*Tri-State Alumni Survey 2010; or Gathering Deceptive Data 101


I just received a survey from my Alma Mater, Tri-State College of Acupuncture and want to share portions of it here for a couple of reasons.First, it’s been a while and I need to blog lest the blog-goddess smites me.Second, it is commonly known that if one wants to prove a particular position or paint a biased picture, a survey is a great way to go about doing that.In both the questions asked and answers available, as well as whom one decides to poll, survey results can be easily manipulated to convey the picture that the pollsters are trying to paint.We saw this done with the AAAOM FPD survey that I wrote about not too long ago.

Now that the Department of Education is looking closely at for profit schools like Tri-State on issues such as gainful employment for graduates and title IV funding, it would be in Tri-States best interest to at least appear to be bothering to track graduate success.This is the first survey of its kind that I have received in the 3 years since my graduation.And as we shall see, this survey is a slippery one.

So, here it is, courtesy of Survey Monkey, a likely source for gathering biased and unreliable results for any population!And again, I am grateful for the hard and reliable data that a self-professed professional leader within the profession can deliver.Thanks, Tri-State!

1.Year of Graduation

Not that exciting.

2.*Do you currently practice acupuncture?



So this question roused my curiosity because of the asterisk.What’s that all about?But this was the last question on this page of the survey and there was no asterisk explanation to be found.Oh, the suspense!

3.In which states are you licensed to practice acupuncture? Not that exciting.

4.When I graduated from Tri-State I felt confident in my knowledge and skills.

a.Strongly agree




e.Strongly Disagree.

For this one I selected ”Neutral”.Here’s why.While I felt confident in my needling skills, namely, the ability to safely insert a needle into another human being, I felt completely unable to practice community acupuncture.I knew that after spending three years and tens of thousands of dollars there, that I was almost entirely unable to do what a high-volume, low-cost model requires in regards to intake, treatment planning, treatment strategy and style, effective communication skills in a high-volume practice setting, working with a non-homogenous, diverse population base, practice building from scratch and the maintenance of common business tasks such as basic accounting, marketing, etc.I guess “Neutral” was a gift of an answer.

In being unprepared for what is now the daily reality of my work life, I had to seek sources of information that could prepare me for a chance to succeed in practice.Enter CAN and WCA.Between the WCA workshop I attended immediately prior to opening TCA and the materials and conversations on CAN, I was ready to hit the ground running in practice, and not just hit the ground, a creeping sensation that became stronger the closer that my impending graduation from Tri-State in 2007 became prior to my discovery of CAN and WCA.

CAN gives new and old practitioners a chance to succeed in actually delivering an acupuncture treatment to a real person and all the associated tasks involved from interpersonal interactions as well as business skillz required in the CAN and WCA community acupuncture model, that is.Not “community style acupuncture”, whatever a person would like to define that as for themselves, but community acupuncture as we define it here on the CAN LOC.And through CAN, I found my way to Richard Tan and his presentation of how to use acupuncture theory safely, effectively and efficiently in a high-volume clinical setting right now.Tan doesn’t burden himself with things like class and race and such but for what it’s worth, I and my partner Keith were able to see 35 people each in just a few hours at our grand opening with no appointments, grounded with the assurances that his systems had to offer.That and good ole Miriam Lee, of course.And while I no longer practice Tan’s style exclusively I can say that I absolutely needed his stuff to get started just as I absolutely needed CAN and WCA.Having these resources gave me exponentially more confidence in my knowledge and skills relative to tangible clinical and human needs, not theoretical hamster wheels.

Granted, Tri-State doesn’t pretend to be preparing graduates for community acupuncture.However, the way they phrase their questions regarding income later in the survey makes me think that they are afraid that they aren’t preparing their people to succeed in boutique acupuncture practice either.

5.My Tri-State education prepared me to treat the disorders I most commonly see.

a.Strongly agree




e.Strongly Disagree.

Again, I answered “Neutral” and again I was too easy on them.Upon graduation I felt prepared to do an elaborate, time consuming, super-hands-on palpation oriented treatment on hypothetical people in a hypothetical situation.But Tri-State is quite typical of AOM schools in that while they claim to be teaching a holistic medical system (“the medicine” shudder), they are actually some of the worst peddlers of a reductionistic model of health care that I can think of, made all the more humorous by “the professions” constant attempts at differentiating itself from the monsters of western medical care while simultaneously begging for their acceptance (them and insurance companies, of course).You see, the person that comes into TCA with lower back pain is not just exhibiting lower back pain.And I am not talking about the holy trinity of mind, body, spirit crap distinctions.I mean to say that the disorders that I most commonly see are inextricably connected to a persons class, race, gender, sexuality, ability and the access to health care that these factors impact.A Hispanic nanny that is undocumented and speaks limited English has an entirely different “disorder” than her middle aged white employers with the same physical symptoms.And in no way whatsoever did my Tri-State education prepare me to confront or even make sense of the different burdens facing these two types of people or how to effectively communicate with, formulate a treatment plan for and deliver care in a way that is not only respectful, heard and acted upon, but also effective.

And so again, it was not my expensive education that prepared me to treat the full spectrum disorders that I most commonly see day in and day out in clinic, but CAN.CAN enabled our clinic to go ludicrous speed because it prepared me and my partners for practicing acupuncture, talking to people and running a business in the reality of the 21stcentury, with all its inequities and oppressions.

6.*Do you maintain a private practice?

There’s that asterisk again.WTF?!

7.Where do you practice?

Not too exciting.

At long last, patient reader, finally the meaning of the Tri-State Survey Monkey asterisk is revealed!!On the fourth page of the survey we see the following:

“NOTE:In the following questions your “ACUPUNCTURE PRACTICE” includes your private practice as well as any AOM college teaching, clinical supervision, CEU teaching or AOM publications from which you derive income.”

Holy effing crap! Here is what is crazy about their definition of “acupuncture practice”.In the first asterisk question “*Do you currently practice acupuncture?” even if one is not seeing a single patient, but is supervising clinical point location at Tri-State to first year students for three hours a week, they have an acupuncture practice.Patients are optional in practicing acupuncture according to the Tri-State College of Acupuncture.

The second question with the asterisk “*Do you maintain a private practice?’ serves to differentiate “acupuncture practice” from “private practice”.A private practice means you actually see patients.An acupuncture practice is a bit more inclusive.Again, patients are optional in an acupuncture practice.Those low paying teaching gigs at Tri-State that new grads are eager to accept would constitute an acupuncture practice.In fact, while I was there, I was told that you do not make a dime your first year as a clinical assistant.The second year you make $100 for three hours if memory serves.Third year, can’t remember.But I have made three times that on a good dinner shift at some restaurants in about the same amount of time.Bartending?Fuhgetaboutit.

But what I find most appalling about this definition is how it ties into the next question.

8.*Is your acupuncture practice full-time or part-time?

So, you can claim to have a full time acupuncture practice if you are cobbling together hours of “work” that doesn’t necessarily pay you very much at all.You can be patching together clinical assistant supervisor shifts at Tri-State and renting space at two different offices across town seeing maybe 8-10 people a week but logging in twice that in hours to work the phones and market yourself and such.You may not be paying your rent.However, according to Tri-State you are in the midst of a bustling acupuncture practice, even if your private practice is not cutting it, you have to work four nights a week at your part-time job to make ends meet, and you are paid very little for your efforts to remain active in the profession by catching on with the school you recently graduated from, thank you very much.

Where I come from, working full-time means you make a living and put food on the table.In actuality, it means you contribute to a home economy that achieves this end.Work is sacred, not necessarily in the work itself, but in its function of providing a person and/or family with the basic requirement for happiness: security.Working full time does not mean that you are working untold hours all over the place and barely have anything to show for it, particularly when the privilege of engaging in the work put you in a great deal of debt.With this, Tri-State comes off as crafting a deceptive survey with the goal of creating the illusion that graduates are happily working full time in their “acupuncture practice”, when in fact they may not be achieving the most basic result of all work, namely security. This is an insult to work and workers and an obvious attempt to put the proverbial pig in a party dress, engineering an outcome for the survey that will create a lot of busy acupuncture practices even when money isn’t being made and bills aren’t being paid.And again, it is not even necessary for a graduate to see patients to have a full-time acupuncture practice as defined by Tri-State.

Current Tri-State students might want to write a “reflective acupuncture practitioner” paper about this:nowhere in the survey I got did Tri-State find it worth asking what a graduate earned in their private practice, gross or netIt was either not worth asking or they didn’t want to know the answer.More likely, they didn’t want you to know or me either.Perhaps some of you don’t want to set foot in Tri-State ever again after graduation to “teach”, don’t plan to hit the CEU circuit and don’t plan on earning any income from an AOM publication (the very notion that anyone makes money writing for AOM publications is hysterical).Maybe you just want to help people with acupuncture and earn a living doing that and that alone.Isn’t that what you got into this for in the first place?Well, Tri-State doesn’t care to inquire about income figures or job hour status for your type (unreliable as that data would be anyway).

It is this type of deception by schools that we are always pointing out on CAN.Tri-State is clearly skewing the results of this survey.This is spin at its most base and it makes clear that the only point of this survey is to make it appear as if Tri-State is producing a product that justifies its relentless consumption of title IV student loan funds, that Tri-State can justify its very existence.Because if they can’t clearly prove that their product has any positive contribution to the economy when they gobble, gobble, gobble student loan money, publicly derived money through taxes, then they have no point in existing other than to continue to gobble, gobble, gobble.Or at least that is how I see it.

9.Before taxes and expenses, what was your gross income from your acupuncture practice.

a.$29,999 or less



d.$90,ooo or more

Let it be said that the survey doesn’t ask for net income later on.In other words, the survey doesn’t ask for reality.Again, they are trying to present a particular image of their product.A deceptive image, that is.However, trying to gather gross income figures rather than net is slippery but to be expected from this gang.The NCCAOM JTA asked for gross as well.But, “before expenses”?!For real?TCA stands to gross more than $200k this year.Am I to check the box for the 90K or more when in actuality I personally gross 39K or so after the taxes and expenses that my clinic incurs?Our operating expenses include small things like payroll for 6 people, rent, utilities, supplies…you know, the cost of doing business or again, reality.For Tri-State to ask for my 2009 gross income before taxes and expenses comes off as blatant data manipulation.As my co-worker Josh/Chaitime commented after reading the Tri-State survey, there is no way that you can possibly write the survey without knowing that you will be deceiving the people that you present the information to.Which in this case will likely include potential students.

10.How satisfied are you with your income from youracupuncture practice?

a.Very satisfied

b.Somewhat satisfied


While I myself am very satisfied with my income from my “acupuncture practice”, void as it is of CEU lectures and royalties from Blue Poppy Press, I am thinking that my fellow alum’s will be leaning toward the “Somewhat satisfied” to “Unsatisfied” categories.

11.*Do you have other sources of income other than your acupuncture practice?



This asterisk serves as a friendly reminder that the whopping 2K you might have made baby-sitting first years at Tri-State as they made their first clumsy advances on the Bladder channel and the like needs to be figured into your “acupuncture practice”.Every dollar counts when you’re engaging in perception management/deceptive data gathering as the writers of this survey clearly did.

OK, that’s it.The rest of the survey asks questions regarding how many patients you see, fee schedules, whether one has ever taught AOM and if one has been published for AOM related work…boring.And unfortunately, there was not an option to write in general comments at the end.I probably would have written away my angst there.On the upside, I got to post it here.

However, I hope that you have enjoyed peeking in on the way that the school that may be driving the first-professional doctorate the hardest is engaging in deceptive data gathering in order to paint as rosy a picture as possible of their alumni.I find it shameful and embarrassing to be associated with a school that would so obviously try to lie about how their graduates are actually doing when this data might actually be taken seriously by a prospective student.Perhaps being trusting is not employing “due diligence” when vetting a career path and a potential school.And in truth, trust is the factor most exploited by predators of all stripes.And when you craft a survey like this one that is exactly what you are: a predator.And your prey isn’t necessarily the student.No, just as tobacco companies see cigarettes as vehicles for nicotine delivery and subsequent addiction, acupuncture students are merely a vehicle for the real happy meal: title IV student loans.

Gobble gobble.



Author: LarryG

CA punk for 12 years. AZ License #600

Related Articles

Survey of CAN clinics

Skeptics in the acupuncture community say that CA clinics can’t be successful.  A variety of reasons are cited – prices too low, patients want one-on-one attention and wouldn’t like treatments in a room with other people, Dr.


  1. “most literature students do not become writers”



    Unfortunately this is what my favorite teacher said to me over lunch one afternoon as I was explaining the push to get the Dept of Ed to investigate acupuncture schools.  While her point is true, it’s a lousy point.  Yes, most English majors do not write the great american novel or go on the get jobs at The New Yorker.  An English degree provides a foundation to go on and fulfill a number of other jobs.  Acupuncture is a specialization.  English majors who go onto Acupuncture school are qualified to be acupuncturists and whatever else they were doing before they went to acupuncture school.

     Are you planning on sending your critique to your school?  I hope you do.  My school is now a memory and I will never have the opportunity to fill out a bogus survey.  I say let ’em have it.

     ELizabeth at MAS 

  2. dang

    I *just* completed ACTCM’s alum survey two days ago, and I already forgot most of the questions.  I have to give them some credit: they did better than this.  They asked about net income (and started at 20K, not 29K); they asked about how many hours in your practice were spent doing various activities (e.g. hours spent in actual patient contact/needling, hours spent doing admin, hours spent doing marketing); and they differentiated acupuncture practice from other “acupuncture business model” activities (speaking of, this is such a great post to follow Lisa’s last one).  There was also a question about what kind of practice you had, with community acupuncture as an option.  But there were some things that were odd/sad to me, like how many options there were for specialization (and no box for “general practitioner”), and how many options there were to be doing some acupuncture-related activity (teaching, writing etc.).  Maybe David can chime in on what he remembers about it…

  3. 17. At what speed did your clinic grow?

    a. what clinic?

    b. it has not grown 

    c. molasses in January

    d. lowrider

    e. trot

    f. gallop 

    g. ludicrous

    h. warp 9.9

  4. i. I’m too busy writing text books to practice

    I have ACTCM’s survey here in front of me, and thought it a notable event since I don’t recall being surveyed by my alma mater in so much detail during the past 12 years–a little Title IV fire I suppose.

    ACTCM’s survey appears to have a lot less bias and the survey actually distinguishes between 2 sections one for those in active practice, and those not–no asterisks.

     In the section that asks about how much education related loans you have, they also ask if you have ever donated to the school, and why?

     What I am wondering is how reliable these school surveys will be since I suspect those not practicing will not be as likely to respond.  In fact if I spent all that tuition on a career that never paid off my loans, let alone paid my bills, I wouldn’t respond, I’d despond. 


  5. My favorite question was

    My favorite question was “have you ever made a donation to ACTCM as an alumni, if not why?”

    My reply was “No. I run a successful clinic that offers approximately 1,000 treatments a month, and everything I learned to start up was from CAN and Richard Tan.  They have never asked me to make a continuing donation.  The next time I recieve a donation request from ACTCM, I am tempted to send my money to Tan and CAN.”

    The Hammer from SF

  6. schools have big dreams too…

    they’re called endowment funds.  however the catch-22 (at least for most universities) is that these usually come from previous students who make it big and then donate big to their alma mater, or other outside big donors, who are harder and harder to come by today.

  7. “Are you planning on sending your critique to your school?”

    No I am not, Elizabeth.  However, I imagine that it will find its way there through hook or crook.




  8. Here would be my donation…

    There is a website that has custom toilet paper. I would have the MCOM diploma printed on the toilet paper and have it sent to the president as an in-kind contribution.