TCM: The Elephant in the College Graduate's Room
Graduating from a Chinese medicine college in the 'western world' differs greatly from graduating in China. In China, out of college or university, one would work under the guidance of a supervisor and have a salary. These are two important juxtapositions compared to what happens to us graduates who will have to practice our craft in a capitalist environment.
Whether we like it or not, an acupuncture graduate will be forced into becoming something they might not have realized: an entrepreneur!
And not only are they projected into this demanding role, but they often have to go it alone (no supervision or mentoring post-school) with no stable income to sustain them. This sounds like a disaster to me.
After ten years in business, I have seen my share of practitioners come and go. I recently reached out to a friend who graduated before I did. I looked up to him and still do. After a lapse in contact, I asked him how his practice was going, to which he told me that he had to call it quits. He went back to his old job of driving a hauling truck because of the stable income. He disliked the yo-yoing effect of beginning a practice as this caused him much stress in terms of household income.
For me, there's no question that I had a lot of doubt in my mind. Many times in my first year of practice, sitting alone in my clinic with no patients, I often wondered if I had made a grave mistake. I think the difference for me is that I had a mentor who oftentimes screwed my head back on with some sound advice.
One of the most important things that was shared with me by a couple of acupuncturists was that it's okay for me to get a part-time job while I build (or re-build) a practice. There's no shame in working either in or outside one's respective field. This can look like working part-time at another clinic as an acupuncturist, mixing herbal concoctions at a supplement company, supervising the front desk at a multi-disciplinary clinic or even delivering office furniture (been there).
One colleague of mine moved to a largely saturated area in terms of acupuncture and TCM. They got smart and worked at three different multi-disciplinary clinics for three years before moving out on their own - taking their roster from three different clinics with them. Being a business owner often entails long, arduous hours - and hours that nobody else wants to work. However, one is often rewarded for one's stick-it-out-ed-ness.
An entrepreneur, in my opinion, is someone who never gives up on their dreams of financial stability through running a business of helping others. While this 'empire' is being built, I truly believe that the last thing someone needs is to add more stress that a lack of income can bring. It can take years to get one's personal business formula right.
I think we need to have an honest conversation about what will be expected of graduates of Chinese medicine school. The pitfalls of business are too deep a chasm to ignore the elephant in the room. As a small business owner, I know the value of having a mentor. I know the value of financial stability while building a practice. I know the value of real-world marketing advice and results in the clinic.
Acupuncture graduates will become entrepreneurs and we need to honour that.