What Happens When You Change Massage Association

By Sharon Livingstone

#MYTH: My Qualifications Are Old and I’ll Lose My Provider Numbers

Have you been thinking about changing your professional association but you’re worried you’ll lose your provider numbers or because your qualifications are old and no one will recognise them?

Worry no more, massage therapist (MT). Hear from AMT members who joined from other associations.

You Mean, There’s More Than One Massage Association?

When I graduated from massage school, I joined the association promoted by the school – ATMS. It’s common for massage schools to form an alliance with one association. Tara Goulding, based on the NSW Central Coast, was told by “one of my clinic supervisors (that) I should go with (ATMS) and I didn’t even realise there were other options”.

My friend, Anne, invited me to the AGM of her association because there was going to be a skill share session.

“Why are you a member of that association and not ATMS?’ I asked. I thought everyone joined ATMS.

“This mob are all about massage,” said Anne. “ATMS are bigger but they aren’t all about massage.”

And that’s the story of how I ended up attending my first AMT AGM.

Why Change?

You can read the long version of my decision to move to AMT here. The short version is that I had long been frustrated by ATMS’s poor communication. Tara had a similar experience: “I ended up emailing six times to get an answer and still did not end up resolving it”. I asked ATMS to show cause why I shouldn’t leave. Their response was unsatisfactory but fear kept me with them. Those fears?

1. My qualifications from 2000 were no longer recognised.

2. I’d lose my provider status with the private health funds.

South Australian massage therapist, David Wood qualified in 1998. David also feared that his provider status would be lost because “ATMS made it quite clear that once I left their organisation, to rejoin would not mean a guarantee of keeping my numbers”.

David started looking for a change of association because of a shift in focus away from massage: “I was finding that massage was being marginalised with the focus of ATMS more on naturopathy, herbalism and the like”. David had the additional concern around continuing education, “Getting affordable and relevant workshops especially in Adelaide was nearly impossible”.

Tara contacted me after reading about my experience of changing association, saying, “I’m absolutely paranoid about something happening in the changeover and losing provider numbers that I won’t get back”. Tara’s decision to look elsewhere was simple – ATMS was “just not cutting it anymore”.

Brisbane MT, Sam McCracken’s reasons for leaving Massage and Myotherapy Australia (AAMT) were more complicated. He felt AAMT were promoting pseudoscience and quackery, and he wasn’t confident when engaging with other healthcare providers.

Deciding on AMT

One of the things I did when deciding which association would get the joy of my membership was to join the private AMT Facebook group, which impressed me because:

1. A lot of research was posted.

2. Discussions were professional.

3. AMT management (office and directors) were active in the group.

4. It was a positive environment.

Tara remarked, “I think a bunch of us joined (the AMT Facebook group) after the last Medibank debacle to get more info”, adding “it’s a bit sad that you have to get info from another association”.

Sam agrees, “AMT were much more willing to engage with members and to my surprise they were even willing to engage with and inform non-members”. He added, “AMT has a clear mission that is genuine and supportive”.

While I felt isolated from other MTs and wanted to know industry relevant news, updates on research and to feel connected to other MTs, David simply wanted an association that was relevant to massage therapy.

Kerrie Redpath had decided to offer health fund rebates in her Bathurst, NSW clinic. After upgrading her qualifications, Kerrie discovered that ATMS wouldn’t recognise her diploma. AMT did.

I asked Tara what made her decide on AMT in the end:

“The main reason was Rebecca Barnett! The fact that she was active in the therapist Facebook groups, was proactive in disseminating information regarding the big Medibank Private debacle, allowed non-AMT members in the AMT Facebook group and then, when I had the issue with ATMS and couldn’t get answers, Rebecca helped me even when I wasn’t a member.”

Oh, Grandfather

The education requirements for MTs made a seismic shift in 2002/03 with the advent of national competency standards for massage therapy under the Health Training Package.  This change meant that many therapists would need their qualifications to be ‘grandfathered’ by any new association. ‘Grandfathering’ is a term used to indicate recognition of prior learning (RPL), current skills and experience. Most of the people I spoke with for this article had “old” qualifications, including Sam, despite his quals only being six years old.

Private health insurers gradually started to adopt the national training package competencies as a requirement for provider status from 2006, moving away from traditional hours-based criteria. This shift has largely fuelled the mistaken belief that moving associations means losing numbers. But associations can not only grandfather MT’s qualifications, they can also grandfather provider numbers.

Your Provider Numbers Belong To You

You own your provider numbers, not the association, although some provider numbers change because they’re linked to your association membership number. Even though those provider numbers change, your provider status doesn’t.

David and Tara both describe the process of transferring numbers over to AMT as seamless.

Sam had a couple of minor issues that “AMT were quick to help with, but the problems were due to clerical errors by Medibank and were resolved by AMT within a matter of hours.”

Medibank Private (MBP) removed me from their provider list when ATMS informed them that I was no longer a member. This was despite AMT providing my information to them for 6 months at that stage. MBP refused to accept this information from me. I contacted AMT, who sent an email to MBP and clients were claiming via HICAPS two days later.

Defence Health (DH) had changed their requirements and I dropped off HICAPS because ATMS had provided insufficient information to DH, which created a disconnect between DH and HICAPS that they took 6 weeks to sort out – a hassle but not world ending, and clients could still manually claim.

For Kerrie, who didn’t have provider numbers with ATMS, there was a long wait – much like any new graduate experiences. Patience eventually paid off and Kerrie is now able to offer health fund rebates.

Image courtesy of Pixabay)

How to change to AMT

1. Download the Factsheet

2. Get your Police Check

3. Gather the required documentation as outlined in the factsheet

4. Complete the online transfer form.

Although a few of us had to exchange emails with AMT to complete the process, everyone agreed that it worked smoothly.


AMT recommends allowing 6 weeks to transition from the old association to AMT. Sam followed this guideline, while David, Tara and I gave ourselves 8 weeks.

AMT is currently offering transfers a bonus three months membership in the first year to compensate for the crossover period.

For Tara, the most difficult part of her move to AMT was that “I wrote both member numbers and provider numbers on my receipts for about 2-3 months. I’ll never get that extra ink back”.

The AMT Difference

David said, “One of the first things I noticed about AMT, which was highlighted at the recent Canberra mini conference, was that it felt like a big family.

For Sam “(AMT) offered a framework for me that was logical and well defined in the form of codes and scope of practice and ethics. Sure, they offer administrative services and do all the heavy lifting in dealings with other industry stakeholders (i.e. private health insurance) but most importantly they offer a sense of community, a family.” Sam reminded me of two 2016 AMT Conference presentations that he felt summed up the AMT difference.

Tamsin Rossiter shares the history of AMT.

Rebecca Barnett provides an update on the massage research study and other positive news.

Kerrie has been impressed by the communication: “(AMT) have several ways that we can stay connected and seem pro active on information sharing”.

The plethora of options for continuing education with AMT, especially for regional/rural members or those on a small budget, are a bonus. David had described his difficulty in accessing continuing education opportunities in South Australia as a member of ATMS, and I also struggled to find cost effective and beneficial training/education.

Tara feels “a lot more supported with AMT, in both the business/health fund aspects and the education (I love all the research that AMT manages to find and pass on). I feel that AMT is really working proactively to improve the massage therapy industry, with or without the support of the other associations. I certainly feel a lot more secure that when I have a question or concern that it will be addressed in a timely manner”.

AMT is quick to inform members of industry news – the recent example of the removal of natural therapies from private health rebates comes to mind.

Tara’s final thoughts perhaps best sum up the feelings of the rest of us:

“Honestly, I wish I’d made the switch sooner!”

About the Author

Sharon Livingstone is a massage therapist in Sydney, NSW. A love of sport drew her to the industry but helping people live with less pain keeps her in it. Sharon is a writer, keen bushwalker and frustrated traveller, who daydreams of walking across France again.

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  1. A huge and very much deserved ‘thank you’ to the staff in AMT HO- credit where credit is due for all the processes you have put in place to make assisting the membership look so easy!

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