I recently attended a meeting aimed at identifying core problems within the profession of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. The meeting was based in Melbourne, with all participants either studying or practicing in the locale. It was an open discussion, facilitated to allow problems to come to the surface, with no encumbrance to everyone speaking their mind.
Alongside twenty-two of my colleagues – as well as Debra Gillick representing the Chinese Medicine Registration Board Australia (CMBA) – we enacted plans to tackle outstanding challenges and to move the industry forward. During the 90-minute breakfast meeting several points were brought to the fore, but it was agreed that some concerns represented an immediate need for attention. These were encapsulated in the following objectives:
- To improve and optimise communication to the general public
- To unify the representation of our profession
- To schedule important herbs such as Fu Zi and Ma Huang
- To provide post-graduate programs and support
- To create a uniform registration number (one single number)
Communication to the public is first and foremost. It is worthwhile to look at the approaches of other organisations that present working examples of what can and should be achieved on this front. It is understood that the Acupuncture Now Foundation (ANF) is tackling the very common need to increase general public awareness. ‘The ANF has particular interest in public outreach campaigns, the role of research, and encouraging the development of acupuncture best practices.’
The ANF are a not-for-profit organisation and rely solely on funding. Their staff members are unpaid. One of their achievements is the creation of a documentary called ‘9,000 needles’ that has fostered a higher level of public awareness and engagement regarding their cause. Considering that they are limited financially, it’s heartening that this group of practitioners achieved considerable momentum via an alternative, creative approach. It just goes to show that where there is a will, there is a way.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners in Australia are comprised from a pool of considerable talent and expertise. Comparatively, we are more than equipped to organise campaigns similar to ANF’s ‘9,000 needles’. As a collective we should be actively finding new and exciting ways to target the general public, promoting our modalities and spreading the word.
With the recently announced and highly expected ‘The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative literature Review’ (conducted by Dr John McDonald and Stephen Janz) we will have the opportunity to capitalise on some revelatory and transformative data. This can be used to propound the fact that acupuncture is extremely beneficial for many medical and health conditions. It would also be great to see that our professional associations working together to advance our industry.
This brings me to the next point – unified representation. If there are currently 5,000 registered practitioners (less than 1% of the Australian workforce, but nevertheless 5,000 across Australia) there must be away to conglomerate forces between the educational providers, the professional associations, the industry and the board. We must think laterally.
Secondly, once momentum is underway, the natural flow of progress would see herbs becoming more accessible (otherwise known as scheduled). This relates to herbs that are currently not on our horizon, such as Fu Zi and Ma Huang. These particular herbs are potent and make a significant difference to the wellbeing of our patients. From my understanding, the AACMA board is now looking at strategies and pathways to make this possible. This is alongside our assistance and input as practitioners.
Thirdly, why don’t we create ‘cases’ from effective and well documented areas of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines and align this research with a public campaign? For example: how and why acupuncture works for post-stroke recovery, how many sessions are required and to what frequency. If we make a campaign concise and back it up with scientific evidence we can connect loose ends. We can create a cohesive and commanding message to be spread across the continent, if not the world. That’s exactly how we put our profession and modalities onto the map.
And lastly, we require a more prolific approach to supporting graduates. For instance, focusing more on employing graduates in meaningful work rather than just subcontracting or room letting. This holds great potential as a mentoring situation. In a workplace setting graduates can become a part of a team. They can develop into sponge, absorbing all the knowledge and ‘know how’ that a highly experienced practitioner can impart – all while making an actual living wage.
Alongside the meeting that this article has referred to, I also conducted a presentation to fourth year acupuncture/Chinese medicine students at one of the privately run course providers on the same day. I took the opportunity to receive feedback on how prepared these students felt about their transition to practice. The majority of the class wasn’t sure about how they would tackle it. Only a few mentioned that they were already working in practices (Chinese medicine only or multi disciplinary). It was clear that a considerable flaw in the support system exists.
In conclusion, it’s a combined team approach that always works best when overcoming issues in the practice and promotion of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I feel that as a profession we would flourish best via a collective plan delivered with passion and gusto. Synergy is the name of the game. We need to band together to make our message stronger. Our work with modalities is too effective and too valuable not to receive the kind of recognition it deserves.