Leaving university with a brand-new degree and a coffer full of new tools is an exciting moment for a new Chinese medicine graduate. But it’s equally daunting as we realise that the time has come to stand on our own two feet. It can be overwhelming (to say the least, in times of pandemics) and that’s one major reason finding a mentor at this time is important.

What’s the situation?

It’s hard to transition from being a student to a practitioner in normal situations, but to start a business in unprecedented circumstances on the back of a pandemic seems an incredible challenge. Our industry is known for high attrition rates. Some students tell me that during their courses at university, they are being told that the Chinese medicine profession is not one from which to make a living. It deeply shocks me to hear those statements and at the same time, I remember my first weeks and months as a new practitioner and the factors I had to face, manage and resolve all by myself. It was certainly difficult. It wasn’t just integrating all the technical skills, the client management and marketing; now it was also planning and running my own business.

We must find our own patients, our own rhythm, support ourselves financially and emotionally, and come up with new ideas when things are not working out. Imagine: you have just spent four or five years at university and worked hard for your degree; and on the eve of your new venture, you’re hit with a global crisis? How unlucky. Or, to say it in a positive way, what a challenge!

What can help?

Embracing this unprecedented situation is very scary to all of us. But we don’t have a choice and are all sitting in that same exact boat. Even as seasoned practitioners, we can feel out of our depth when it comes to how to manage this situation. Do I keep my doors open? What are the risks? How can I navigate those risks? What are my moral obligations? How am I going to make a living? How will I survive?  

Right now might not be the best time to establish your clinic unless you are 100 per cent certain that you can manage all that comes with it. But what you can do now is work on your future situation. Even a pandemic will eventually resolve, new life will begin and life will return to a different normal.

The uncertainty is difficult for many. And yet, we wake up every morning facing a day with lots of opportunities, even when isolated. Consider it a retreat where you establish your own sanctuary. When the business of toing and froing is taken out, we can settle, relax, think, reflect and plan. During this transition into our post-viral existence, let us gain immense clarity on what we want as Chinese medicine practitioners. Some things you can do during this time are:

  • Plan the space that you are going to be working out from (home, someone’s clinic, your own clinic or else?)
  • Make sure you are up to date with Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CMBA) guidelines
  • Have a provider number for private health claims
  • Professional association membership
  • Insurance
  • Think about your branding (colours, symbols, font)  
  • Start establishing some ways to communicate with your patients (email, SMS, blog and more)
  • Make a list of suppliers that you would like to work with
  • Create a list of things that you will order frequently
  • Consider how you are going to structure your sessions (ie. time management and what types of treatment)
  • Make a draft of a treatment plan that you could give to a patient at the end of their consultation
  • Consider questions like: How do you follow up with your patients? What do you do if they report adverse effects to you? Will you treat children?
  • Design any forms and templates (including referrals to and from other practitioners) that you might want to use

Finding a mentor

For new graduates, now is the best time to connect with potential mentors. Someone who you feel can help you make decisions or plan the next steps; someone who is there for you when you have an idea or a question. It might involve a couple of individuals, one for their unique practice style and someone else for their special interest areas.

When I questioned established practitioners a few years back, all my well-established and seasoned colleagues recommended that I have a mentor – someone who has been there, who has done it all before.

One way to establish contact with a potential mentor is to reach out to them directly and ask; or go to acupuncture.org.au/membership/mentoring-program/ to connect with individuals. You must be an AACMA member to access this service.

Mentorship is well established in the Western faculty, where junior practitioners work in the hospital, but because we, as Chinese medicine practitioners, work in private practice, we don’t have this framework available.

A study that surveyed final year Chinese medicine students in Australia about their perceptions of preparedness for clinical practiceconcluded that Chinese medicine students perceived themselves to be “somewhat adequately” or “adequately” prepared for various aspects of clinical practice (Moore et al., 2010).

A follow-up survey of graduates within the first 12 months of clinical practice found that there is greater desire for clinical experience, the need for support in establishing and maintaining business and interpersonal skills, as well as interest in mentoring (Moore A, O’Brien K, 2012).

In her article on the current state of mentoring in our field, Mentoring in Chinese Medicine, Australian Chinese medicine educator Glenys Savage considers mentoring vital to the progression and maturation of our industry.

A survey on mentoring conducted by AACMA in 2008 also revealed that mentoring is desired by members and was viewed potentially beneficial for practitioners as well as the wider Chinese medicine community (Moore, 2011). Some of the survey outcomes were:

  • There are a variety of ways to understand mentorship: formal, semi-formal, informal, group mentoring and e-mentoring.
  • The expected outcomes of mentorship are confidence, personal growth, clinical practice and experience.
  • Even division between expectations OF formal training of mentors AND provision of guidelines, code of ethics and standards of practice as well as expectations about mentor and mentee roles.
  • Level of experience of mentors, their length of time in practice and their communication skills were important to participants. Overall, at least five years’ experience in the profession were expected.
  • Shorter programs (three months) with high flexibility and individual adjustments were preferred.
  • Continued access to mentors’ support needs to be considered in the design and implementation of programs (Moore, 2011).

A comprehensive national survey of Chinese medicine practitioners in Australia also identified mentoring as something that is desirable within the profession (Moore et al. 2016).

Don’t let yourself be isolated and cut off from colleagues, friends, suppliers and mentors. It’s a great time to pick up the phone, send an email or put the word out that you are looking for someone to assist you in your next phase. This is essential to establish yourself as not only a skilled practitioner but also an excellent communicator and business owner.

Start the conversation now, so you are equipped when our lives return to ‘normal.’ Right now, make excellent use of the time to prepare for your future.


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