Bad Romance

(This post is dedicated to Nora, the Queen of Pop Culture References and Video Links. With heartfelt apologies to Lady Gaga.)

Dear Acupuncture Profession,

I think we need to talk about our relationship. I know you know what I mean — love, hate, and tiered licensing.

I was so young when I met you; too young to know any better. That wasn’t so common then, back in the early 1990s, as it is now.  In fact I think I was maybe the first of my kind: only twenty-two when I got accepted to acupuncture school, basically right out of college, naively in love with the idea of being an acupuncturist. I never had another profession before I had you — or, should I say, before you had me.

I believed everything you told me about yourself. You said you were serious; you said you were here to help people. And so, with stars in my eyes, I gave myself to you. For life. And unlike lots of other acupuncturists, for me, it’s always, only, ever been you; I’ve never had another profession to take me back if you and I didn’t work out. I never kept any other professions waiting in the wings, just in case. I believed in you that much.

But things got rocky for us right away. I won’t go into it all again, the dreary story of how I realized that you were expecting me to cut myself off from all the things and people that mattered to me in order to be with you. Also? You’re no good at math

Now I hear you think I’m destructive: I’m rude, I’m demeaning, I’m aggressive, I’m a screamer.  I might even be “relationally dead.” I hate to break it to you, but that’s what happens in relationships like ours. You have all these upper middle class aspirations and lofty ideals about how people are supposed to relate; I just, you know, don’t. But you created me. Once you started flashing all that easy federal loan money, promising careers and whatnot, who did you think you would attract? Are you really surprised you got a troubled girl from the wrong side of the tracks, who picks fights in public and doesn’t know how to act in polite company? Of course I’m going to ruin your image. I can’t help it; we’re caught in a bad romance.(Cue the chorus!)

You see, my love, you’re selling the romance of being a healer to people who don’t
realize what that romance will cost them. That’s how you support yourself; it’s why you’re still around. You’re taking the equivalent
of people’s life savings for a dream that most of the time, doesn’t materialize. You’re making promises that you don’t have
the slightest idea how to keep. You can say whatever you want, but in
the end, for so many of us, the only thing that’s real about our
relationship with you is our student loan debt.

And you know what that debt means? It means we can’t start over with
somebody else, some other profession. We’ve taken on so much debt that
we’re trapped. With you. We’re not going anywhere, because we can’t. Even though you might be getting very, very tired of us.
And unlike before, where we could maybe take the pressure off our
relationship with you by getting another job that would really support
us — so that we could keep seeing you on weekends, after hours, on the
side, whatever moments we could steal with you to keep the dream alive — in this economy, other
jobs are awfully hard to find. So you’re it, baby.  You know that I want you. You know that I need you.

These days, there are so many more first-career acupuncturists than there used to be. Think of it this way: every year, you are potentially creating thousands more of me. Of course, I know that many new acupuncturists and current students don’t want to hear the truth about you. I’ve tried to tell them that you are a bad, bad date, but they won’t listen. They still believe that you really love them. Hell, they probably believe you love them for their minds

You’ve been awfully lucky so far, you know. For years and years,  the legions of acupuncturists who fail in practice have been quietly slinking away, blaming themselves rather than you, because that’s what people tend to do after bad romances. But one of the things I do to make myself feel better is to try to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to other people. After you got through with me, I had a hard time taking care of myself out in the world. I spent years floundering, and I hate to see other people flounder. So I’ve inadvertently created a sort of support group for people whom you have, well, screwed. We’ve been comparing notes. There are a lot of us. We know what you’re up to. (…I want your love, and all your lovers’ revenge…)

This business about the First Professional Doctorate. It’s brought so much about our relationship out into the open, and no matter what happens next, I think that’s got to be a good thing. But what really bothers me about this — besides the fact that I had to hear from someone else that you were sneaking around, AND that we had this exact conversation two years ago (didn’t anybody ever tell you that no means no? And you wonder why I don’t trust you) — is that, baby, it shows just how much of an operator you are.

You’ve got a whole new generation of doe-eyed naifs in love with you, and you’re telling them that all you really want is to be able to take it to the next level with them. You want them to get the respect they deserve. You make it sound like “a bloated Masters’ degree” is something that somebody else did to them and to you — you, who only wants what’s best for them!  For a decade and a half now I’ve been watching you quietly padding the requirements, so that every year the people who fell in love with you had to give you more and more of their money and time. It’s getting awkward for you to explain. This is a flamboyant solution to that problem, I’ll give you that. You know how to take it over the top.

But so do I, love.

The FPD, which you seem to want so much, requires consensus within the profession. And because of the way you have set things up, the profession includes me and all of my rude, loud, organized friends. It’s like you’re married to us, when all you really wanted was a fling. But you’ve done such a good job of making sure that no one can practice acupuncture unless they’re under your increasingly expensive umbrella. (Don’t even get me started on what you’ve done to NADA.) I’d venture to guess that none of us would be the least bit worried about your designs if there were any other way to legally practice acupuncture. Love, love, love, I want your love.

Your structure, the structure of the acupuncture profession, is very rigid; it doesn’t leave us many options. I’ve given you all of my money. I’ve done nothing else for fifteen years, so now I’m truly unemployable, with no other prospects.  Based on my fifteen years of experience, I don’t agree with you about ANYTHING except the need for clean needles. I’m older and wiser, but I’m still caught in your trap; we share a future. Unless you do something about letting me out, I’m going to fight you over how that future should look; I’m going to fight you like a cornered, rabid rat. For the rest of my life. I’ve stayed with you this long, don’t doubt my stamina.

Sweetie, don’t you think it’s time for us to break up? We just don’t want the same things out of life.

Oh, I know you have mixed feelings. It’s not just that I gave you my money; sometimes you really like me, or at least you’d like to take credit for me. I get things done; I’m novel and exciting that way. Walk, walk, passion, baby — work it. Work and passion, that’s what I do like nobody else. Too bad the next line in the song is also true about me, from your point of view.

And after all these years, I don’t wanna be friends.

After all of the acupuncturists I’ve talked to who never practiced because they had too much debt even to START a business; after all of the acupuncturists I’ve met who failed because they did what they were taught to do by people who don’t have to do it for a living themselves; after hearing non stop for fifteen years that really, things are about! to get! so much better! as soon as more insurance covers acupuncture/HR 646 passes/we can call ourselves doctors…no, I don’t wanna be friends. 

But, unless you do something about the ways I’m trapped, you and me could write our bad romance for years and years and years. Conflict doesn’t bother me, ugly doesn’t bother me. Sadly, I kind of like it. It feeds all the worst parts of me. Don’t mistake me for a good girl; the community acupuncture movement is how I re-route my rage. Love, love, love. This is what my love looks like. I don’t think you really want it.

I have a suggestion or two, if you’re listening. Don’t act like you’re the injured party here; it’s making people laugh. Don’t assume that WE assume good faith on your part — that’s pretty funny too. I know it’s painful, but you might want to start by admitting you’ve made some mistakes.


Author: lisafer

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  1. don’t you want me baby?

    After all I’ve done for you? I even offered to take you home to meet the parents – sure, I have to introduce you as my “roommate,” but you understand. They need time to get used to the idea.

    Now, why don’t you get back to getting me off, and afterwards I *promise* we can talk about what’s hot for you.

  2. Good one.

    “I don’t agree with you about ANYTHING except the need for clean needles…After all of the acupuncturists I’ve talked to who never practiced because they had too much debt even to START a business; after all of the acupuncturists I’ve met who failed because they did what they were taught to do by people who don’t have to do it for a living themselves; after hearing non stop for fifteen years that really, things are about! to get! so much better! as soon as more insurance covers acupuncture/HR 646 passes/we can call ourselves doctors…no, I don’t wanna be friends. ”

  3. thanks for the earworm, Lisa

    Just when I had finally gotten “Poker Face” out of my head…

    Of course, there’s always this one, for you independent women out there.  Throw your hands up at me, CANners!

  4. Girl, I didn’t know you could get down like that

    — except of course I totally did. Nora, that video might officially make the whole FPD debacle worth it. I *heart* xylophone kitty.

  5. that part at the end of the video?

    you know, with the flame-throwing lingerie and the charred corpse? That’s more what I had in mind. Don’t bother with the flowers, just tiered licensing, please.

  6. Breaking up.

    Thank you so much for this hilarious post, filled with links to other great posts.

    I was all ready to kiss it all goodbye, when my soulmate appeared, from the wreckage of a tumultuous and diappointing love affair.  

    CAN, will you marry me?

    The FPD is wrong thinking. Entry in the profession could be simultaneously downgraded in time and money and unnecessary classes, while upgraded in real-life practical experience. Like…an acu-tech program followed by internships at CAN clinics.


    once you’ve tasted the CAN love you just can’t go back to bland and precious.

    Lisa, thank you again for breaking it down to the unvarnished truth and for calling it out:  the usual tactic of power and privilege turning it all to victim mode–it’s predictable but pathetic.



    Good health is not a measure of adapting to a sick society.

    When the power of love outshines the love of power, the world will know peace.

  8. Despite the well written

    Despite the well written post that sounds like it should be on NPR, what you’ve managed to do is blame an entire profession of medicine on your own experience.

    You’ve used our beloved profession as a metaphor, one that most modern, responsible women of today would basically scorn as rather childish. The idea that you are a complete victim in this story plays very well on the nerves of many people who have been “wronged” in relationships, so often claiming that they never saw what was coming.

    When life becomes difficult, it is suddenly the responsibility of everyone else- even “a medicine”- as depicted as a promiscuous human character who is unloving and fickle. The world of true romance should not indulge in this failure to take personal responsibility…nor should the figurative world of blaming the acupuncture profession.

    If you see a better model, one that works for you, so be it- but it’s your own choice, constantly- as it will be the choices of all people who become healers.

    So while your post is cute at best, it unfortunately sends a message of victimization to the community at large (and I’m not just talking about CAN- of which I’m not a member, if it matters). Like all women (and men) it is important to consider your own responsibility in this so called “relationship” instead of looking for the circle jerk reactions of your peers to tell you how you’ve been wronged.

  9. Lisa, guest poster is right

    Lisa, guest poster is right as rain. You are so childish and irresponsible. Can you please stop playing the victim blame game and DO something with your life, you lazy, wretched, goodfer nothing slog.

  10. this is so awesome…

    in so many ways.

    Did I ever mention I am totally enamored of your writing style, Lisa?

    How do you get those complicated things that no one with a “academic education” can say in simple terms and make them relatable and understandable to everyone?

    I think “phDs” are a way to reject people from the world, it’s like the “move to recycle bin” button. You become unable to speak to everyday people because all your language comes out in academic layered jargon. (joke)

    I’ll read things sometimes and I’ll say “Oh my Gosh, only someone with a phD could write something like that!” Usually, it involves something of “as the systematic cycling moves into the positive spectrum, the occurrence of negative results decreases” = “hey on the whole we’re doing better now”

    Love your post! 


    Jade Community Acupuncture, Winona, MN

  11. I totally agree with you

    I totally agree with you Jade about how hard it is to relate to a lot of the language of “higher” education.  Like with the FPD– there’s all this talk about “systems based medicine” and “critical thinking competencies” which are supposed to magically create AOM practitioners that hospitals and integrative care want to employ.  But all these big words say to me is that the folks pushing the FPD really don’t even know what would be so different an FPD.  They are just making it sound like something different than the existing education with a fancier label.  If we didn’t have systems based medicine and critical thinking competencies now we wouldn’t be able to treat within the framework of AOM concepts, or know when to refer.  How about throwing an economics class into the critical thinking competencies?  Give students a chance to look and debt and employment statistics and make an informed choice from that information. 

  12. NY Times?

    No, I am a

    NY Times?

    No, I am a normal, average person.

    Is that alarming?

    Remember, we average Joe’s have thoughts and opinions, too. Just because you are our saviors doesn’t mean we have to tow your party line in “the people’s community”.

  13. I’m curious:

    What part of

    I’m curious:

    What part of $4,000+ dollars per trimester, times 3, times 3 1/2 didn’t you understand before you made the choice to have this relationship?

  14. That’s easy!

    1)That there would be no jobs that would allow me to easily pay it back.

    2) That the acupuncturists who were teaching me were there not because they loved teaching, but because they had already figured out that they had no hope of making a living themselves in private practice. Meaning, not only were there no jobs, but the people who were teaching me how to have a practice were actually unable to do so themselves.

    3) That “the profession” involves a 50-80% failure rate.

    4) That nobody I knew would be able to afford to see me for treatment.

    I could go on, but does that answer your question?

  15. I don’t get it…you

    I don’t get it…you couldn’t research these obvious facts within a few weeks? Over 50% of ANY businesses fail.

    Being a healer is no exception.

  16. yes, have another drink, you hip alternative “punkster”

    Your abilities of devaluing the elitist bourgoise are oh so impressive. I tell you, I’m SURE it’s doing WONDERS for the image of acupuncture on the whole.


    ps: it’s called the martyr victim. I’d have thought as a writer you’d know something like that but then maybe that’s why you got canned from AT.

  17. Actually

    they told me that they canned me because my ideas had dangerous potential.  That’s a quote. I framed it. And now I’m done feeding the trolls, I promise.

  18. Thanks, Jade!

    I’ve heard “Ph.d” stands for “piled high and deep”.  Some of my favorite people have Ph.Ds, though. One of the co-founders of CAN has a Ph.D., actually. I think they might agree with you about the dangers.

  19. I hate to interrupt Lisa

    I hate to interrupt Lisa when she’s on a tear, but SuperMe seems to think that anyone would have access to this information easily.  In fact, all the acupuncture schools, and Acupuncture Today, and most other acupuncture publications function as whitewashing marketing machines.

    When Lisa went to school, and in fact several years later when I went to school, there was no readily accessible database regarding the success of acupuncture graduates.  There were only anecdotal (that WORD again) unofficial surveys.  Most schools didn’t (and many still don’t) keep stats on their graduates.  I don’t think that’s because they knew the stats wouldn’t make for good marketing, I think they just preferred not to think about it, and go on painting blue skies and rainbows for potential students.

    Many, if not most, acupuncture students go to school because of ideals, not business motives.  We are/were naive about business, and the schools have done almost nothing to teach any buisiness models that work.

    The fact that Lisa and others on this network forum choose to address “emperor’s new clothes” situations with humor, sarcasm and a healthy dose of experiential reality – and to make themselves vulnerable to random derogatory comments in the process, doesn’t mean they are adopting a martyr mentality.  The intent seems to be (and I speak for  my own perceptions only) to shock other acupuncturists who are operating marginally into understanding they ARE operating marginally in business, and to give them another way to think about it.

    Having taught for several years (before drinking the CA kool-aid), I can tell you that most teachers whitewash their situations, even to themselves.  There are not many who admit out loud in their own heads that they cannot make a living in their practices, and that they need the pittance from teaching to supplement their practices.  They are so surrounded by others in the same situation that they don’t even understand there is something else out there.

     I’m sure this has all been stated in much better language by others, so I won’t belabor the point any further.  MM