I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of this spring’s POCAfest in Nashville. Community acupuncture has certainly changed me, and I feel like I can offer some unique perspectives.
We all have our individual back story to describe how we wound up practicing acupuncture and how we became Punks. I became an acupuncturist because I spent 3 years watching the miracles of the medicine while working in the office of two successful acupuncture clinics. I never had any infatuation with chinese culture, martial arts, or alternative health before that time. I fell in love with the medicine and knew I needed to do it. I was passionate about women’s health and I was enamoured with the results I saw. One of my bosses convinced me to look into acupuncture school and the rest is history.
Phase 1: Aspiring Boutiquer-– Since private practice was all I knew, I attended school fully convinced that I would do just that when I graduated. I started acupuncture school without any doubt I would have a thriving practice soon after I graduated. I was a top student, took on several mentorships outside of school, and took all of the steps I could think of to prepare myself to become a business owner. I was inspired by all of the theory I learned and couldn’t wait to go out in the world to help all of the people in need. Specifically I was drawn to the idea of treating trauma and addiction in a non-intrusive way like auricular. I heard a little bit about CA while I was in school- mostly it was discussed as an alternative business model that could allow us to be more successful in saturated areas. I hadn’t really entertained the idea of practicing that way until I signed up for a community clinic in school, treating the local homeless population. I was hooked.
Two of my siblings have been in and out of homelessness for over a decade, and my shifts at clinic turned into a therapeutic exercise in which I was able to help the people in front of me during a time when I was powerless to help members of my own family.
Phase 2: Aspiring Hybrid — After working at the homeless clinic I was convinced that I wanted to treat in a community setting. I still had a strong interest in women’s health, and I spoke with a mentor whom I respect. She told me emphatically that “one cannot treat pregnant women without using back shu points,” so I decided right then and there to become a hybrid practitioner. It was my goal to graduate and practice 50% as a fertility specialist and 50% as a community acupuncturist. I couldn’t wrap my head around the insanity of running a hybrid clinic so I decided to practice 2 ways in 2 locations.I did exactly that. Within 3 months of graduation I had a private practice located in the Ob/Gyn department of a hospital, and I spent half of the week punking at a POCA clinic in a nearby town.
Phase 3: Split Personality– Working at two different practices and charging 2 different rates caused me to start feeling like I was living a double life. My hospital job looked great on paper, and I loved treating women’s health issues more than anything. Doctors were referring their patients and family members to me, and I felt really important. But I also felt a little bit like a fraud. It had nothing to do with “not knowing my worth” and a whole lot more to do with being a single mom from a working-class family. People who could afford my rates were people who hired housekeepers to clean their homes. People who needed me the most could barely afford me, and I was sending them 45 minutes away to the community clinic so that they could stick to their treatment plans.
When I worked at my CA job, I was surrounded by my “tribe.” Teachers, stay-at-home moms, construction workers, and chefs. I found myself feeling more emotionally satisfied after working with people I could relate to, and I found myself doing a lot of posturing at my other job.
I dressed differently. When I worked at my hospital job I would make a point to dress very professionally because I knew that I was going to be looked at as a “doctor” and I wanted to be taken seriously. One day I caught myself describing my two wardrobes to a friend, saying “they pay me more money at this office so I want to dress the part.”
I gave the same treatments. Not at first, because I was new and insecure and overthinking everything. But by the end of a few months of punking I realized that I had mostly stopped using cupping or moxa at my hospital job, and was treating most people with the exact same points I used in a community clinic. I was needling just as quickly and spending less time talking, and my patients were just as happy and got just as good of results.
I was treating 2-3x more patients every week that I worked at the community clinic. I was exposed to far more conditions and became a lot more confident about my treatment outcomes. I was able to watch people progress in a way that was entirely impossible in my private practice. Punking was making me a better acupuncturist because of the intensity, the variety, and the frequency of my interactions with patients. I was finally starting to realize that experience of treating people was more valuable than all of the reading and theorizing I had been caught up in. Theory was the ember but experience was the oxygen for my fire.
Phase 4: Punk– I was feeling more and more compelled to quit my private practice and spent several months weighing the pros and cons. It looked so good on paper! My schedule was always full and I was often overflowing into additional rooms. Weren’t hospital jobs the ultimate goal of most acupuncturists? Was I completely obnoxious to throw away something like that, not to mention the earning potential and “settle” for being a punk. How could I justify in my head what my heart kept telling me? Was it worth it to be a full-time punk? Long story short, the answer was yes. I know this because my happiness increased 400% when I made the decision. Ironically, a huge opportunity presented itself once I decided to punk full-time. I had an opportunity to relocate to Portland at the exact moment that WCA had an opening. If there is such a thing as destiny this sure as hell felt like it.
Phase 5: POCA Punk– Although I was familiar with CA, I didn’t hear about POCA until my practice management class during my final semester at school. The only reason I worked at a POCA clinic in the first place was because they were hiring, and I didn’t even read Noodles after I started that job. Although I was a POCA member, I honestly didn’t understand the relevance of belonging to POCA and viewed all community clinics as “basically trying to do the same thing.” I was just stoked to read the forums and read Lisa’s blog posts.
Now that I have several years of hindsight, I fully realize the difference. POCA clinics seemed to thrive on each other’s wisdom. They have a desire to keep things consistent and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. Most clinics center their decisions around how to be accessible to patients and how to support each other as punks. That is a pretty obvious contrast to basically running a multi-room boutique practice without the walls. We are compelled to work in this model because it feels right and just and fair. Not because we are looking for some type of marketing advantage.
How has CA changed me? I feel like it has helped me to become a more authentic practitioner. I have learned how to be Cera the Punk instead of trying to be some esoteric master I was told to aspire to. I’ve noticed that I have become a lot less pushy/controlling/opinionated with people because I am better able to meet them where they are at. But most importantly I feel like a member of a very solid team, a team that shares the emotional labor of the work we do.