To transition from being a student to a practitioner is not an easy task in the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. This article is based on conversations with students before the current circumstances. I am also currently working on options that addresses how to best position yourself in the next six months or so.
Right now, I feel that the following points still have value when thinking about your future as Chinese medicine practitioner:
1 – Lack of vision and planning
This is one of the most common mistakes I encounter. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you find your way? You must have a vision and a plan about your future in practice and business. I consider this the number one error, because a lot of valuable time and money is wasted in finding out what you would like to do at some point. In fact, this is so important and you should explore and consider your perfect scenario about half way through your training.
Imagine your best scenario: are you going to be working for yourself, in a team, employed, sub-contracting? Are you going to teach or have another income to supplement your wages? If you are working for someone else, are they also Chinese medicine practitioners or are they practice managers in a multi-disciplinary clinic?
Surely, throughout your course, you will be inspired by a certain style or have a natural attraction to a specific condition, demographic or location? Use this knowledge about yourself to start planning your own future. Answer the where, who, what and how and you will be well prepared.
Once you start your last year at University, you can start looking for those positions, clinics or situations. And voila, as you graduate, you can easily transition onto a path that aligns with your values and expectations. Avoid the mistake, not knowing what you are doing when you finish your training.
2 – Not connecting/talking/working with a mentor
Number two of the mistakes is not to have a mentor. An experienced practitioner or business coach to answer your questions and concerns. Someone who is prepared to exchange case studies or discuss legal, moral and ethical responsibilities.
I understand there are no post-graduate support programs available in Australia. Once you have completed your degree, you are on your own. Until such programs could become available in the near future, find yourself a mentor. Connect with someone that you feel can be a coach, someone that you get along with, someone that you easily trust. They might or might not charge for their services. If you are a member of the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA), you can register your interest here.
Most of my colleagues who have been in practice for a while, will be more than happy to assist. They might have their rules or systems in place but it might be a good fit of what you need. As a new graduate, there are lots of things that you can learn from someone who has been practicing for a while, an individual who has done it before you.
3 – Spending unnecessary monies
Mistake number three is about spending your resources in the least profitable way. When first starting out, no matter if you are sub-contracting, renting a room or working from home. To build up a steady patient base requires people coming through the door! Don’t waste your money on purchasing fancy equipment or building a dispensary. Spend your time and money on educating your community what acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can do for them. If you are after referrals, you need to contact other health services and connect with them. Enlighten them about you do and how you do it.
You need to put yourself out there and tell your prospects what you can do for them and you need to explain to them how you do it. This includes clear and easily understood information. Don’t wait until people walk in the door, find your website or see your advertisement. Be proactive and the more you connect, the faster that word will spread.
4 – Lacking clarity
Mistake number four is about lacking clarity. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to find solid ground for your practice. Retrospectively, I was missing clarity in terms of what I wanted to treat (women’s health, digestive disorders, auto-immune conditions or mental health, etc.) and so, I laced focus. Once you start market yourself, you are wanting to have precision about your treatments. Are you going to use cupping, moxibustion, guasha and other modalities? How are you going to offer them, what days and times and at what costs? Are you treating children, elderly, pregnant women, males?
Make it succinct and put the message out there. The more specific your pitch, the higher the chances that you will attract those prospects quicker. This means, the healthier and more sustainable your income will be. As a Chinese medicine practitioner, you should easily make a living, even from part time work.
5 – Working from home
How many GPs, physiotherapists, osteopaths or other registered health practitioner work from home? And with working from home, I mean from one of your bedrooms. In my opinion, it’s simply unprofessional and I believe it impacts the credibility of our industry. To treat friends and family from a space at home is for emergencies. But I found it hard to remain a professional relationship when treating friends out of my bedroom. A professional shop front or a separate custom-built space (in your home or close to your home) that looks like a clinic is much more appealing. Your set up has to be professional.
The other thing is, once you get sick of working from home, you’ll have to move all your patients that you have built over a couple of years to a new space, which can be difficult. If you are intending to work from home, plan for the long-term future too.
6 – Stop learning
Number six is about the perception that as a new graduate you know it all! It’s far from the truth. I know that I am learning every day (still after almost 20 years), I am finding things out about patients and their expectations and when I watch my colleagues, I always broaden my horizon. Something that will add to my understanding, another puzzle to help me comprehend the big picture that we are all part of. Perhaps have a good dose of skepticism towards yourself without loosing your confidence. Keep learning, keep connecting with others and reflect on what works well for you and what doesn’t.
7 – Lack of business skills
Not knowing the basics of running a business is a capital mistake and mistake number seven. To be a solid practitioner is excellent, but to have a sense for running a business is essential. Because if you are not engaging with how to run your business, no matter if its from home, a rented space or sub-contracting, you will struggle financially. Let alone attract new patients to the clinic, exchange with colleagues and other health practitioners. As the business environment changes, we need to adapt and modify our systems as well. Most practitioner do not have enough business expertise when they graduate. So make it a point to give this ample attention.