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Acupuncture Today – April, 2004, Vol. 05, Issue 04

California: Land of Politics and Fireworks

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

Greetings, everyone. It's Monday, March 1, and as I write this article for Acupuncture Today, I'm winding down from a series of interesting experiences that took place over the past few days, including:

  • the California State Oriental Medical Association's CSOMA South Expo in Los Angeles;
  • a meeting of the Chinese associations of southern California; and
  • the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, about 15 miles from the CSOMA meeting, and the site of the AOM Alliance meeting later this year.

The Academy Awards represent the year's best offerings (in the minds of the Academy members minds, anyway) in the motion picture industry.

When a member casts his or her vote, I'm sure several thoughts go through the voter's mind. Did I like the movie? What did the script do for me? Was the score okay? How about the sets? Costume design? Who gave the best performance? Who did the best job of directing everyone? The list is almost endless.

Is politics involved when a person casts a vote, and are there differences of opinion? Do the results sometimes create new and seemingly strange alliances? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is yes. This movie industry continues to thrive and entertain millions of people through its creative enterprises. This industry welcomes members from all parts of the world, many of whom are not from the United States. They work to expand on ideas, thoughts that may seem strange or different from their own. They support each other in the creation of new and exciting projects. They welcome new and unproven talent. And they laugh at themselves as demonstrated by the jokes the master of ceremonies slings at the audience during the awards ceremony. The movie industry must welcome the new for its very survival.

In many ways, the Oriental medicine profession in the U.S. is like the movie industry (except that there aren't as many of us, and on the whole, we're a lot better looking). Like the movie industry, Oriental medicine is concentrated in California: approximately half of all the licensed acupuncturists in the country live and practice here, and a higher percentage of accredited and candidate acupuncture schools are located in California than anywhere else in the country.

This large number of acupuncturists is licensed under a set of laws that defines the legislative intent of our profession as being subject to regulation and control as a primary health care profession. There are various and sundry corporate structures of medical practices in which acupuncturists now find themselves working and seeing patients, and new ideas of how an acupuncturist can see more patients and become integrated into the arena of established medicine are always being introduced. As a results, licensed acupuncturists in California often find that they need a multitude of skills to survive and thrive. Sadly, they skills they need are not necessarily the ones they are being taught.

The only constant in the universe is change, or so it's been said. There's no better example of that constant change than what's going on with the AOM profession in California. This doesn't mean that the practice of Oriental medicine itself is changing; rather, the environment in which it is being practiced is changing, often at an alarming pace. Established practitioners are finding that they have to keep up with these changes and adapt to meet the needs of their patients. Students and recent graduates feel that they are unprepared to meet the needs and challenges of operating a private practice.

The medical profession has an established residency system by which a student can learn, expand his or skills, and be ready to operate a practice or enter a group setting soon after completing the necessary training. Is there a need for a residency program for acupuncturists? How can we mentor the new, vibrant and young (in the medicine) practitioners? I'm not the one to answer those questions, but they do need to be addressed.

Then comes the question as to why, if we are trying to move forward, are so many groups in this profession fighting so hard to maintain the status quo? In life, there is no standing still. You are either moving forward or being left behind, because society - and medicine - are making strides and new discoveries and decisions daily. We should no longer be content with our small piece of the pie. Not too long ago, Stanford University published a study showing that only 3 percent of the general population sees an acupuncturist for care. Why should we stand for this? We can do better than that. Our leaders can do a better job of representing us. If they can't, maybe it's time for some new leadership.

In the movie industry, change is a part of life. Film projects are scrapped or resurrected after years of lying dormant; actors are picked for certain roles or recast in other ones, and scripts are edited daily - sometimes on the same day a scene is supposed to be shot. However, movies have only been around for 110 years or so - and yet, look at how the movie industry expanded in that time.

We have to be as malleable as the movie industry. We have 5,000 years of history on our side, and yet in many ways, we're at essentially the same place we were when Jim Reston wrote about acupuncture in the New York Times 32 years ago. If we ever want to break out of being tagged as a "niche" profession, we must adapt to the ever-changing and moving society in which we live and work. Quit standing still, and starting moving forward!

Click here for more information about Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large.

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