The Ark and the Mothership

April 19, 2011

I have been waiting for months to write this post. I wanted to attend the April 8-10 CANference in Portland and learn what the most innovative organization in the acupuncture world has been planning before writing anything more about changes taking place in the acupuncture profession. I found out the CAN folks are building an ark.

It is no longer difficult to build a persuasive case describing how the acupuncture profession has been drifting for at least a decade. Until recently, the Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) spent considerable energy trying to blow holes in the belly of that ship. The workforce papers I co-wrote provided a few torpedoes. Now CAN has shifted their energies. The perception among conventional acupuncturists and acupuncture leadership organizations has been that CAN is destructive, led by unruly amateurs who enjoy their outlaw image. Just when the heat created by CAN hit a level that began melting the eyeballs of those who would try to peer within, they have shifted direction 180 degrees. CAN is no longer interested in upending the acupuncture profession. They are re-inventing it.

Colleagues and I have written three papers about the acupuncture workforce that describe the prospects for licensed acupuncturists when it comes to earning a living wage. It is bad news for the majority of LAcs when ~40% earn less than $20,000 annually. Our most recent publication has been accepted by the American Acupuncturist

Ancient Mothership

which is the journal of the national professional organization, AAAOM. Kudos to the editor who accepted our paper that will be the first to report actual data from working LAcs. The paper summarizes responses to five different surveys completed by three different LAc groups. While the paper is not representative in methodological terms (i.e., no sampling, no random selection, no stratification, and divergent question formats), it is nevertheless the only report that has focused on acupuncture business practices and outcomes. Suffice it to say the LAcs who completed the surveys are concerned with how to survive economically; not point location, not which master you follow, not whether being a Buddhist makes a difference. Those rudders no longer guide the mothership.

 

The acupuncture profession as it has existed for three to four decades is lacking on numerous counts: national direction, unified purpose, academic integrity, economic transparency and a vacuum among practitioners who seem to care about the future of the profession. To be sure, there are a number of comparatively smaller entities that advocate higher degrees (the doctorate), integration with mainstream medicine, higher training standards, turf protection from perceived interlopers (Physical Therapy, Chiropractors), and inclusion in the healthcare reform act. However, there is neither a uniform or unifying agenda that subsumes these issues to the satisfaction of all or even a few of the established entities. The national organization, which once counted more than 3,000 members, may have few as 500 today. The profession as embodied by the AAAOM must set a new course or continue to drift until it eventually sinks or disappears on the horizon. I have to acknowledge a struggle is ongoing presently within AAAOM to reconcile differences and find meaningful purpose.

POCA Sets Sail. Lisa Rohleder, co-owner with partner Skip Van Meter of Working Class Acupuncture in Portland and founding member of the CAN Board, announced as part of her keynote CANference address that a new organization – the Peoples Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) – is in the works. POCA will have memberships for patients, clinics and LAcs. CAN will become a member of POCA. Right now CAN has more than 100 member clinics. They want to grow to 500. CAN has more than 1,000 individual members. They want to train thousands of new LAcs to work in the new clinics. Preparation to work in CAN is as much about understanding how to build a high volume low fee practice that delivers basic acupuncture care by licensees as it is about where to put the needles. The question is how to prepare the new LAcs who can work in the new practices. They need a training program.

The Portland Community College CLIMB (Continuous Learning for Individuals, Management and Business) program is a revenue-based training center that offers training programs “from font-line workers to CEOs.” Sheila Meserschmidt is a program director for CLIMB who sees the potential in developing a new training program for front-line acupuncturists at the community college. She understands large scale numbers. PCC (not just CLIMB) has an enrollment of 95,000 students. Her mission is to create programs that can stand alone on their ability to attract students seeking to enter or extend viable careers, and who can afford to pay CLIMB tuition. Sheila is the perfect partner for the POCA vision which includes lowering the cost of acupuncture training. It may not be necessary to say it, but tuition at a community college is generally the most affordable among institutions of higher education. Nice fit.

Lisa focused on numbers in her opening remarks. Approximately 90 LAcs attended the first annual CANference which was sponsored by and held at PCC CLIMB. Small number. Big talent. Lisa reported the 2010 survey of CAN clinics including 102 sites that delivered 6,785 treatments per week. The Working Class Acupuncture clinic – from which CAN emerged – opened its doors in April 2002. They delivered 12 treatments that week. Annual revenues for the 102 CAN clinics is approaching $7,000,000. Big numbers for a small group. Data from the 2009 National Healthcare Survey reported approximately 3,000,000 annual acupuncture treatments in the USA. Lisa disagreed with the conventional response that this is great news. According to her calculations 100,000,000 is the “right size” for the profession as it gets re-invented. “Right-sizing” the acupuncture profession was one of her messages. You can read them here. If you are a healthcare provider or administrator you may be somewhat interested. If you are an acupuncture practitioner or organizer this is must reading.

I expect to post more reports on the development of POCA and the re-invention of acupuncture. How often do you get to witness the rebirth of a profession? Stay tuned. This is just the beginning.

One Response to “The Ark and the Mothership”

  1. Steve. I am speechless, other than to say thank you. Thank you thank you thank you!!

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