their health science knowledge or clinical skills, but their professionalism and their lack of ability to abide by their professional ethics.
The second misconception relates to the opinion that Ethics is about our personal beliefs and values. Ethics is not about our personal beliefs and values. Professional Ethics is about the values our profession holds, and will hold us accountable for regardless of our personal values.
The values of our profession which we are accountable to are typically outlined in our professions Code of Ethics, and are binding. In fact if we have a conflict between our personal values and our professional values we need to abide by our professional values or perhaps reconsider remaining within our field of practice because we are unable to maintain our fiduciary duty to act according to our professional values.
Now there are of course gray areas where our professional values may not be specific and may require some interpretation, but even in these areas we need to look to our professional ethics to assist us. We need to use the tools for decision-making that our ethics courses provide us with to assist us in ensuring that we make sound ethical judgments. Ethical thinking involves reflection, thought and reasoning. Ethics provides registered massage therapists with the reason and the commitment for embracing our professional values as regulated healthcare professionals.