Remember when you were a student or a brand-new practitioner? Chinese medicine was endlessly fascinating and working with each new patient was an exciting challenge that propelled you to your office each day with a combination of joy and curiosity.
After a few years in practice however, the bloom might be off the rose. Your practice might feel repetitive and not very interesting. You might feel tired of listening to other people's complaints and daydream about being a NASCAR driver, a photographer for National Geographic, or a rock star. Maybe your practice is full and you are making a decent living, but cannot find a way to grow your practice or your income any further.
In recent weeks, I've spoken to several successful practitioners with these types of problems asking me to help them re-energize their interest in their work, get their groove back, or just figure out how to change their current practice situation so it brings them more satisfaction. I've been giving these issues some thought, and here are my ideas for those of you who are, for whatever reason, in the doldrums.
- Practice fewer hours or fewer days per week. If your practice is full and the load is getting you down, change your schedule. Let go of one day per week for six months; see if that refreshes your psyche and allows you to be more present for the patients you do see. You might consider hiring someone else to take over the day or days you are not there. Charge a little less for appointments with the new practitioner, and pay them a flat salary for standing in for you one or two days per week. You are giving a younger practitioner a job and much-needed experience, you still can make a little money on their work, and you will have time to rest your body/mind.
- Take up a new hobby or learn a new skill. This might be taking dance classes, large-metal sculpture in the afternoons, learning to sing, speak a new language or do amateur NASCAR style racing! You also could work for a political cause that's near and dear to your heart. Whatever it is, it might allow you the variety in your life to feel that your work is interesting to you while you are there.
- Take up a new in-depth subject within Chinese medicine. Have you felt that one or more areas of study eluded you when you were in school? Did you feel you could learn herbs again from the beginning? Is there a teacher out there whose work has fascinated you, but you have yet to attend any of their classes? Would you like to become really good at one specialty? Do you have an interest in one of the new doctoral programs? Do you want to learn Chinese so you can access the medical literature in its original tongue? If so, then do it now. Use that time you have gained back from practicing less to increase your skill and knowledge. You might be surprised at what you learn and how much it energizes you.
- Take a "vacation" and volunteer for a free acupuncture program. There are more and more opportunities these days for expanding your horizons in terms of what this medicine can do. There is the Guatemala Acupuncture Project, Acupuncturists Without Borders, the Yayasan Bumi Sehat Clinic in Bali (with a satellite clinic in Banda Aceh), and numerous small local volunteer efforts around the country. If you cannot find an organization that suits your interests, create one! How about a Native American reservation? Or a free public clinic in Uganda? You might find that being a volunteer for a few weeks for people who really, really need your services might give you incredible inspiration and be something you want to do every year.
- Steer your practice toward a very specialized niche you enjoy. It's always true that being a specialist allows you to get really good at something. The confidence that comes from delving deeply into one group of diseases or one type of treatment has many benefits. Confidence is seductive; people can feel it radiate from you and they will respond to it. Also, everyone knows that specialists charge more than general practitioners for their time.
- Raise your prices. It might be that you feel completely different about your work when you are making more per increment of time spent. You might lose a few patients, but most people experience that they end up with the same number, or even more, when they take this step. When was the last time you raised your rates? If it was more than three years ago, it really is time to do it.
- Repaint your clinic with some bright, bold colors; buy some new artwork, fountains, carpets, window coverings or a new treatment table. You will be surprised by how much changing the look of your clinic can alter your state of mind, especially if you have white, cream, grey or tan walls surrounding you every day. Remember that rich colors and beautiful surroundings are healing, both to your patients and to you!
- Go buy some beautiful new pieces for your wardrobe. Have you ever watched one of those "makeover" TV shows? Did you ever notice how the "after" person usually is more attractive, more powerful and more effective than the "before" person? You can experience this phenomenon, too, by getting a few really beautiful - albeit probably expensive items - to wear to work. I am not saying clothes will make you a better acupuncturist, but I do know from experience that when I am dressed like a million bucks, I not only feel more beautiful, but also more powerful, more energized, even more intelligent! While I don't suggest shopping therapy on a regular basis, I do know we should wear our most beautiful clothes to the office. Why should they stay in your closet? What are you waiting for? Again, remember that beauty is healing.
- Hire an intern. If you have been in successful private practice for some time, you probably have a lot to share with a student or new practitioner, whether you know it or not. By hiring a part-time employee, you serve the community by creating a job, reduce some of the workload in your practice, and you also do a great service by helping a young practitioner learn what it really takes to run a practice. When we share what we know by teaching it to others, even in an informal way, we find out the depth and breadth of our knowledge as nothing else can show us. Who knows, you might be inspired enough to hire an advanced student or young practitioner each year and help them toward their own success. Bringing in other people adds energy and a new element to your practice; so sit down and make a list of all the things such a person could do to lift responsibilities from your shoulders.
- Work on a list of long-term goals. What would you like to be doing in 10 years? What will it take to get there? Whom do you need to contact for help to reach these goals? What are your absolutely wildest dreams? If those dreams don't include the practice of this medicine, how will you plan your departure from the profession, as you strive for the least chaos and the most success? If your dreams do include the practice of this medicine, how would you want it to be different from what it looks like today?
Remember, a good relationship with your work is not unlike a marriage. It requires a little work and some TLC every day to keep that spark of interest alive. If you have other ideas on how to keep your interest in your practice alive and energized, please send them to me at .
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