What I Wish They Taught Us in Chinese Medicine School: Like It or Not, You’re a Small Business Owner!
The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity. —PETER DRUCKER
Most of us chose acupuncture because we wanted to help people. Running a business was not really on our radar. We naïvely imagined that all we needed to do was learn the medicine well, rent a room, put up a shingle announcing our practice, launch our name into cyberspace with a basic website, and watch the patients flock to our clinic door.
We were not prepared for the business side of the practice. We invested years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars becoming well-trained, licensed Chinese medicine practitioners, but as soon as we set up shop and started offering services for money, we were rudely awakened to realities such as accounting, marketing, hiring staff, and staying ahead of government forms and taxes. These skills were not adequately taught in our training, but they are as integral to a successful Chinese medicine practice as is our healing knowledge and skill.
Actually, that’s not quite true. I would argue that those entrepreneurial skills are more integral to a busy TCM practice.
Too many TCM practitioners operate under the myth that to have a thriving practice, you must be a scholar and a clinically skilled master of Chinese medicine. But your clinical skills have little bearing on how busy you are or how much you can charge for your services. Why? Because patients cannot tell the difference between a good acupuncture/herbal prescription from a poor one.
That’s an important point, and one that most practitioners are in denial about, so I’m going to say it again: Patients cannot tell the difference between a good acupuncture/herbal prescription and a bad one. Your patients are not experts in Chinese medicine, so they cannot judge your treatments. Though the quality of the work might affect retention and word of mouth, your patients choose their acupuncture practitioner based on a variety of emotional, financial, and interpersonal factors that are often independent of any clinical factors. So if you want to help as many people as possible and receive fair payment for your valuable work, you have to knowhow to connect with patients on emotional, financial, and interpersonal levels.
Many TCM practitioners find it challenging to meld the identities of “businessperson” and “health-care provider.” Some have a mental block to financial success—perceiving money as the root of all evil—while others lack the work ethic required to succeed. But hopefully once you acknowledge that you are the CEO, marketing manager, accountant, healer, counsellor, and janitor of your business, your perception will change.
Practitioners who reject their role as business owners experience meagre earnings and endless amounts of frustration, whereas if you do accept that your roles as businessperson and healer are mutually dependent (just like the laws of yin and yang), then you can create a future where the sky is the limit.
You control your destiny and the success of your acupuncture practice. And one day, instead of wondering where it all went wrong, you’ll marvel at all the people you’ve been able to help and who have happily paid you for the improved quality of life you helped them create.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
I created this book for health-care providers. The success principles contained in this book apply to any small business, but I had in mind acupuncturists and other individuals providing medical healing to our communities. When I set out to write Missing the Point, my goal was to create short but impactful chapters. I have added at the end of each chapter a section called “Putting It into Practice.” Having an idea and good intention is the first step; however, to manifest success in your life requires action, too. The “Putting It into Action” will help you start the process of taking action.
Lorne Brown B.Sc., CPA, Dr.TCM, FABORM, CHt