Last week on January 4th, the Utah Acupuncture Licensing Board posted its agenda for an electronic meeting on the following Tuesday, January 9th. There were two discussion items on the agenda, described only as 1) Letter of Concern, and 2) Rule Change Amendment. There was no indication why any member of the public might want to attend this meeting.
The Letter of Concern and the Rule Change Amendment were posted as public notices on Tuesday after the meeting.
The Letter of Concern, directed to the NCCAOM, starts out with this paragraph: “we write to you with concern regarding a lower standard of training for qualification and entry into the AOM profession requested by POCA (People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture). Their request to lower the standard to become a Diplomat of Acupuncture or a Diplomat of Oriental Medicine causes deep concern for the ongoing quality and integrity of the profession in addition to the safety of the public.”
And the Rule Change Amendment?
It would change the requirements for acupuncture licensure in Utah by adding a new requirement: NCCAOM certification in Chinese Herbology. As Chris Rogers of Wasatch Community Acupuncture (formerly QiWorks) wrote, “this rule change would effectively shut down anyone from Utah from being able to attend POCA Tech and then practice in Utah.”
Which was — obviously — the intent of the Rule Change Amendment and the purpose of the electronic meeting.
Fortunately, Jax Rogers of Wasatch subscribes to the licensing board meeting minutes and immediately called the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL). Based on what she found out, DOPL did not receive any reports of public safety problems or adverse events regarding Chinese herbs that prompted this proposed rule change. Importantly, the DOPL representative stated that the public would be able to attend the next meeting (on February 20th) to discuss the issue, and that the public could submit written comments and concerns in advance of the meeting. Notably, he explained that DOPL's objectives are to (1) protect public safety and (2) encourage commerce.
If you don’t follow POCA Tech fairly closely, you might not know that:
1) There are currently 4 students from Utah enrolled in the program — about 10% of our student body.
2) Both POCA clinics in Salt Lake City are monthly sustaining donors of POCA Tech.
2) One of the POCA Tech students, Laura, is on track to graduate this summer. She’s been commuting to Portland for 3 years and temporarily moved here last fall to complete her internship. She has a full-time job waiting for her at Wasatch where they desperately need her (because like many POCA clinics, they’re understaffed).
Here’s a quote from the blog post that Laura wrote for our most recent POCA membership drive about her trajectory from patient to volunteer to employee of Wasatch/QiWorks:
I liked the feel of QiWorks, so I decided to help out at the front desk once a week… the biggest perk was feeling like I was a part of a community, like I was beginning to weave myself into their family-like web. I wasn’t just helping out a small business, I was getting to be a part of the healing QiWorks team. I got to interact with patients, the vast majority of them were friendly and super grateful for what QiWorks offered, and by extension, grateful to me and the role that I played at the front desk…I began trying on the idea of what my life might look life if I went to POCA Tech to become a community acupuncturist and weave myself into the POCA web further…I was drawn to a profession that offered a way to support people in social justice oriented manner, that was not only effective at easing the suffering of so many people, but that it was also outside of the typical capitalist system in some ways. I saw a future for myself in which I could earn a living by genuinely helping people and creating a large change in the world. For many years, I had felt overwhelmed by the suffering of the world, by the lack of justice, connection, and awareness, and by not knowing how to best make a difference. I felt stuck and daunted by trying to find “the right way” to apply myself to try to make a positive impact. By choosing to become tangled in the QiWorks Community Web I was healing on a personal level and was creating ties with a community that was effecting change for lots of people. Wanting to continue to deepen that feeling of connection and power to do something meaningful was what reassured me enough to dive into applying at POCA Tech. I saw what the end of the road could look like for me after graduating from acupuncture school, and diving in as a well-trained punk at QiWorks.
Does anybody else feel like they were punched in the gut, or is it just me?
POCA Tech’s mission is to recruit students from the patient populations that POCA co-op clinics serve and then train them to provide acupuncture to underserved communities through POCA. Laura’s relationship with Wasatch/QiWorks is emblematic of how our mission works. The only way for many (most?) POCA clinics to continue to care for so many people is to recruit acupuncturists from the same communities they serve. By and large, graduates from conventional acupuncture schools don’t want to work in our clinics or serve our patients.
POCA Tech’s whole purpose is to un-limit a market and provide access and choice for consumers who otherwise wouldn't have any.
An acupuncture licensing board wants to stop us from doing that. In a state with 117 acupuncturists available to serve a population of 3 million, POCA Tech graduates are explicitly unwelcome.
Who can I write to, to convey my deep concern for the quality and integrity of the acupuncture profession? Because what kind of a profession would do something like this, retaliate against a cooperative with 1200+ patient members by covertly acting to limit their school's graduates from practicing in an underserved area, thereby limiting the citizens of their own state from access to affordable healthcare? What kind of a profession would try to wipe out Laura’s and Wasatch’s investment in her education, months before she was planning to graduate?
It’s important to point out that anyone without an acupuncture license—anyone at all–can buy, sell, and distribute Chinese herbs. In fact, they are sold in numerous Asian grocery stores as well as just down the street from Wasatch at a vitamin shop. The only function of requiring NCCAOM certification in Chinese herbology for an acupuncture license is to limit who can practice acupuncture in a state. Certification, being used as a weapon.
I guess I’m naive. When we published our position paper, I expected a backlash, but I didn’t expect that anybody would try to punish POCA Tech’s students for what we wrote, or the clinics who want to hire them, or the patients who are waiting for affordable pain relief.
After all these years, acupuncture profession, you can still surprise me.
POCA members who want to participate in organizing in Utah against this proposed rule, please sign this petition and then distribute it as widely as you can. Our comrades in Utah and all the patients who depend on them need our help and they need it NOW.