Is there a real demand for acupuncturists?

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Is there a real demand for acupuncturists?

Postby stiev » Thu Mar 15, 2007 8:41 pm

I recently started a degree in TCM after spending years studying other things. I'm wondering about the prospects for setting up a practice and being successful in this field.

On the face of it, my prospects aren't great. I'm not Chinese, I'm not old, and I won't have had years of practice behind me if and when I start up. It costs money to set up a practice, so not only do you need four years of study and the necessary practical hours, but you also need thousands of dollars to cover a lease, furniture and design, insurance and professional fees, herbs and needles, and if you're smart, advertising, marketing and promotion.

When you look at the enormity of it all, it seems like an insurpassable path. It is however, where my interest lies, and I believe I have a responsibility to follow my passion.

I imagine that the vast majority of people who study TCM would not become practitioners. The course is made up of a number of school leavers who know absolutely nothing about TCM, and I wonder why they do it. I think it has something to do with their Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER), a number you get when you finish high school. If you get a good number, you study law or medicine. If you get a low number, you study other things. TCM seems to help people who get low numbers, but God knows what they do if they get through their four-year degrees.

For me, it's a calling. This is fine, but I've been through a number of callings. What I'm wondering is if there's a demand for such a calling. I'm wondering if I'm wasting my time. After all, if I went and studied accounting, I could get a job as an accountant. If I studied nursing, I could get a job as a nurse. I could have chosen any course where they have jobs, but I didn't. I decided to study TCM.

But do you think there's a demand for acupuncturists? I'm asking now, rather than asking this question in four years time (and with a HECS debt of over $30,000). Can you be successful as a TCM practitioner? What does it take to be a success in TCM?

Do you think it's possible to make a go of things, or should I change courses and become an accountant?
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Postby Shallow Al » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:36 pm

"You won't learn what you need to prosper in college but the skill and knowledge is available if you are hungry enough."
You do need the bit of paper!
Traditional Acupuncture has been both kind and challenging to me.
After almost 25 years in practise I continue to enjoy this incredible form of medicine immensely and still practice with a big smile on my face.
The institutions don't really give a damn about whether you succeed in practise or fold like a deck of cards.
Some of your lecturers may care, they are worth their weight in gold!
The attrition rate of graduates in the first five years of practice is alarming to say the least.
It all comes down to you and your hunger.
All the best........ Shallow Al
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Postby stiev » Fri Mar 16, 2007 7:35 pm

Thanks, Shallow Al. They said that to me when I studied to become an actor, a field with more out of work graduates, probably, than TCM.

I forgot another investment you need to make: professional development. If you're not really ready to heal people after four years, you'd need to invest in more courses, mentoring, study in China (or elsewhere). It's a very big decision to make to become a competant TCM practitioner, and let's face it, who gets clients if they're not good?

What do you need to do to get good, and to get clients?
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Postby Shallow Al » Sat Mar 17, 2007 5:18 am

Stiev...have sent you my mobile....too exhausting to write a comprehensive reply here.
Best to find a mentor who has a busy practice and hang in there like super glue.
Make a bunch of appointments and get treatment from various practitioners until you find one that rings your bell.
My experience tells me that you do not need to needle ten feet deep and do the hoki poki to achieve powerful results in clinic.
Treatment can be extremely gentle, sensitive and MOST importantly, consumer friendly yet still knock the patients socks off!
shallow al
PS
Qi/ki is the key
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Postby stiev » Sat Mar 17, 2007 10:27 pm

Gee, thanks a lot, Shallow Al. Ha! I can't believe my luck to get a reply from someone who has written a book on exactly the question I'm asking.

Thank you very much for your help.
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Postby stiev » Sat Mar 24, 2007 5:11 pm

Apart from instant results, does anyone know what else patients/clients like? What makes them come back (or even knock on the door in the first place)?

I haven't seen a lot of advertising for acupuncturists. It seems to be a field that lies a bit low (predominance of yin, perhaps). I wonder if some sort of marketing could be effective in getting the word out about TCM (and your own practice).

I went to see one acupuncturist after I got a flyer in my letterbox. I found another acupuncturist from a big ad in the Yellow Pages. He said the ad cost $8000 a year, but that it brought results. These days, a website is almost mandatory for every business, and I imagine the same would hold for TCM.

TCM seems to me to be an amazing field. Australians on the whole seem a little bit sceptical about non-western health practices, but they are also pragmatic and resourceful. Maybe the word just needs to get out there. Word of mouth is probably the best way, but are there other ways?

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?
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Postby mattinchina » Wed Apr 11, 2007 5:50 pm

Stiev, this is my first post but I relate well to your concerns. I graduated with a BA Ac in 1990 and spent the next ten or so years building a private practice in Aust. I came to China in 2000 to study and check out the culture and... well I'm still here.

I agree with Al that finding a mentor is a good way to learn many aspects of practicing AND running/building your business. I did just that - in my 3rd or 4th year I dropped into the busiest TCM clinic in my area, introduced myself to the owner/acupuncturist and asked if he'd mind if I stopped by occasionally for a chat (if he had time). That developed into a good friendship from which I've learned a great deal.

Other suggestions, based on my experience and mistakes:

1. Find the best location you can afford and stay there. If you're helping people it's only a matter of time before the buzz builds.

2. Happy clients are probably THE best way to build a business, i.e. word of mouth referrals. Ask clients for referrals and reward them with a free treatment/massage, etc.

3. Business cards are a good, cheap way to market yourself, but they often just sit in a drawer or are only put on the reception desk. ALWAYS have some with you - in your pocket, bag etc. Put your pic on your cards and include a reason for people to keep them AND visit your clinic, e.g. Present this card for FREE consultation.

4. Website - great idea for obvious reasons. As you start helping people, get written testimonials from them and put them on your site - gives you greater credibility.

5. Depending on your situation you may well need a night time/weekend job for the first couple years. I did.

6. Consider renting/sub-letting a room in an established clinic that allows you to pay a percentage of what you make.

Bottom line... TCM works and if you're getting good results and you don't change location too much then you will become a busy, successful practitioner if that's your goal.

No doubt there are plenty of other tips to add to this but that's enough for now.

All the best,

Matt
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Postby stiev » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:52 pm

Thanks a lot, Mattinchina. I like the idea of a business card with "free consultation" on it. I've thought of shop-a-dockets saying the same thing, but let's face it, I'm in my first year at uni so all that's some time away.

I'm really glad not all is lost, that you and Al have built successful practices and made it. It gives me a lot of hope, actually. You've said the same thing as Shallow Al: to find a good mentor to discuss things with. Excellent idea.

How do you find China? Are you Chinese? Do you work or study there?
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Postby mattinchina » Fri Apr 27, 2007 1:59 am

Hi, I'm Australian. China's great which is why I'm still here. Down the track if you get the chance you should do some extra study here. Good luck with your studies in Aust. Do not stop... if you really want to be a successful practitioner you will. As Al has said, if you're hungry enough you'll get there.

Matt
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demand for TCM?

Postby Newbie23 » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:16 pm

I might be a bit late for this thread buts it is an important concern. I was qualified last year and I am young like many new practitioners now, still in my twenties.

First of all I have taken to calling myself an acupuncturist, because people know what that is. Acupuncture is huge, its big news, but Chinese medicine in general still gets confused looks.

I started my practice last year in the inner west of sydney at one its many "holistic therapies" centres. You know the ones, about 10-20 various therapists working a day or two each, no one is making money except the person who collects the rent.

After months of spending lots of money and earning nothing, I moved back to Canberra (my hometown) due to my partner getting a job here. I starting working three days per week in June at a busy well established clinic with two chiropractors who are real community people and team players. I have been there eight weeks and I have had 18 new patients. That is much more than I expected.

Acupuncture (and Chinese medicine by association) is in enormous demand. It is practically mainstream, its success stories are all through the media, people are interested. But they want to go to a real health professional who they feel they can trust; not the local crystal shop. Even if you are a bit of a hippy (like most of us!), resist getting too new age in your appeal. It is important to be accessible to the general public. Get involved with proper healthcare providers. That's my belief anyway.

And my last piece of advice is: unless you have lots of money to self promote, go back to your hometown or move out of the big city. I know of a former classmate who moved to the south coast and is the only practitioner for about 80 km. She sees about 40 patients in her three day week, and surfs on the other two days. Sweet.

Good luck! It IS a growth industry, there is lots of opportunity.

:D
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Re: demand for TCM?

Postby stiev » Wed Aug 29, 2007 5:21 pm

Thanks, 23. It sounds like you've arrived. I hope Canberra works well for you.

How was the Inner West? I live here, and have thought of setting up shop here. I know there's an acupuncturist every 2 kms, but there isn't one in the shops up the road, and I like it there.

I've heard of the woman you mentioned - she's in practice with another woman, and by all accounts they do extremely well.

I'm suprised that ordinary people go to acupuncturists - I thought it was a curiousity. Are there ways you can market yourself as a pro? I read a book where they advised acupuncturists to take people's blood pressure on the first consultation - not because it does anything, but because it puts people into the headspace that they're seeing a doctor.

I thought this was an interesting idea.

Should we dress sort of professionally like doctors too? The old Chinese acupuncturist I used to see always put a white coat on for treatments, but he could pull it off.

I don't know if I could, but I like the idea of selling yourself as a health professional rather than some hippy spiritual healer.
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Re: demand for TCM?

Postby Newbie23 » Thu Aug 30, 2007 3:47 pm

stiev wrote:
How was the Inner West? I live here, and have thought of setting up shop here. I know there's an acupuncturist every 2 kms, but there isn't one in the shops up the road, and I like it there.



I just think it is just a good idea to really think carefully about where you begin. I was just like most fresh naive practitioners. I loved the inner west too, and was adamant on staying there, even though there were are literally hundreds of practitioners within 15k radius. Alot of these practitioners are new and are not doing well, because they are overshadowed by the very experienced, very successful practitioners with big well established clinics.

And yes! Ordinary people go to acupuncture too! But you know what, alot of them are going to doctors, chiropractors and other "mainstream" practitioners. One in seven GP's are offering acupuncture, so there is clearly a huge demand, particularly for pain relief. Majority of people seek acupuncture for pain relief. so a strong interest in this area is important because it will be your bread and butter. I feel it is important to remember, successful businesses are about meeting a demand, not trying to create one.

As for marketing yourself as a pro, the best way is to work alongside a pro, and reap the benefits of association. That has has worked well for me.
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Postby needle spice » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:22 am

probably a bit late on thisa one.

but i feel that education is the key, most people do not know what TCM is capable of, and the more we can explain it, the busier we will all be.

also form good relatiionships with the local yoga, pilates, personal trainer people - they can reffer like gold!

hope your studies going well

Greg
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Postby benngearthquake » Sat Nov 03, 2007 5:48 pm

Hi, I my self graduated in late 2001, and have been working in a rural NSW town since then. I started here because the local Acu at the time was so busy that he advertised a wage paying job specifying a 'new graduate' is prefered. I had worked along side him for about a year, after which he had moved away. I had continued to stay and am doing well, because I am the only full time professional Acu in 200km. I think people should take note of the shocking shortage in medical services in the country areas. There are many patients that I see because they could not get into see the specialist for months for their problem. Now many of them would not be able to live comfortably without my help. Another advantage of Country areas, is that word of mouth travel much quicker than city. So if you are good, you will be well know in relatively short time. (But if you are naughty, that will get around too)

To make yourself look more pro, you need to look and act more pro. Some may disagree with me, but people are essentially shallow creatures. Even if you are young, if you wear a nice shirt and pants, with a white coat, you will look pro. The white coat is the most powerful piece of clothing since the lawyer's wig. Think of a guy in singlet, shorts and thongs, now put a white coat on him, and he now looks like a professor from UCLA. I wear a white coat, with my trading name degree title, association membership and mem number on the front pocket.
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Postby Newbie23 » Mon Nov 12, 2007 3:41 pm

I absolutely agree with the above comment, I heard some statistic that 60% of complementary health professionals are living in metro areas. Anyone who moves to a town or area where there are not many practitioners will have their work cut out for them. There are so many acupuncturists struggling in places like inner Sydney and not doing well, and although it is a huge life change to consider moving, I think more people would do it if they realised just what a difference it would be for them professionally.
Back to my previous comment, good business is about meeting a demand, if you look at the Natural Therapy pages, inner sydney is flooded with complementary healthcare, and the proportion of practitioners finding it extremely difficult to build a practise is alarming. On King Street Newtown alone there are *at least* half a dozen acupuncturists if not more, and there arent even that many doctors. I would be very surprised if most of these practitioners are not struggling to build sustainable businesses.
All the really successful practitioners I know have referral based practises. This is really important. If a practitioner is having to aquire most clientele through ads or pedestrian traffic, then there is no strong organic base, which is crucial for longevity. Again this strong organic base is infinitely easier to develop where there is a demand!
Dont get me wrong, I do acknowledge that building a practise is difficult anywhere, but given that fact, new practitioners are making a difficult situation worse if they insist on practising in areas which don't need more practitioners!

:)
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