Even though I love my job as a hospital acupuncturist, there are what I consider downsides to this gig. Let me illustrate my point by telling you a brief true story from my recent experience.

Last weekend I attended a class on Master Tung’s Acupuncture taught by a renowned and very experienced teacher. This was not the first time I had formally studied Master Tung’s acupuncture tradition, yet I got a lot out of the class. I make a great deal of use of this system in my clinical practice because of its efficiency and effectiveness.

During the lecture, the teacher of this seminar said that we could, with the application of effort and learning, make use of this system successfully. She stated that a key to understanding it on a deeper level is to see a lot of patients and apply it consistently. I thought that this was certainly what I had been doing for a few years now as I’ve probably delivered upward of 30,000 treatments in 8 years of practice inside a hospital outpatient setting.

I decided to ask the teacher a question during a break. I wrote down the question and narrowed the focus because the teacher was getting a lot of questions from students. I asked, “is there a systematic way in which you go about making discoveries for the uses of Tung’s Acupuncture? I work in a hospital and see a lot of patients but cannot do bloodletting or cupping in my practice.” The teacher’s answer was, “You just have to spend time with the patients.” To this I replied, “but I get very little time with them, 5-10 minutes of face-to-face time before I move on to the next one.” The teacher said, somewhat abruptly and rudely, “Well, Scott, you just can’t do your best job then. You can’t do cupping or bleeding and you can’t spend enough time with your patient’s? Most people won’t stay in a job like that for their whole carriers.” To this, I smiled, thanked the teacher for the answer, and returned to my seat awaiting the rest of the lecture.

Of course, this was not the first time I had ruminated about the limitations placed upon me by my employer in terms of my practice of Chinese medicine. In fact, I’m not really able to practice Chinese medicine within this hospital system, just acupuncture. I had to accept this fact upon seeking employment with and getting hired by this hospital. Here is a brief list of Chinese medicine modalities that I am not allowed to practice or which are too time consuming to be able to engage in within this setting:

  • Retained needles (such as auricular ASP needles, scalp or Muscle Channel Theory taped needles)
  • Moxibustion
  • Cupping
  • Bloodletting
  • Tuina massage
  • Chinese herbal medicine

So if you are considering going to work for a hospital system as an acupuncturist, know that you will likely be narrowly limited in scope. On the other hand, being limited to practicing only acupuncture has given me an opportunity to greatly increase my acupuncture skills and confidence. It has been a fair trade-off for me so far but not every practitioner will agree. My advice is that if you are at all uncomfortable with these limitations that you re-think your intention to work within a hospital setting.

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