On Acu-education gaps and POCATech grads

 

 

That big question came up at the CA 101 workshop in Toronto earlier this fall. I now know of four community acupuncture clinic owners who are looking to hire an acupuncturist. Some of these are salaried jobs. Three of them I have met personally, and I would sign on with any of them, in a heartbeat, if their clinic was in Guelph. It’s not as if there is a dearth of underemployed acupuncturists out there. So why, oh why, is it so hard for CA clinics to find staff?

The biggest and most obvious reason, in the U.S., is the massive student debt load borne by acupuncture grads. I can readily understand a reluctance to take a modestly paying CA gig when one owes $100,000. Student debt load is lighter in Canada as acu-school is not as expensive, but there aren’t that many community acupuncture clinics in Canada. Why is that? The classism and elitism in the acuprofession and in acu-schools are factors, for sure, and the state of public health care is very different in Canada, but I’m not going to dig into any of that right now. Today I’m interested in the fresh-out-of-school misconceptions that most of us have about what is possible in a community acupuncture setting.

For those who are willing to give up the lab coat & the prestige we’re so often taught that we’re entitled to in acu-school (I do know that not everyone has the same experience of acu-school) for those who are drawn to the idea of affordable acupuncture, and who want to treat folks of ordinary means, what’s blocking them?

I had a chat with a recent grad earlier this fall who’s very curious about CA, and I was reminded of the questions and concerns I had when I first heard about CA. As I recall, I was immediately intrigued, but not at all convinced. Here’s what was nagging at me, less than three years ago:

But can you treat back pain without needling into backs?

Can I just say that I’m still annoyed that I didn’t learn effective distal needling and basic imaging theory until years after I’d paid for my acupuncture diploma? The question of whether distal treatments are more effective than local needling is a controversial one; I’ll just say “Don’t spank the crying baby” and add that I’m convinced that if acupuncturists graduated with the skills to give effective meridian style treatments, we’d have more grads wanting CA jobs.

The answer to the above question is an yes, emphatically, and unreservedly, YES.

Don’t you miss connecting more with your patients?

This is, I think, a totally fair question. Even if you were ok with the idea of giving treatments instead of advice (as Andy Wegman says in his excellent post) I can understand why you’d wonder if you could get enough information and rapport with a patient in just a coupla minutes. Trust me on this: you can. You can connect deeply with your patients in a CA setting, for dozens of reasons. Whispering cuts through small talk. I’ve not done specific research on this, but I strongly suspect that someone’s more likely to confide something poignant and real in a whispered conversation. The community qi creates a sense of safety in the room which makes for more genuine connection. You see your patients more consistently and more often. You learn each other’s body language. So much of human communication is beyond words – I’ve never been more aware of that than when I’m at work in the clinic, and working in a room full of dozing people is one of the most richly-connected-with-other-humans I’ve ever felt.

So no, I don’t miss those long conversations, I really don’t.

Don’t you burn out, treating so many people?

The phenomenon of the energy vampire is familiar to most healers. I can’t count the number of times I have set needles for someone and then rolled away, happily aware that in a private acupuncture setting I might have experienced them as pretty draining (not because there’s anything wrong or bad about them, but because sometimes people come to healthcare practitioners with unrealistic demands or expectations, or, just plain inappropriate boundaries) but in the CA treatment room they’re just another patient. Perhaps someone I have to be slightly firmer with (“No, those are all the needles I’m giving you today, you don’t need any more”) but easy enough to care for, in a group setting. As a practitioner, I am deeply appreciative of the implicit and explicit expectation that people behave in the treatment room in a way that allows the space to work for everyone.

I'll add here that maybe it’s just because I did burn out so spectacularly in acu-school that I was over the moon to find out about the supportive environment created by community qi, but man oh man, I’m also convinced that if more acu-grads knew about community qi, about the collective energy field generated by folks having acupuncture in the same room together, we’d have less staffing problems. Picture your most challenging patient ever. Then imagine that they’re one of many patients in the room, that you don’t have to hold the space for them, because the whole room is holding an expansive  space of calm for them, and for you. Doesn’t that seem easier??

No, community acupuncture is not a cause but a cure for healer-burnout, in my opinion, and this is reason enough that I will never, ever go back to being a one-patient-per-hour acupuncturist. Even if all barriers to health care are demolished in my lifetime and anyone can have any kind of acupuncture they want, I’ll still be treating folks in groups.

...You know what makes me really, really happy? Being secure in the knowledge that sometime (hopefully sometime soon!) there will be at least ONE acupuncture school turning out acupuncturists who learn the answers to the above questions, before graduation.

What do you hope POCATech will teach acupuncturists-to-be?

This story was posted on November 26 2012 by Lisa B..

Comments

  • November 26 2012 at 9:44 PM
    david villanueva writes:

    Good blog, Lisa B.

    Re the issue of burn-out with treating in a group setting: what’s actually draining are the long, “exhaustive”, seemingly endless intakes acup. students are taught to do in school. After 1 if these, one wants to just take a 1/2 hour break.

    Using Dr. Tan’s Acup. 1,2,3 method, all we need to know in order to treat most people is learned in ~5 minutes.
    Simple, effective, and not draining.

      0 likes
  • November 26 2012 at 9:47 PM
    monkeyacupunk writes:

    “Don’t you miss connecting more with your patients?”

    I just got this, all in 50 minutes:
      Pat 1: 10th month of her husband’s brain tumor - he’s paralyzed, can’t speak, angry and disoriented.  She crawls into his Hospice bed. She got a hug on arrival, she’ll get a hug when she leaves.
      Pat 2: Surviving inner city life and death - little brother’s a drug addict, Mom is too, had more friends shot dead than she can count. We both cried.
      Pat 3: Her MD went over her most recent lung scan - that cancer from 2 years ago, it’s all SO MUCH BETTER in there, “Keep up what you’re doing!”  We high fived, more than once.
      Pat 4: Just quit her job, waited 13 months to do that.  Biggest lesson she learned: unconditional love. I thanked her for the reminder and she knew I meant it.
      Pat 5: Knee and ankle pain GONE, first time in years. Each of us amazed, in our very own ways.

    It’s a beautiful thing to do big work as a small person.  I wish POCA Tech could teach folks how to be present, how to listen, how to be both humble and proud in all the right places.  And, I think we can.

      13 likes
  • November 27 2012 at 11:01 AM
    Lisa B. writes:

    “It’s a beautiful thing to do big work as a small person.” Well put. Thank you.

      7 likes
  • November 28 2012 at 11:00 PM
    crismonteiro writes:

    I’ve never felt inspired to” give back” to my acupuncture school as an alum, so it thrills me to imagine cohorts of happy POCA Tech grads, working, doing work they love, with skills and tools they learned in acupuncture school…and how they will carry POCA, its mission, and POCATech forward through time.

      6 likes
    • monkeyacupunk
    • sizzlek
    • DeanaC
    • Spartacus
    • estermarie
  • November 29 2012 at 2:09 PM
    MMDobson writes:

    @Cris - POCATech as a third place?

      2 likes

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