Why Should Students Volunteer at CA clinics?

Presently, I’m one of the volunteers at We the People Community Acu. Clinic here in SF and have been for several months.  I also work evening reception for the school acupuncture clinic where I have been a student for two years now.  I’ve been fortunate to know both models of patient care so intimately.  It’s true that each is an effective model for the delivery of medicine; and while I’m proud that our school provides affordable care to the community of Santa Fe, I think the model that they operate under is misleading to us future practitioners.  In this picture it appears that a multi-room clinic with four practitioners seeing two people every three hours is sustainable or even challenging enough keep us learning and really invested in the that dream of helping as many people as we can.  It’s not true.  For one, the school clinic’s prices are less than half the asking fee for local LAc’s.  Perhaps it isn’t a deliberate fraudulence dictated figuratively by the school’s feng shui but by placing the clinic on the second floor tells me that in order to sustain such a model you need to have an accredited, FA funded school on the first floor for support.  Of course this is an oversimplification, but there is a real concern here.

The need, the efficacy of our medicine is not an issue.  The growing popularity of CA clinics, the long and lengthening list of global outreach projects fronted by passionate LA.c’s, just to name a few,  is evidence of this.  There are some progressive acu. schools that are teaching their students to work within a CA model or at least work effectively with a larger than average number of patients in a group setting but the numbers are very few; CA still challenges the conventional values of our western systems of patient care where quality healthcare is available to those who can afford it and free healthcare is just a nuisance for all involved.  So how does a student learn the CA model outside of the pages of Noodles?  Simple: volunteer at a CA clinic.  Work the front desk, educate patients to the systems of CA, fluff chairs, pull files, sweep floors, help little old ladies put their socks back on, know who the regulars are, become the friendly face at someone’s favorite new third place.  The schools will teach us the details of our medicine, the local CA clinic will show you how to practice our medicine, to engage with our community, helping more people a week than you could have ever imagined (or maybe you did imagine helping 75 to 100 people a week, and CA is how it’s done). 

I’m excited about my future in this medicine and the people I’ve been servicing as an intern with the school and the future thousands I’ll be working with in the years to come.  That’s why I’ve written this ramble.  I also hope to encourage many more students to do the same, to become a member of POCA, obsessively devour the generosity of all these great practitioners writing on the forums and volunteer with them for as long as you can—the earlier in your schooling the better.  Not only will you be helping out our brothers and sisters in the field, helping to ensure that as many as 50 million people a year are getting acupuncture regularly (a real POCA goal), but you’re helping to make acupuncture an everyday in people’s lives.

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