November 2, 2004

Stella's Story

By John Amaro, LAc, DC, Dipl. Ac.(NCCAOM), Dipl.Med.Ac.(IAMA)

In the October 2004 issue of Acupuncture Today, Michael Devitt announced in his column the news that his girlfriend Stella had made the decision to enroll in acupuncture college after receiving her bachelor's degree from UCLA. Michael pointed out with that landmark decision made now comes the myriad of life-altering decisions that, as most of us know, are quite significant.

Some of the major decisions Michael pointed out in his column included what college to attend (there are many good ones); arranging financial aid (school is very expensive); where the top quality instructors are; the reality of being able to hold a part-time job to help defray expenses while in school; clinic requirements; and, as we all know, the list goes on and on.

All of these decisions will shape the future of one's career for the rest of that person's life.

Michael also mentioned the concern of the political landscape and what the future holds for Stella. The acupuncture and Oriental medicine profession has already seen serious restrictions imposed by the FDA concerning specific herbs used for centuries in Asian medicine. What about the potential practice limitations state legislators may be planning to impose: are they looming on the horizon? On top of all of that, the matter was brought up about medical professionals utilizing acupuncture as part of their scope of practice. The competitive climate posed by more practitioners could potentially have a negative impact on acupuncture practitioners and their success in practice.

The important question has been asked by both Michael and Stella as they plan for a very exciting but uncertain future: Is going to acupuncture school the best thing for her? As I read through Michael's column, trying to put myself in this seemingly precarious position of creating a major career and life change, I found myself becoming a little jittery myself with the prospect of all of those frightening unknowns. I realized what a huge decision this has to be for a person to embark on such an adventure to become a student, with the prospect of graduation so far into the distance, especially with all of the legitimate questions that require answers.

As fate would have it (as it always does), the day after reading the story of Stella, I had a new patient in the office who was going through the identical process Michael had just reported. He was very interested in acupuncture as a career, and was literally asking me the same myriad of questions Michael had posed in his column. I found this intriguingly ironic. On discussing the issues with him, I discovered he had investigated physiotherapy, chiropractic, naturopathy, allopathy (medicine) and now acupuncture. After a full year of searching the healing arts, he had decided to enter the acupuncture profession.

I posed the question: with all of the healing professions at your fingertips and apparently the qualifications to enter any of them, why in the world would you choose acupuncture over all of the rest? His answer was quite simple, and I must admit to experiencing a major case of goose bumps because his answer was identical to Stella's. "I just want to help people," he said.

In my three decades of practicing acupuncture, I have seen numerous practitioners come and go. The success rate for acupuncture practitioners, as was shown on the page following Michael's article, and as told by a practitioner responding to a poll, was that "only 25% of the TCM graduates are still in practice after five years." I find this statistic quite disturbing. This person blamed the lack of success of the profession on not enough class work in business management, insurance billing, collections, and legal issues.

When Stella gave her reason for wanting to go to acupuncture college and my patient uttered the same words, I knew immediately that these two people are destined to succeed as long as they are always driven by the desire to serve and to help people regain their health. Yes, business skills are necessary to succeed in business; however, how you fill out an insurance form or collect the fee from a patient has little to do with the motivation required to have patients return for necessary care and to refer others. It is the constant stream of new patients that will allow any practitioner to become a success. This is only obtained by being the best and achieving outstanding clinical results. This also takes both passion and compassion.

The national leaders of the Oriental medicine and acupuncture community and so many TCM practitioners are so focused and concerned about other professions utilizing acupuncture and creating competition that they lose the vision of who they are and what they have to offer. If each individual practitioner would just attempt to be the best, the general population will always seek out and find the practitioners who are able to meet their specific need - to help them with their health problem. It's not a matter of competition, it's a matter of who is the best!

When I am asked for an acupuncture referral across America, you can rest assured that the person I refer to is not an MD or DC, or even an LAc, but the person who I feel is the best and the most motivated and the one, who I know "just wants to help people."

So, for Stella and all other future students (and all practitioners), if we are motivated by that which is good, pure, and the best for the patients who seek our help, our success is assured. All of the accredited schools are good according to the accreditation commission. They will all teach the principles of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. However, what they do not teach can only be found in the spirit of the practitioner. That is the part which makes one a success, and it sounds to me like Stella has it. As long as she is always motivated primarily by truly wanting to help people regain their health, putting money as a far distant motivation and personal success beyond that, your clinical, financial and personal success is assured.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Best wishes on your journey, Stella.

Click here for previous articles by John Amaro, LAc, DC, Dipl. Ac.(NCCAOM), Dipl.Med.Ac.(IAMA).


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