I spent much of this past weekend at the Great River Symposium here in Minneapolis. It’s a great opportunity to cross paths with colleagues and classmates, some from well over a decade ago. This year’s symposium also gave me the opportunity to check in with former students. I taught practice management at Northwestern for a couple of years (until my practice demanded more of my attention), and I wanted to see how my former students were doing. Were they practicing? Did the information I taught help? Were they thriving or struggling?
What I found was, yes, for the most part the students were practicing; they were seeing patients, and many said their practice management education was helpful. But something else became clear from talking to these new practitioners: Things have changed dramatically for new acupuncturists in the time since I struck out on my own. And for the most part, those changes have been good. Among them:
-There are far more opportunities for licensed acupuncturists now, beyond just hanging out a shingle and hoping for the best. Hospitals, schools, integrative healthcare clinics are hiring qualified practitioners, and a number of those students were employed in the profession. This is good news!
-Other licensed acupuncturists are hiring new graduates. A number of practitioners have grown their clinic to a place where they are able to hire acupuncturists themselves. This is a really good thing, but was absolutely not the case when I graduated. There were only a few clinics in my area, and most were struggling to stay in business.
-I talked to a number of practitioners who were seeing a good number of patients very quickly upon graduating. Some were clinic employees, but many were in their own practice. The upshot is that they were making it–again good news!
-There were a few students I spoke with who had decided to open clinics in rural areas. Ten or fifteen years ago, opening an acupuncture clinic in a rural Midwestern town would have been the kiss of death for a practice, but I was happy to hear that these new practitioners were also doing well. It seems that acupuncture has arrived in the heartland!
-Because there are more options and opportunities now, many students chose not to open up their own clinic–at least not right away. Many had decided to work for someone else for the time being, get some real life experience, and then strike out on their own when the time was right.
-There were graduates who either weren’t practicing,or were holding another job and practicing part-time. The reality is that it’s still tough to get out of school, find your way, and move into a situation where you are making a good income practicing acupuncture.
-Almost every student that I taught was saddled with student loans. This was not the case when I was in school. While there certainly many who took out loans, there was a higher percentage of students who paid for their education as they went. This is due to a couple of factors. First, the cost of a master degree for acupuncturists has gone up considerably. Second, my cohorts in school were on average twenty years older than the students studying acupuncture today. For me and many of my classmates, acupuncture was a second or third career. Today, many younger students are choosing acupuncture much earlier in their working lives.
The combination of more opportunities and schools paying more attention to practice management education is a plus (I had a total of one credit!). While this is an anecdotal sampling of recent graduates, it’s encouraging to hear from many new practitioners who despite the obstacles, seem to be making it in the acupuncture profession.