It's time to band together - for not only ourselves but also our patients
We in the Chinese medicine industry have a fundamental problem: toxic health practitioner isolation. This isn't a COVID-19 problem. It's been happening for decades.
What do I mean by 'toxic health practitioner isolation'?
We're talking about operating in isolation to a degree that is not healthy. COVID has helped us understand better how isolation can affect us both professionally and personally. It has also brought into view a range of tools we have at our fingertips (literally and metaphorically) to break the isolation. Many Chinese medicine practitioners consider themselves introverts. They revel in the peace and quiet of working in isolation. Certainly, operating in our own little health-service bubble can be a joy. But take it too far and you are the only one in that bubble. You don't have the number of clients your bubble needs to survive – and then there is no health service. The problem often starts as soon as practitioners graduate from college. Consistently over the past 20 years, statistics of graduates continuing in the industry have been appalling. Two examples at hand:
Australia: At the last Australasian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Conference I attended (pre-COVID), a presentation by the Practitioner Research And Collaboration Initiative (PRACI) found that, of natural medicine practitioners surveyed, 95% of graduates from Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) courses are no longer practicing five years after they graduate.
US: According to American Massage Therapy Association (amtamassage.org), in 2019, the average US massage therapist earned (including tips) $29,349 (USD) – significantly lower than the national median wage of $48,672 (USD), despite the fact that the industry continues to grow.
The cause of this health practitioner isolation problem?
There are a few reasons, including these big three:
Lack of support structures post-graduation
Looking at practitioners in more conventional fields, there is one glaring difference: they are extremely well organised and have incredible support structures. As a GP, for instance, you're not expected to know about business management, marketing or even reception operations. You join a clinic and go from there. Often Chinese medicine practitioners graduate and have to start their own clinic. If they rent a room from a clinic, they can often still struggle to attract the number of clients they need. In short, the new practitioner often needs to be effective in business in order to survive.
Answer: Be genuinely holistic about your approach to your whole practice. In short, don't just focus on developing your modality. Engage in regular professional development sources, and learn about client management and how best to educate clients and the broader public* about how you and your modality can help.
*Members of the broader public who could be your future clients… we are actually talking about marketing here, but you can see it as 'public education', if you like.
We don't understand the power of being curious
Health practitioners keep saying they hate pitching themselves to other practitioners. Of course you hate it. So don't pitch yourself. Instead, approach by being curious about them. Be curious what other practitioners are doing. Be curious about other modalities and how they help people. Your curiosity may inspire those other practitioners to be curious about your modality and what you do, too. If they are, great. If not, don't get bent out of shape about it. Healthy non-isolation starts with you being genuinely curious about other practitioners – more specifically, who you might be able to refer your clients to. "Me referring my clients to them?" you ask, aghast. "But I don't have enough for myself!" you might say. Well, read on, my friend.
We don't understand the benefit of sharing
We natural health practitioners need to help each other – not only for the good of our sector but also for the good of our clients. Not every practitioner, or their modality, suits every client. If we all have a good working knowledge of what everyone is doing in our geographic area (if we work face-to-face) and have a strong, active referral network, our sector can only be stronger too. This way we all win – including our clients.
When our practice isn't going well, it's natural to feel fearful. It's also natural to want to isolate yourself as a way of protection. But the more isolated from 'the pack' we become, the more vulnerable we are.
Sector representatives for greater support
I have been advocating for many years the benefit of a unified industry – but we find ourselves with multiple organisations who support members but invariably have different agendas. The result is disunity and division of the pack. As a unified industry, while we might have some differences, we can create far greater protection, lobbying power and cohesion. Our administration becomes more cost effective – meaning more funds to further our industry via:
public awareness campaigns
government lobbying and interaction with the decision makers
Starting with you and me
This also can be of great benefit on the micro-perspective. We need to support each other at the grass roots level. Connecting with other practitioners has been the key to my survival and success in this industry. Whilst we might not always agree, there is one thing that unites us: passion for our medicine and its ability to change the lives of the people we treat.
I urge you all as individuals to step out of your practice, connect with other practitioners, grow and become a force in your industry and our community. I have always loved the Chinese water and stone analogy: one drop of water on stone has very little impact, but drip, drip, drip consistently will wear a path in the stone, showing the strength we have when we work together to help our patients and
Jeff Shearer is a Chinese medicine practitioner who has run several successful practices and now works in Newcastle NSW. Conscious of the struggle many practitioners face in achieving practice success, Jeff developed Ethical Practice, an information-based business helping practitioners to be all they can be. Visit www.ethicalpractice.net