The Clinic Isn’t Ours Any More

so, yeah, the New Year's eve “look back, look forward” has finally hit for me. I have a lot to be thankful for. I'm humbled and motivated by what's happened and is on the horizon for my life and work, my clinic and CAN/POCA. The thing that's been slowly brewing this year is this: the clinic is no longer “mine.” It no longer belongs to Kelly and me, despite the heart-blood we've poured into it. It's been building for a while and it feels like it's  rounding a corner. The clinic “We the People Community Acupuncture” now belongs to our community.

I remember Skip and Lisa telling us about this and that it was the direction we needed to keep moving toward. That it's important for the clinic to get sustainable, on its own, without us, really. That is the best way it will get to stay around and be valuable to the community it serves.  And for us to have our dream job in a kick-ass workplace. And we believed them without really understanding–it is where a lot of that business or acu school conditioning gets challenged: it's not going to be “MY practice” at all. The move must be beyond any of us striving to have faith in the specific practitioner, to having faith in acupuncture itself– that process of patients coming back to themselves. It's got to be “OUR” clinic. And the reliability and portability of this is what makes the network work so well–it's all of “OUR” clinics: “Yes! go see the folks in California or Detoit or DC, it'll be great!”

And I'm not sure we were prepared for the feeling of it actually happening, the astonishing joyous freedom of it. What does this shift mean, exactly? It means we know it is bigger than us; that our little branch of the CA tree that could remain and thrive without us. And this is a delightful, humbling, heart-blasting good thing. The clinic is more a reflection of its members as they bring in their ideas, support, questions, their friends, their requests, their families, community groups. We all get to feel more right sized.

People care about the clinic and ask us all the time: “how are we doing?” They get excited when it is busy, they promise to keep spreading the word. They say “love” a lot when they talk about how they feel here. We created a little “living room” out front, and they stay and have tea and laugh with us. There's a lot of hugging going on. They volunteer and answer the phones and we overhear them saying: “well, here's how WE do it here…” “when you come, WE can help you with that.” And our hearts leap.

POCA volunteers say they just like the time they spend here, they like being part of something. Community members help us build and make things (physical and not). They bring things to improve the clinic : tea dispensers, furniture, artwork, pillows, humidifiers, office supplies, connections to their networks, THEIR LOVED ONES.  The intake paperwork asks how people find us and they say over and over: friend, patient, family, “at a party”  (people talk about the clinic at parties!!)

We held a doumentary screening and 44 people came on a cold winter's night, half of them total strangers, the rest current patients. There was a lot of “aha! I get it now. I want to be part of this, how can I be more involved?” going around the room. (clinic owners: do a screening. Let your community see you and themselves through these stories. You will be delighted and inspired at what happens)

People say they need this place to be around for them. They come to the clinic for the usual health complaints but also when they just want to “stay tuned up,” or keep celebrating health and life milestones. They also come more and more when they need a safe place: from shattering trauma, after losing a job or marriage, right after they get a life-changing diagnosis, directly from or on the way to a funeral, to create an anchor  when they first move to town. So knowing that the clinic has a life beyond us that will sustain this sanctuary feels like a VERY good thing.  The more we practice this way, the more minutely focused we become on how every decision is about what's best for the patients–these real people we have come to know, who have believed what we've told them about how acupuncture can help and who've made the clinic their own. Any residual acu school programming about designing a practice that is what we “should” want for ourselves? THIS is what we want. This is what works for our community, and therefore for us. I think it's one of the best things about CA: it creates an opportunity for you to listen to what your community needs and get together to make it.

I'm sure none of this sounds all that remarkable to any of you that are part of CA clinics all over the country that have made and are making this turn, but today I just need to say it all out loud, with gratitude. There is nothing better than losing your clinic to your community. They will use it well, and celebrate it, care for it, and keep it alive and growing. Happy New Year! Happy new clinics, CA punks, patients and communities. May many more clinics be lost into your hearts!

Author: melissa

Found community acupuncture in my last year of acupuncture school and it was like cool water on the dry desert of aculand. It addressed all those nagging questions of how to make acupuncture accessible and inviting to people like me, in my own communities as well as actually make a living and I knew I would practice this way for the rest of my life. I have learned more (about acupuncture, about people and community, about myself) in the past few years of running a CA clinic and being an acupunk at another BDC clinic than ever before. It's one of my all-time favorite places to be. I am eternally grateful to this community for its welcoming support, its passionate determination and its irreverence for useless sacred cows. I look forward to our continued work in supporting community acupuncture clinics worldwide!

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