If You Can’t Be a Good Example, You’ll Just Have to Be a Terrible Warning

Circa 2006-2007 was an interesting time in the acupuncture world. I remember it as when — not necessarily in order of importance — the AAOM swallowed the Acupuncture Alliance to form the AAAOM; we started the Community Acupuncture Network; and I got fired as a columnist for Acupuncture Today because my ideas had “dangerous potential”. According to the editors, I was going to make the acupuncture profession look bad. Fast forward to now, and it's true, the acupuncture profession isn't looking so good. The dangerous potential of that column and those online forums has blossomed into reality and God help us all! This is what it looks like: micro loans for clinics in underserved areas, jobs for acupuncturists, support for acupuncturist employers, a truly affordable acupuncture school in the works, 750,000+ affordable treatments for patients and counting (seriously, we're counting right now, fill out your damn survey) — solidarity as a business model. Acupuncture Today tried to kill the seeds but POCA sprouted anyway and shot up like the weed it is.

Meanwhile, the American Acupuncture Council, the parent corporation of Acupuncture Today, was pouring money into the AAAOM. Which apparently now has only 327 members to show for it. Would it be really mean to say,  “you know, a lot of acupuncturists have told me that you get what you pay for”?

People have also been telling us that POCA is now the largest national acupuncture organization — but that's not quite true. We're not a national organization for acupuncturists like the AAAOM, we're an international cooperative for acupuncture stakeholders — which includes patients, our largest group of members. It's hard to get a head count of members of other acupuncture organizations, but we are certainly the fastest-growing thing/dandelion/co-op. We are definitely alive while a lot of other acupuncture organizations are struggling (besides the one that's going down in flames).

But I didn't mean this post to be one long “I told you so” — because after all, Acupuncture Today didn't let me tell them anything, they just fired me via an email.

I was surprised to notice that reading about the collapse of the AAAOM, I actually felt sad. Back in 2006, I was mostly throwing rocks at them. In the intervening years, I've learned how to do other things besides throw rocks. I'm kind of an organizational geek now. I went and read the supporting documents for the article; I looked at the AAAOM's Form 990 which is like their public tax return. If there had been meeting minutes I would've read those too. POCA has changed me; I don't think about tax returns and meeting minutes as just a bunch of stupid details anymore. I've learned to care about organizations and I know that a bunch of volunteers poured many hours of their lives into the AAAOM.  It's sad that it's ending this way. And it is a warning for those of us who have an organization we care about.

It's a warning that you can't necessarily fix problems with money. This is good for POCA to remember, because we never have much money and it's easy to be wistful about how different things might be if we didn't have to bootstrap our way through everything. It's good to remember that things might indeed be different; they might be AAAOM-style different. Having a corporate sugar daddy is apparently not all it's cracked up to be.

It's a warning that if your culture and your values are based on glorifying special individuals, you're going to have trouble making a functional organization. There's a reason we played the largest game of Co-opoly ever at the last POCAfest: we all win or we all lose.

It's a warning that you can't ignore the elephants in the room, the biggest being the economics of the acupuncture profession. POCA's a co-op because we want to focus on economic relationships. You can wax poetic about the wonders of acupuncture all day but if you're not paying attention to whether people are 1) able to afford it, and 2) able to make a living at it, why should anyone join your organization? The article wants to blame AAAOM's leadership, but the two presidents of the AAAOM aren't the only people in the acupuncture world who have problems with distinguishing fantasy from reality, plus an apparent allergy to arithmetic.

And finally, it's a warning that if you want a big organization –national or international — you'd better have a big purpose. Turf warfare? Petty. Playing the insurance game? Boring. Building a new acupuncture profession based on access and cooperation? That sounds like fun. We'll try our best to be a good example while we're doing it.

Author: lisafer

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  1. “you know, a lot of acupuncturists have told me that you get what you pay for”?

    Good one.

    And it’s true that the 2 AAAOM leaders are not the sole (or dual?) problem/s of that organization.
    There’s a huge disconnect between the values of most acupuncturists and what most people need from the acupuncture providers.

  2. @ David: There’s a huge disconnect between the values of most acupuncturists and what most people need from the acupuncture providers.

    That’s an extremely succinct description of everything that’s wrong here.

    @Cris: wait, was that video supposed to be a good example… or a terrible warning?

  3. Speaking of good examples- in the last 2 weeks two different “collaborative practices” have contacted me to see if “I know anyone” who might be interested in working or subbing at their place. This has really pissed me off in a couple of ways, the first and foremost being that they must assume that there are a bunch of us with extra time on our hands or else how would we be able to come and fill in at their clinics? Sorry we’re too busy treating lots of people. In fact we’ve been trying to hire for 5 months now- just like a bunch of other busy clinics.

    These inquirers may see that we are busy, working as acupuncturists, but that they somehow miss the point that we are doing something completely different. How is it that they can miss this glaring difference?

    I want everyone working person to be able to occasionally take time off, but the professional AOM culture will IMO never get past the me and mine.

    Here’s a friendly notice to both clinics that want us to come and fill the role of almighty acu-god- when back on Mt. Olympus just send your folks over to PCA. We’re open 7 days a week.

    I heard of another acupuncturist who recently left the state but flies back (a couple of thousand miles) on a regular basis so that their patients don’t have to go untreated. Gawd! Why not just refer them?

    It’s this very mentality that has sunk the AAAOM ship, and that has been drilling holes in its bow for years. Apparently I missed this on fb recently, but I’m willing to stay on watch all night just incase this appears on the horizon: https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/24/tech/web/apparently-this-matters-lyubov-orlova-ghost-ship/

  4. “You can wax poetic about the wonders of acupuncture all day but if you’re not paying attention to whether people are 1) able to afford it, and 2) able to make a living at it, why should anyone join your organization?”

    I can still remember when this 2×4 hit me in the head! It was the spring of 2007 in the basement of a house in Portland where there was some serious reprogramming going on. I came home, built a clinic and haven’t stopped.

    I am still amazed at how challenging it is for some of my colleagues to understand this simple equation and am grateful that it wasn’t for me!