Dear Dr. William Dunbar, D.N., M.B., Ph.D., L.N.C., President of MCOM:
I am shocked that three years after Lisa Rohleder first wrote about community acupuncture (CA) clinics in the publication Acupuncture Today, students at the Racine and Chicago campuses of the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM) are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of a CA clinic. I am saddened that MCOM’s students who ask for information about how to establish an affordable-group-treatment clinic are discouraged from doing so by your faculty and administration. And I am angry that information about the Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) is withheld from them. By failing to provide appropriate resources for students who wish to establish community acupuncture clinics (such as “The Remedy: Integrating Acupuncture Into American Health Care”), MCOM creates a scenario in which its graduates will not succeed.
Over 80 acupuncture clinics in the United States currently follow the model established by CAN, an organization that has served as a springboard for similar clinics in the United Kingdom, British Columbia, and Israel…but, many students at MCOM have never even heard of CAN. CAN has been covered by National Public Radio, Utne Reader, the Washington Post magazine, The Integrator Blog, television news reports, and dozens of local newspaper and radio programs nationwide…but your business management course fails to even mention CA clinics.
I understand that your business class emphasizes to students that they should never charge less for an acupuncture treatment than a massage therapist would for a rub-down, because the educational requirements for an acupuncturist are far greater than for a massage therapist…and therefore (the logic goes) acupunks warrant a higher fee. Has your business management instructor calculated that by treating 6 patients per hour, at a fee of $15 – $40 per visit, a community acupuncturist’s earning potential ranges from $90 – $240 per hour? This exceeds what a skilled massage therapist can demand in the same amount of time…and what most of your graduates currently charge.
MCOM has created a boutique-curriculum catering to the upper-middle classes of our society—with its inversely proportionate relationship between available income and potential consumers. Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson is laying-off 1,100 employees over the next two years (70% of which are expected in 2009); your community needs these services. The New York Times reported last week that over 75,000 jobs will be lost from eight major US companies. With these lay-offs, families will part with their health insurance benefits and disposable income. NPR reports that 1,000,000 Americans are currently losing their health insurance benefits every month.
Take a moment to step-away from the doctorate program, look beyond the high-cost private practice model you espouse, and listen to what is desired by your students and their patients. (Recent community clinic surveys have clearly demonstrated our patients’ appreciation of the services we offer: 1, 2.) In our current economic climate of unemployment, financial hardship, and healthcare woes, the greatest opportunity for your soon-to-be graduates lies in serving the middle and working-class segments of our society. Our communities need us to be accessible.
By not educating your students about the mechanisms of a community acupuncture clinic –such as the minimal space requirements, whether CA clinics can support the owners, whether hybrid clinics can be successful, how classism affects a community practice, etc. — you do a disservice to both your students and the communities they serve. When interested students approach your faculty or administration with questions about the CA model, it is inappropriate for MCOM to suggest that practitioners in a CA clinic will not be able to repay their student loans…while mentioning nothing of the failure rate of acupuncturists who choose the private room practices MCOM champions. (66% of boutique acupuncturists fail within 5 years, according to the University of Colorado Health Sciences…but some recent estimates push that failure-rate closer to 80%.)
Beyond the fact that community acupuncturists are making more money and achieving more successful practices than private room ‘punks, lies the single most important statistic: WE ARE HELPING MORE PEOPLE. My small practice in Frederick, Maryland was seeing 70 patients per week within six months of opening. The five-year-old Working Class Acupuncture clinic in Portland, OR sees over 400 patients per week, making it the single busiest acupuncture clinic in the nation: busier than all acupuncture-school-clinics coast-to-coast. Furthermore, CAN estimates that between 5,000 to 7,000 patients every week receive acupuncture in CA clinics across the country.
The point of our profession is to help people. CA clinics enable acupuncturists to help the most people; community acupuncturists are able to make a better financial living; and CA clinics are not only more likely to remain open, but also to employ staff and create jobs for newly graduating acupuncturists. So why are you not answering your students’ questions about how to properly run a community acupuncture clinic?
There are several MCOM alumni with active CA clinics who would love to talk with your classes about their practices: Linda Stengel and Christie Kern in Racine, and Bonnie Roads in Chicago. Linda has been repeatedly asked by the students to come and speak about her experiences, but she was told by faculty that there “wasn’t enough time” (perhaps a lunch-hour discussion for interested students would fit into the curriculum). And I have offered in two of MCOM’s alumni surveys to talk with your students about my experiences establishing and operating my CA clinic, The Turning Point…with no response from the school.
The business plan which I submitted–structured after the Community Acupuncture model–was named a winner in the Rockville Economic Business Plan Competition for Women Entrepreneurs in 2008. I was interviewed about the Community Acupuncture model on WASH-FM’s Women of Vision radio broadcast. Stories about The Turning Point have appeared locally, as well as in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Examiner, Baltimore Smart CEO magazine, Asian Fortune, and on NBC television. The media have deemed our stories worth sharing. Why are you reluctant, when MCOM’s students are so interested?
Most community acupuncturists do not believe that all clinics should follow the CA model. Not all acupuncturists will want to become community ‘punks. Many would not even be good at it. Just as there exist many different models of medical practices—community clinics, spa-like centers, insurance mills, hospital-based practices, concierge medicine—so too will acupuncturists continue to diversify and meet the varying needs of their communities. You may not like the many faces of our medicine. But to withhold valuable resources, to misrepresent the financial viability of a CA clinic, to thwart the efforts of students who yearn to treat their own socio-economic class is oppressive.
Other acupuncture colleges have begun implementing the Community Acupuncture model into their curriculum by inviting community acupuncturists to speak on campus as guests, offering small CA classes, and including “The Remedy” as required reading:
- Academy of Oriental Medicine at Austin
- Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College at Berkeley
- Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College at Tucson
- American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
- Bastyr University, Seattle
- Five Branches University, San Jose
- Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University
- New England School of Acupuncture
- Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
- Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
- Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder
- Tai Sophia
What can we do to begin that process at MCOM, where students are currently asking for CA information and from which alumni have already established successful CA clinics? How can we—as an organization, as alumni, as individual acupuncturists—help you to expand the business model discussion to include community acupuncture clinics?
I have chosen to publish this letter at www.communityacpuncturenetwork.org for public comment and discussion. Readers (such as your students) may offer feedback either anonymously or with credit. Administrators from other acupuncture colleges have participated in our Prick-Prod-Provoke dialogue…I look forward to your contribution, as well.
Sincerely, Jessica Feltz Wolfson, L.Ac.
The Turning Point, A Community Acupuncture Center ~ Frederick, MD
MCOM Graduate, Class of 2007
* * * This letter was faxed to the MCOM administration and also emailed to current MCOM students (with a link to the blog) to draw the students’ attention to CAN. While the hyperlinks may be redundant for those familiar with the CAN model, they will provide valuable new information for many students at MCOM. * * *