New POCA Tech FAQs

You can find them on the POCA Tech site also.

I don’t understand the requirement to work in or start up a POCA clinic after graduation. Can you explain that more?

We suggest that all prospective students do some market research on acupuncture school tuition. If you do, you’ll probably notice that tuition at other acupuncture schools costs anywhere from $40K to $100K, while POCA Tech’s goal is to keep tuition under $25K. How do you think that’s possible?

POCA Tech is a magical unicorn?

Nope. POCA Tech is a product of POCA. POCA designed and built its own acupuncture school because POCA clinics need workers. POCA wanted a school so badly that it poured a huge amount of resources into setting it up — we’re talking thousands of volunteer hours, people working for free doing what other schools have paid staff to do — like write curriculum, draft policies and budgets, apply for a state license, a lot of hard, detailed work. Speaking of budgets, POCA raised over $100K over a couple of years in thousands of small donations (keep in mind that most POCA members don’t have a lot of money).

What a beautiful humanitarian organization POCA must be, to put in this huge effort just so that I could go to an affordable acupuncture school! I think I love you!

Actually, POCA isn’t a humanitarian organization at all, though it sometimes gets mistaken for one. POCA’s a co-op, and it’s really important to understand the difference.

There’s a difference?

Yes. POCA is based on the principle of mutualism. The dictionary definition of mutualism is the doctrine that mutual dependence is necessary to social well-being. The second, related term is mutual aid, which means cooperative as opposed to competitive factors operating in the development of society.  This is really different from charity. POCA isn’t a position just to give things away, because POCA is made up of people who need things and who depend on each other to make those things happen. If you go to the school that POCA made, POCA wants something in return. There are obligations.

You mean like tuition?

Well, tuition’s one of the obligations. Here’s where we get into a very important distinction: between consumers and cooperators. All of us who grow up in this society are trained to be consumers, we’re not trained to be cooperators. That’s why there are relatively few successful cooperatives.

Sometimes people treat POCA, and POCA Tech, like a vending machine. They expect to put their money in — whether it’s membership dues or tuition — and have something delicious fall into their hands. They think if they do a certain minimal amount, they should get what they want; it’s a transaction, right?  And in a sense every co-op is made up of transactions. But the trick is that co-ops can’t run on transactions alone. POCA is a multi-stakeholder co-op and there’s a saying about those: they’re “transformational not transactional”. POCA’s trying to build a whole new world for its members. If POCA only had consumers as members, it would fall apart. POCA depends on people who can hold a big vision and who can make some sacrifices — who can sometimes put aside their personal preferences in order to work together towards a common goal. POCA needs cooperators.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that.

Yeah, POCA and POCA Tech aren’t for everybody. And we’re not trying to appeal to everybody.  Anyway, getting back to the concept of mutualism — POCA’s got all of these people working for free and also people who don’t have a lot of money making donations. People making sacrifices, basically. And it completely depends on those people in order to run POCA Tech. And you’re right, nobody enjoys making sacrifices for no reason, so if they’re going to keep doing it, they have to feel like it’s worth it. They have to feel like they’re fulfilling a larger mission. For example, the mission of POCA Tech: “ to recruit and train students to provide acupuncture to underserved communities through the POCA Cooperative”.

I hate to break it to you, but the people who have put so much into POCA and POCA Tech, and who continue to do so, didn’t do it because they wanted you to have a beautiful, amazing experience going to acupuncture school. They did it because they wanted you to get out, get a license, and treat people who currently need acupuncture and can’t get it. And they want you to do that in a model that we can prove works, which is POCA’s model, and which has some very specific guidelines. You can’t get out and do whatever you want, you have to do what POCA as a whole has agreed the school is going to train people to do.

I think I hate you.

You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.

You’re so rigid and oppressive, with all these guidelines. Why can’t I practice in the way that feels right to me?

Here’s the thing about a co-op: it has to have some structure. Back in the early days, the organization that came before POCA, the proto-POCA which was called CAN, tried not having any rules about what kind of clinics could join it. And you know what happened? We got people doing “community acupuncture” for two hours on every third Tuesday of months that end in R, with a sliding scale of  $80 to $100, because that’s what felt right to them. And when patients came to our website looking for community acupuncture, they came across those clinics. Understandably they got upset because they thought they were going to get affordable, accessible treatment. The idea that acupuncturists were getting to do whatever they wanted somehow didn’t make them feel any better about not being able to afford acupuncture. These days, patients are members of POCA — they’re the largest, fastest growing member group — and they pay dues. Their dues have helped fund POCA Tech. Why should patients give money to an organization that doesn’t do anything to protect their interests?

So yes, absolutely, you can practice in a way that feels right to you, but if that doesn’t line up with POCA’s guidelines, you can’t get your training at POCA Tech. If you want to do whatever you want after graduation, you should go to one of the other 50+ acupuncture schools in the US where you won’t have any obligations beyond paying your tuition. If you want to be a consumer, you should be a consumer. But if you want to reap the benefits of a cooperative, especially this cooperative, you need to be down for cooperating.

Author: lisafer

Related Articles

Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. Beautifully written, nice articulation of a shared philosophy. It is the cooperation that binds us as a productive family of vastly different individuals. Come to the school we have all dreamed of and some of us have worked harder than others to make real, but do not think that because we offering you the future professional, a unique opportunity that we are foolish. In contrast it is maybe you, the future professional who may be taking the unwise position by turning a deaf ear to our experience and guidance. Maybe your vision of your practice dream is strong, but many of us have been down that road and been successful at it as well. Success in your terms of thinking but are your visions of success well thought out? Have you factored in all the variables that can become obstacles to success? Of course not because you are a beginner. Success is achieved by making a substantial contribution to your community not by making enough to drive a fancy car. Maybe you will make such an impact on your community that they may make you the first acupuncturist elected to state office. Now that is power and success.