There’s This Poem by Kay Ryan…Part 2

In less than 6 months, the executive directors of two major acupuncture organizations resigned without explanation — Dort Bigg of the ACAOM and Rebekah Christensen of the AAAOM. Both had held their positions for a number of years. Of course, I don’t know exactly why they quit. But since this is only a blog, I’m going to speculate freely, allude to rumors, quote unnamed sources, natter, woolgather, and finally quote some poetry, and you all are free to take it for whatever you think it’s worth.

I live in Oregon, where the official unemployment rate is over 10%, and the real rate is probably something like 25%, and we marvel when anybody quits their job. It’s amazing, we can’t imagine it. I don’t know if things are equally bad in DC and Sacramento, but even if they’re not, in this economy, if you quit your job you must have an awfully good reason. 

So let’s speculate a bit, shall we.

According to Dort Bigg’s Linked In profile, he served as Technical Advisor to Non-Federal Negotiator for specialized
accreditation during negotiated rulemaking session on Title IV —
Program Integrity, 2009-2010. Yes, that would be the very same group that proposed the new Title IV regulations linking access to federal loans to “gainful employment”.

You know what somebody said to me in an email recently? “It seems more than coincidental now that Dort Bigg abruptly resigned
his ACAOM post of 13 and a half years shortly upon returning to ACAOM
with the news that the rules just got a lot tougher for AOM schools and
that ACAOM was going to have raise its standards in a way that is sure
to put many of the AOM schools out of business.” 

Then there was that other email message I got from somebody else, or maybe it was a phone call, who heard from a friend of a friend that the AAAOM owed its executive director a lot of money. As an employer, I’m very sympathetic to the issue of making payroll, it’s just relentless the way payday keeps rolling around, week after week! However, I am happy to say I have never gotten to the point where I owed somebody thousands of hours. This aforementioned email, and me feeling endless empathy around payroll, even for the AAAOM, happened quite awhile before the director quit her job. I know because the empathy was quite memorable. So I have to think, if I were in charge of an organization’s operations, and that organization owed me a lot of money, no matter how cranky I was with them, you can bet I wouldn’t leave until they paid me — unless, being in charge of the operations and whatnot, I had reason to believe that they were never going to be able to pay me at all. At which point I just might cut my losses. Hey, does this remind anybody else of a story they’ve heard before? The one about when the old AOM Alliance merged with the AAOM to become the AAAOM, how part of what prompted the merger was that the Alliance got really, really behind on their payroll, and finally their executive director quit?

Now let’s woolgather and ruminate a bit. Say there was a profession — or maybe it wasn’t exactly a profession, because it isn’t even listed in the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Occupational Directory — and most of its members were so underemployed that they got out of it in less than 5 years. The only way this profession could sort of maintain itself was by continually churning out new members. So what the profession consisted of, really, was not people practicing, but people being churned out, until the churning itself became the most important activity of the “profession”.  And say that what funded the churning was borrowed money. What would happen if the source of the borrowed money disappeared?

Here’s the poem!

The Niagara River

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and 
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice—as
calmly as though
dining room paintings 
were being replaced—
the changing scenes 
along the shore. We
do know, we do 
know this is the
Niagara River, but 
it is hard to remember
what that means.
From The Niagara River by Kay Ryan, published by Grove Press.
Copyright © 2005 by Kay Ryan 

Granted, this poem could be about a lot of things, including what my post-before-last was about. But right now, it sounds to me like it’s about the acupuncture profession. We never did the hard stuff, like workforce surveys; we never buckled down and figured out the nuts and bolts of the economics of our profession. We drifted along. We didn’t pay attention to what the floor was made of (student loans), we just kept rearranging the furniture (Master’s degree, DAOM, first professional doctorate anyone?). 

Everybody hear that? As somebody said in a movie, The Matrix I think: “That is the sound of inevitability.” I think the two former executive directors might have heard it.

The future of our profession is going to look nothing like its recent past. Are you ready, comrades?

Author: lisafer

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  1. Here in Washington (state)

    the new furniture is called EAMP (East Asian Medicine Practitioner) or something like that. As far as I can tell (and I freely admit, I haven’t been paying close attention) that’s mostly what our state organization has been busy as a beehive working on for years – and recently, the legislature granted them their crumbs of cake.

  2. Since it is clear that the profession really has

    nothing in the form of true institutionalization, it may be to our profession’s advantage, in the end.  We will just have to see out of the dregs what talent will emerge who will work towards ensuring the longevity of acupuncture in the U.S.  Once the rules are in place to blow the whistle on our incompetent school system, maybe acupuncture professions will stop “moving the furniture” and put some real thought and action into improving our profession, including recruiting people who actually want to practice instead of just pretend to do so.

    I don’t really see any problem with developing standards and competencies.  The true reason for making people “jump through hoops” in my mind is just a way of making those who want to be in this profession to at least take it somewhat seriously.

    What seems to be even more true is that acupuncture schools are as reflective of the situation in our overly structured, profit scheming education system in the U.S. generally.  Now that students (and the parents who are helping them) are seeing that it really is not going to be all that easy to pay off their student loans with some cushy job (no more rainbow), the whole education system has come into question by its consumers.

    I like this open source textbook concept being floated around in the business pages.  Maybe our new schools will take those into consideration.  Online courses which cover information we should all know as acupuncturists (like chronic pain for example) and then we can gather for the stuff that has to be close up and personal, like actually treating patients.

    Maybe we can have “minors” in acupuncture business adminstration for those who love acupuncture but don’t really want to be one.  We can promote business skills, management skills along with treatment skills.  Maybe we can provide shorter training courses for “acutechs” who can work in acupuncture with some structural limitations (I am leaving that as a vague phrase which can be figured out over time).  We can even develop some researchers and the money can come from the skills of the acupuncture business management types who learn to write grants and work with hospitals.

    The world of education and the world of healthcare are changing in radical ways and I think affordable acupuncture business models have a place in the future. 

    I am getting more and more queries into what it is like to go to acupuncture school from people who come from more working class backgrounds who are more brass tacks about their approach for making a living.  I encourage them to not consider anything else but community acupuncture because with a modicum of effort, it is a way for them to make a living in this profession. 

    I also emphasize that it is an entrepreneurial endeavor which takes all the requisite skills of owning your own business.  I wish it were for the more talented who just “want a job” but it’s not so.  But it can be if this profession can just figure itself and then lead the way in education reform instead of trying to conform to the education system’s lack of sustainability.

    Thanks Lisa for all your thoughtful words and for allowing this wonderful group of acupuncturists to find each other so that someone in our profession is talking coherently about all the subjects needing to be hashed out.