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Where is our profession heading?

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As qualified and registered Chinese Medicine Practitioners, we increasingly find our needs as a profession denied.

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Lisa Holden & Ruth Mayroz

February, 2023

There was recently an article on the NineNews website about proposed superannuation changes. The article started, "the art of the pickpocket, when they’re a good one, is that you never know until much later that you’ve been robbed". Perhaps this comment could also be applied to what is happening with our profession.

As a profession and as individuals, we desperately need to increase our awareness of what is happening and stand up for ourselves if we want TCM to be available to our grandchildren.

Within Australia, we have a well-established system of health care with funding from both the federal and state governments. The federal government funds primary health through Medicare and the state government funds our hospital system. In spite of being registered health care professionals who are typically passionate about the amazing work we do, we receive no government funding or support.

We train for a minimum of 4 years, we undertake post graduate studies and routinely participate in ongoing professional development. We achieve great outcomes for our patients and most practitioners will recall patients whom they have kept out of hospital and whose lives they’ve potentially saved. As practitioners, we reach out to other practitioners if they overlook an investigation or if we identify an urgent clinical action that needs to be taken. Our treatment often appears to enhance the effect of medications for greater clinical improvement. We’ve all repeatedly seen this in the clinic but we receive no recognition of the contribution we make. Our history taking is comprehensive, we see our patients frequently and we listen to them. We know our patients at least as well (and often better) than other professionals know their patients. We deserve to be recognised, supported, integrated and welcomed into the health care system in this country because we genuinely do great work.

Instead, we are undermined, dismissed and at times, blatantly attacked. This is often so subtle that as practitioners focused on our patients and trying to earn enough just to stay in practice, we may not even notice it is happening.

We need to recognise ourselves a valuable health profession and acknowledge what we do for our patients. It is our responsibility to ensure our practice is safe and we are the only ones who can decide what we should treat. We need to be aware of well organised professions who assume they have the right to decide what is safe and appropriate for us to treat. This can be very subtle but it is vitally important for us to recognise it whether it be Chronic Disease Management (CDM) or various business models, and push back against it. We will otherwise fall victim to those artful pickpockets.

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Unfortunately, this can be subtle as it may be coming from seemingly like-minded people, professionals who genuinely see the value in TCM and complementary therapies. The issue may be about what is being done rather than the way it is being done. It is the assumption that we should be allocated a little box to treat knee pain or back pain while the holistic care is provided by someone else.

If we allow our university courses to close, we will not have a new generation of practitioners. This is not somebody else’s problem; it is our problem. Our universities are vital to ensure the future of our profession. We must support our students. We cannot allow ourselves to see students as a threat, they are effectively our children who need to be supported and nurtured.

We need to protect ourselves from dry needlers and medical acupuncturists. There is nothing they do that we cannot and we can offer so much more. This is so much more than business competition, it’s about protecting our profession and offering comprehensive care to our patients.

If we don’t protect what we do, we will lose it. We need to protect ourselves from metaphoric pickpockets; from those who subtly chip away at us unnoticed while we are busy treating our patients.

Advocating and fighting for recognition and acceptance of our profession on all levels is a slower way to make acupuncture accessible to those who would benefit from it but it is a better way into the future. Imagine a future in which we are recognised at all levels as the health professionals we are:

Our students would participate in clinical placements in our hospitals and with private practitioners who would be paid for their efforts (this currently happens in medicine). Students would graduate into supported training positions within Allied Health in our hospital systems (as currently happens physios, psychologists, dieticians, social workers etc). We would have the option of a career within the public system and support to do research to improve our evidence base or we could choose to go into private practice. Terminology would be modified so that applying to be an NDIS provider, for Workcover and other government supports would be not impossible for us, health funds would rebate their members appropriately and it would be expected that we should charge enough to support our practices and make a livable income.

This is currently available to other health professions but it is not available to us. Instead, we have our universities closed, we don’t support our students, we often view each other as competition rather than support, we accept other professions doing what is our work and we allow ourselves to be relegated to ‘complementary therapies’ by those with power over us.

We need to join together to support each other, we need to support junior practitioners and keep shouting until we are heard. We need to protect ourselves and our profession from subtle and overt attacks from bureaucrats and established professions. We need to wake up and defend our profession if we want our profession to continue into the future.

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Lisa Holden

At the time of writing Lisa Holden had been the acupuncturist at Liverpool Women’s Health Centre for 10 years, was supervising undergraduate students at the uniclinic of Western Sydney University, contracting to the Cancer Wellness Centre at Liverpool Hospital and had her own busy practice at Bella Vista and Winmalee.

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Ruth Mayroz

Ruth Mayroz has been an Acupuncture and Chinese medicine student and practitioner for close to three decades. In the last 17 years she has been practicing in the Blue Mountains and the Central West of NSW. Along with a busy private practice, she has worked for various non-profit organizations supporting marginalized communities.

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