Surveying the scene, there are some great folks putting information out there for acupuncturists who may not have much business acumen. And let’s be honest – that’s a lot of us! Most of us started out in this profession because we love helping people, and we are intrigued by the medicine itself. Many students aren’t even fully aware they’ll likely be full time entrepreneurs upon graduation!
(Yes, yes, there are increasing numbers of jobs available – but an average acupuncture student cannot rely on that being the case. Nor that the job they get will be one worth keeping)
The anxiety acupuncturists have usually comes down to finding, and keeping, patients.
That makes sense. Patients are the lifeblood of any acupuncture practice. Most folks see “marketing” as the primary way to get patients – where that term usually refers to the kind of active, often creative, efforts to get the word out over digital and analog channels. Websites, for example. Brochures, business cards, speaking engagements, social media. That sort of thing.
It makes sense, then, that much of the educational material to help acupuncturists focuses on marketing as such.
But, in my experience, for many – it’s just not enough.
Why? It’s likely not the quality of the materials themselves. I’ve been very impressed with what’s come on the scene in the last 3-4 years. It’s likely not that the people consuming the materials aren’t good enough, or fail to implement the strategies they learn. Acupuncturists, in my experience, are an intelligent, hard working and quick learning bunch. So, why?
The answer isn’t simple, and I’m sorry about that. It starts with the relative complexity of acupuncture practice.
Our medicine is complex, right? We learn all the normal stuff – anatomy, physiology, both biomedical and classical, points, herbs, formulas. Depending on where you go to school, you also learn Chinese culture, classical Chinese reading comprehension, cosmology and symbolism, translation, mental health principles, how to run a Chinese herbal medicinary… need I go on? And that’s before we start talking about the professional realm.
Running a medical practice is, naturally, equally complex!
I’ll not list off all the various areas you have to at least know the basics about here, but there’s quite a bit to know. While you don’t need to know everything in perfect clarity, and depending on your situation some things may be taken care of for you, it’s still a bewildering array of factors that go into running and practicing in a Chinese medicine clinic. And, hey, you should also maintain some semblance of balance in your life as well, right? That’s a lot.
Unfortunately, the formal education in these topics is woefully lacking in acupuncture educational programs. There are some that make an attempt, and plenty of us pick things up from our teachers as we go along. But there’s not much effort to systematically put the type of focus on running an acupuncture practice that students so desperately need.
If any one of these factors is seriously deficient you’re going to suffer. And all the marketing in the world isn’t going to help you if you can’t keep your paperwork straight, or are still struggling to understand yourself as a medical professional, or can’t figure out how to get malpractice insurance. It’s just not going to help enough to make a difference.
So – what can we as acupuncturists do? I think an answer can be found in the theories behind Chinese medicine as a system.
I’m not one to try to force every aspect of human existence into the five phases or what have you, but in this case, I think it’s useful. One of the greatest things about our Chinese medical theories is the simple explanatory power they have in so many situations. It’s a mistake to rely on this uncritically, or too much, but when we’re seeking to parse through a bewildering array of factors – CM theory excels.
If we think about the major systems in a typical business, marketing being one, as an interrelating group of forces we must balance – things start to get clearer. Say we look at marketing as a wood principle in acupuncture practice. What happens if you have a patient that comes in and they’re constantly going, going, going, pushing, pushing, pushing like that wee plant in the early spring breaking the ground on its way up? What happens when wood gets out of balance in this way?
The specifics here don’t really matter for my purposes in this article.
The point is, when we put so much of our energy in one place without reference to the co-equal aspects of the business behind it, symptoms of imbalance will be the result. Whether those imbalances come inside of ourselves (stress, anxiety, lost productivity) or outside (low patient numbers, or the wrong patients) the result is the same. Our acupuncture practice isn’t as fulfilling as it could be. Holism, and letting the fundamental theories of CM serve as part of our guidance system, can help.