Response to “Progress Report on Our Profession” By Mark McKenzie, LAc,, Acupuncture Today, December 2010
“Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Imagine my surprise when, glancing through the latest Acupuncture Today
issue, I found yet another “Progress Report On Our Profession
”. With the intense national debates within the profession over the past 18 months, I surely thought we had covered this. Perhaps something new had surfaced that American acupuncturists need to know about – some sign of unity, some change that would repeal the infighting and fear between members of our personal society. I read the article with curiosity and hope.
Alas, Mr. McKenzie did not surprise or thrill me.
The writing turned out to be nothing more than the usual cheerleading based on misleading statistics, philosophies of business that deny access to millions of citizens, and reliance upon an ever-increasing student debt load to shore up the general acupuncture ego in this country.
We’ve all had our share up to *here* of the debating, arguing and foul play on these topics. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. However, in case there are still one or two acupuncturists left that haven’t heard both sides of the story, I thought I’d respond.
As to the now-annual meeting of organizations, some of which are regulatory in nature and some of which are membership organizations, I wonder why the Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) has not been invited year after year. CAN is a rapidly growing membership organization representing 1000+ acupuncturists worldwide. Surely inclusivity would be helpful in addressing the difficulties acupuncturists face today.
I agree with Mr. McKenzie’s statement that many acupuncturists struggle to create or maintain financially viable practices. Given that, I believe it would serve the educational arm of Asian Medicine to educate students in a style and business practice that routinely offers jobs both hourly and salaried: Community Acupuncture. If educational costs were kept down rather than continuing to skyrocket via such avenues as the first professional doctorate, students would not feel such pressure to achieve that mythological magic paycheck in the sky. Community Acupuncture offers interesting, steady work, regular pay at a sustainable rate, the opportunity to work closely with peers, and a sound, repeatable business model that allows nearly every member of society to take part in the wonderful world of Asian medicine.
In reading Mr. McKenzie’s thoughts on the current state of our profession, I appreciated most the paragraph stating, “Our second challenge is…when and how to move to the optional First Professional Doctorate, and to identify the ramifications of that decision with due consideration of the financial viability of our profession.” Thank goodness I don’t have to add more thousands of dollars to my already exhorbitant student loans, which I struggled to repay until I achieved a regular paycheck by working for a Community Acupuncture clinic.
When should we move to the FPD? When there is evidence that it will clearly benefit the lives and livelihoods of acupuncturists across the country. So far, in examining other professions such as physical therapy that have added such a requirement, the drawbacks are many and quite apparent.
As I see it, one of the main issues for our profession at this time is that we have been taught that we should all make a fabulous living off of our profession. The concern that few are actually achieving that goal apparently is unimportant. The fact that, in most countries, acupuncture is not an upper-middle class profession is completely overlooked. Unfortunately, steady work for a good wage, such as found in job listings
on CAN, is considered not good enough for the average acupuncturist, who apparently would rather starve than work. Or work a side job waiting tables or painting houses, still unable to pay back student loans. This is how we are taught. It is not inherent to acupuncture that we think our $60,000 student loans will be easy to repay based on our amazingly productive clinics. It’s what we hear over and over again in school – acupuncture is so effective! (True.) So mysteriously healing! (True.) Once you convince people how great you are, they will flock to your door and pay you tons of money! (Not so much.)
Lastly, I would like to address the notion that acupuncturists need to achieve “federal recognition” and insurance parity. As someone who ran a successful – by acupuncture standards, very successful – private-room acupuncture practice that jumped right out of the box into more than $100,000 a year, I can honestly say that I want nothing to do with insurance coverage for acupuncture. Good bye, profits and hello headache. I figure that by the time I am done with a year in Community Acupuncture, I am left with only slightly less than I made in a year in private-room practice – because I don’t spend money and time learning codes, filling out forms, arguing on the phone about coverage, tracking down patients for money or information, hiring billing specialists or billing companies, or sitting in continuing education classes on how to get money from insurance companies. I mention this because I read plainly the implied statement in the article by Mr. McKenzie: gaining insurance coverage or coverage under a federal health care plan will FINALLY result in good jobs and great pay for acupuncturists.
I’m here to tell you that a lot of evidence points to the contrary. There is growing sentiment among members of our profession that insurance coverage will not prove to be the magic bullet, as it is touted by some. At any rate, in my Community Acupuncture clinic a treatment costs less than the average co-pay for an office visit to a medical doctor, and I keep more of it than I did in my private-room clinic, where I lost about half of every dollar earned to overhead and taxes.
As Mr. Emerson so eloquently states, “Trust the instinct to the end.” Of course I believe – hopefully we all believe – in the joy of an ancient and effective toolbox that can aid patients in the restoration of comfort and health. That is never in question. I also believe that most patients would pay top dollar for that gift if they could. Since most of America can’t, isn’t it time we addressed the needs of the majority and stop pandering to the minority? Stop hitching our wagons to a dying breed? Believe in the truth of acupuncture. Let go of the lie of “If only we… our riches will be made.” Let’s regroup right here, where we are. Accept our differences in treatments, business styles and salaries. Some will make a lot of money. Some will make very little. I’d like to see a shift towards most acupuncturists making somewhere in the middle: a living wage. The way things are right now? That would be a huge step up.
Jennifer Woolf, L.Ac.
Concord Community Acupuncture