The planet is burning, the country is splitting apart.
I can imagine the despair of the climate scientists. They sounded the alarm when there was time to change course. But those in power prioritized their own short term interests. The rest of us were powerless to make the big changes. And we remain mostly unwilling to suffer the discomfort that smaller (though still helpful) changes require. We take long hot showers, drive big cars, take cruises, crank the air-conditioning on hot days, and lament the loss of the natural world we know. Being really good at recycling isn’t enough.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss of a Profession isn’t as serious as the loss of cool summer evenings and Orangutans and New Orleans. The knowledge and wisdom of this medicine preceded Licensed Acupuncturists and will live on without us.
I’m no Greta Thunberg. But I will sound the alarm again, and hope that the Profession I love will change course before it’s too late.
- We have created a growing demand for acupuncture. Patients want it, insurance companies want to include it in their offerings, governments – federal 1,state and local, want to provide it to their citizens. There are lots of jobs, and lots of practices available.
- There are many Acupuncturists who are leaving the field.
- There are many areas with no Acupuncturists at all.
- Enrollment in entry-level Acupuncture programs is down more than 20% in the last five years.
It’s an odd combination. High demand, unfilled jobs, LAcs leaving the profession, and fewer people entering the profession.
Representatives from ACAOM and the NCCAOM, asked about the drop in school enrollment at the ASA conference2, chalked it up to “the economy” and the “overall drop in people attending graduate school” and the change in “employment goals” for “the current generation.” And, “as we have more jobs more people will see it as a viable profession.” In short, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
They aren’t being honest – maybe not with themselves, certainly not with us.
It’s simple. The investment required to become an LAc, and the education and training students receive, is disconnected from the job skills, jobs, and compensation available to most acupuncture school graduates.
People are spending four plus years in school, graduating with significant student debt, offered jobs that don’t match that investment, and without resources to start or purchase a practice. In some states even four years of education isn’t enough. Florida just added a requirement for training in injection therapy for licensure.
Meanwhile, most entry-level acupuncture jobs don’t require injection therapy or herbal skills. (Not necessary for Modern Acupuncture or most Community Acupuncture jobs, for example).
In order to pass Board exams, extensive study of TCM is needed, even though that system is not required to practice safely and competently, which is what licensing exams are supposed to test.3 The NCCAOM acknowledges the problem, but hasn’t offered a solution.
Existing LAcs spend a lot of time bitter that things aren’t better. Many believe that if only “the profession” fought harder they’d get the higher pay and monopoly on techniques they believe they deserve.
Now is the time to speak clearly.
- The vast majority of LAcs will never be paid physician level salaries. We can spend more time in school, we can get more titles, we can all refuse to work for reimbursements we consider insufficient, and, still, average net incomes of even 80K are a long way off.
- We cannot, in general, prevent others from using techniques we consider to be “ours.” 4
- The higher the demand for acupuncture and the higher our expectations for compensation, the more quickly the system will shift to having non-LAcs provide acupuncture.
- There is a bipartisan consensus that restrictive Occupational Licensing harms the economy.
- We are vastly outnumbered by most of the professions we view as competition.
- If you think that we haven’t been able to “protect the profession” because we haven’t fought hard enough you have not been involved and have no grounds on which to judge.
There are things we can do, powerful things within our control, that could help us survive. We must –
- Streamline our schooling. The focus must be on competencies, not hours. Safe and competent practitioners can be trained in far less than 2000 hours. We know, because we used to do it all of the time.5
- Minimize the expense of the necessary training. Much could be accomplished through distance education. Bring back apprenticeships which served us well for many generations (we can call them clinical internships, if we’re afraid of what the mainstream will think). Employers can provide additional post-graduate training in specific techniques and modalities.
- Demand that the NCCAOM develop licensure exams that test minimal standards for safe and competent practice, not specific knowledge irrelevant to practice.6 The NCCAOM bears the responsibility of designing a JTA that supports the development of an appropriate exam. Particular settings or styles that want to do additional testing can chose to do so. Schools bear responsibility for assessing knowledge of their particular traditions/lineages.
- Protect licensure for everyone who has sufficient training in acupuncture, which includes teaching that all health providers have a duty to limit their practice to their own training and experience. Requiring all Acupuncturists to have additional training in herbs, or any other specific, optional, modality shall not be a requirement for licensure.
- Understand that our success as a profession depends upon our having sufficient LAcs to provide treatment in a timely and affordable fashion in most communities in the US, not on whether the Cleveland Clinic has a few OMD’s on staff. We must provide resources to help and support those willing to practice in underserved areas.7
- Drop the expectation that “the system” will pay us what we think we deserve. Everyone wants to pay less for health care – people, insurance companies, governments.
We must reclaim Acupuncture as a simple, straightforward interaction between a practitioner and a patient, and recreate the accessible path to licensure we once had. Otherwise, we are creating a future with fewer Acupuncturists, who may manage to pay for their extensive education and keep up with demand only by handing off patient care to minimally-trained assistants working for low wages.
Individual acupuncturists and our professional organizations must acknowledge that we have a problem. It may be a little uncomfortable, but we have the power to make changes that will, at least, delay the day when an Acupuncturist in the US is as rare as the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan.8 It’s not too late.
1) Please read this, and comment, on the CMS proposal! Deadline August 15!
2) The ASA did a great job with their first conference. Excellent speakers, well-organized, great facility. Very impressive right out of the starting gate.
3) “The sole purpose of a licensing examination is to identify persons who possess the minimum knowledge and experience necessary to perform tasks on the job safely and competently–not to select the “top” candidates or ensure the success of licensed persons. Therefore, licensing examinations are very different from academic or employment examinations. Academic examinations assess how well a person can define and comprehend terms and concepts. Employment examinations can rank order candidates who possess the qualifications for the job.” (from https://www.clearhq.org/resources/Licensure_examinations.htm)
5) Other Professions have altered training and education in order to address worker shortages and minimize debt (which also encourages increased diversity). Acupuncturists in Nevada were finally able to bring their licensing requirements closer to what we find in other states.
6) My individual conversations with NCCAOM reps at the ASA conference didn’t move beyond quick chats in passing. I’ve got some hope that they’ll work to improve the recertification process. I’m less hopeful that there will be progress in the other areas in which I’ve expressed concerns. Meanwhile, a big congratulations to Mina Larson on her appointment as the next NCCAOM CEO. I know that she understands the challenges facing the profession.
8) Current population of the Sumatran Orangutan estimated at 14,613.
© Elaine Wolf Komarow and The Acupuncture Observer, 2013-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from Elaine Wolf Komarow is prohibited. Excerpts and links are encouraged, provided that full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.