You may define success uniquely, but by focusing goals and having a clear sense of what you want to accomplish, you will improve your odds of achieving success.
The next step toward achieving a successful practice, other than consistent good outcomes, is to have many patients walk through your door seeking your expertise. There are many ways to promote, develop a referral system and maintain a busy practice.
Today, I'll speak about one approach to promoting and expanding your practice. Although you may have different experiences, I have not found that newspaper advertising attracts new business. There are better ways to invest your energy and resources. One good method is to give lectures in your community. Whether or not you have experience in public speaking, I strongly encourage you to try it. Public speaking is a great way to promote yourself, find new patients, and develop a referral base.
First, decide with whom you want to meet. Several groups are worth considering. The critical group to approach consists of medical professionals in your community, including medical doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, nurses and physical therapists. It will make your name and face recognizable and begin to build relationships based upon respect and trust so that these providers may become part of your referral base.
Consider speaking at your local hospital. Inquire whether they offer CE (continuing education) seminars at their facility and if you would be welcome to speak there. Prepare an outline of your presentation, along with a short curriculum vitae (CV) you can fax to them after establishing initial contact. Your CV should focus on your education and professional experience, and preferably should not be more than one page in length.
Another group to approach is your local state or county government. Inquire whether they offer educational venues to their employees that focus on prevention. This could be especially useful in states where acupuncture is covered under workers' compensation (W/C) laws. Even if your state has yet to pass legislation that includes our services under W/C, simply offering your expertise and professional experience will create an opportunity to build new relationships that may lead to referrals in the future.
You could also get involved with your local chamber of commerce; rotary club; church group; teacher's unions; local employers, etc. Perhaps you know someone affiliated with a large employer group that would be interested in having you speak on health and wellness. Dozens of groups may be receptive. Be creative. Your goal is to meet new people in your community that may have an interest in your services, either as a patient or a source of referrals. Remember: you provide a unique and valuable service to your community.
Let's talk about how to prepare for a public speaking engagement, and discuss what materials to distribute at the lecture and which subjects may be most advantageous for you to touch on. Be careful not to overly promote yourself at these lectures. Your presence, donation of time, and skill in speaking in your area of expertise will serve your needs adequately.
It is important to impart a quality educational experience to your audience (who may have little or no understanding of AOM) and answer questions from those with some direct experience. One of the first things you want to accomplish is a familiarity with your audience. You want them to identify with you. You can begin by speaking about what brought you to AOM initially. Share your story and personal experiences about what first drew your attention to AOM and then inspired you to study it. Members of your audience may find that they can relate to the feelings that brought you to try acupuncture. This enables you to cultivate feelings of rapport, interest and connection. Share how you first got involved with AOM. From there, it is easy to evolve into a discussion on your educational experience.
I find that there are many misconceptions and myths regarding AOM education in the public perception. People often don't understand the commitment invested and the extent to which AOM practitioners are trained. In speaking about education, along with a description of the study of traditional medicine and theory, it may be advisable to mention your exposure to Western biomedicine, modern research and integrative health care experiences.
It is very important not to present AOM as the solution to all health care problems; to say that we are good and medical doctors are bad; or to say that herbs are good and pharmaceuticals are bad. Whatever your belief and experience, to present such bias is immature.
A more evolved approach is to forego trying to prove the worthiness of AOM or the faults of conventional medicine. Instead, express your enthusiasm about AOM. Explain how it works; when it might be successfully applied; and emphasize your interest (if you have one) in participating in an integrative health care environment. This communicates the fact that you welcome referrals from (and also refer to) medical doctors.
One of the greatest fears within the medical community regarding our profession is that we may not refer patients when appropriate: that we may tackle a case without adequate diagnostics, and in so doing might jeopardize the safety and health of the public. A great way to encourage referrals from medical doctors is to refer patients to them when appropriate. Remember to describe the history and development of AOM, as we have a rich tradition to share.
Be relaxed and comfortable. One way to relax is to ask questions of your audience. What do they want to know? What brought them to your talk? Do they have specific or personal questions? Are they willing to share them?
Topics can include: "When is acupuncture appropriate?"; "How many visits are typically recommended?" and "How to find a good acupuncturist." It is exciting to talk about what is happening now in the U.S. You can talk about the NIH consensus statement; the formation of the National Center for Complementary/Alternative Medicine (NCCAM); the reclassification by the FDA of acupuncture needles; modern clinical research; and the exposure in medical schools to "alternative medicine." You can then speak about your own areas of specialty or interest in greater depth, whether they be orthopedics; pediatrics; immunology; woman's health; herbology; addictionology; etc.
One question I am frequently asked is, "When is acupuncture a good therapy, when is it appropriate?" At this point in the lecture, I talk about the value of early intervention as opposed to last resort therapy. I describe what I consider a standard course of treatment, including the recommended frequency and intensity of care.
If you live in an area that offers insurance coverage for acupuncture, it is a good idea to hand out a list of companies that cover your services with contact numbers. This gives local employer groups and individuals the option to purchase insurance plans that include acupuncture as a covered service. Other handouts to consider include: your CV; the safety record of acupuncture; recent research; and a reference page inclusive of books, journals, schools, websites, or whatever you feel will be of value in furthering your audience's education and knowledge.
You can present a case study drawing from experience. Present a patient (name confidential), a brief history, and a description of their condition and diagnosis as understood by both Western medicine and OM. Also include your treatment approach. You could select three examples: one in which AOM was successful where conventional therapies had failed; a second in which AOM was combined effectively with conventional medicine; and a third application for which most people would not commonly consider acupuncture. In this instance, you could discuss the treatment of infertility, mild depression, gastritis, etc. You could also describe the potential risks and side effects of acupuncture and herbal therapies; the potential risks of inappropriately combining herb and drug therapies; the risk inherent in self-prescribing herbal medicines; and the energetics of vitamins and food. These subjects will clearly show your expertise in critical areas where most people have little knowledge.
Bring business cards and either offer them to people who come forward and ask, or attach them to your handouts. I recommend scheduling two consecutive lectures with the same audience a few months apart. You'll find that on your second visit, the word has gotten out. The attendance has improved, and your connection with the audience has deepened.
Using overheads or a Power Point presentation is a great addition that can help illustrate your subject matter. Bring in a portable chart of acupuncture channels; individually wrapped disposable needles; an electroacupuncture device; moxibustion; or any tools you feel are good visual aids. Bring a small portable "sharps" container if you plan on providing a demonstration. If you integrate dietary counseling within your practice, you may want to talk about your nutritional approach. If you teach remedial exercise or qi gong, include descriptions and/or demonstrations of these therapies. If you work with herbs, you may talk about combining therapies and the safety issues regarding the quality of products available.
To reiterate: promote AOM, not yourself. I often receive feedback from employers and physician groups that the acupuncturist who spoke at their function was only interested in self-promotion. Most people are turned off when you claim to have the best education, the highest skills, or that other acupuncturists may be inferior practitioners. This reflects poorly on you and on our entire profession. It is better to be proud of acupuncture and this traditional system of healing and to be humble about our own abilities and understandings. We all admit that there remains much to learn and that we are always students engaged in the "practice" of AOM. Remember that you love what you do. Have fun; be sincere, but not too serious. Enjoy!
Click here for previous articles by Kabba Anand, DAc, LAc, Dipl. Ac., Dipl. CH.