“Join your Acupuncture Organization!”

We’ve all heard it, along with “we are doing the best we can with the resources we have” and, “if you participate you can help set our direction.” Heck, I’ve said those things.

Yet membership in most organizations is steady or declining. News of trouble in the AAAOM was met with a yawn. Many acupuncturists are active, involved, motivated people in general, so why do so many of our voluntary organizations struggle?

In a Facebook conversation regarding the AAAOM a current board member wrote “…if we were to have had one failure as an organization … it has been our challenges in staying in touch … to keep everyone up to date about what we’re doing, what we’re facing and how we’re being successful. I can see how not hearing from us creates space for concern and allows the possibility to misinterpret truth from reality.” If there has been one failure??

Another board member dismissed the recent resignations as a necessary step in getting “like-minded” folks on the board. Then, as the day follows the night, the conversation pivoted to a plea for unity, so we could get the big things done, like the FPD. (There’s a unifying topic.)

Having served on the board of my state association for years I remember the difficulty of trying to do much with little. Yet my recent offer [early 2014] to teach members about strategic policy planning was quickly dismissed with “no one would come, but if you write something we’ll distribute it.”  And my recent attempts to communicate with board members (whom I consider to be my friends and respected colleagues) about some of the association’s positions were dismissed with “the membership elects the board and the board sets the agenda” and “I know there are differences but I don’t care about the details.”

Is it any surprise that struggling practitioners aren’t convinced that joining and participating in these organizations will produce results?

One membership organization is doing well. As of February 15th POCA had 1569 members, including 242 clinic memberships (which each include one practitioner membership) and an additional 653 practitioner memberships. It isn’t easy to get membership figures for other acupuncture organizations, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that POCA currently has the largest practitioner membership of the national voluntary acupuncture organizations. (POCA’s 895 patient membership isn’t too shabby either.) POCA doesn’t claim or try to be the organization for everyone, but it has one heck of a mission and is clearly doing a few things right.

Here’s a real kick in the gut — did you know that a group of AOM Leaders has been meeting since 2005 to “promote the general interest of the acupuncture profession”? The next meeting will be held in just a few weeks. Look at the list of past attendees. Who is representing your needs and interests to this group?  Who decides on the participants? Has POCA been invited? Have any of the participants investigated why so few practitioners (who invested in the expensive education, sat for the expensive exams, maintain the expensive credentials) join their acupuncture organizations?  It is not because we are a young profession and it is not because we are cats, difficult to herd.

Is the message that the interest of “the profession” doesn’t include the interests of practitioners?

Last week’s poll was a tie, so this post is a mash-up.  There is plenty to explore regarding our acupuncture organizations. For now, it’s time come up with a plan.  How do we get the “leaders” to consider the needs of those they claim to lead? Don’t say by joining groups that don’t seem to care.


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© Elaine Wolf Komarow and The Acupuncture Observer, 2013-2033. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from Elaine Wolf Komarow is prohibited. Excerpts and links are encouraged, provided that full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

13 thoughts on ““Join your Acupuncture Organization!”

    • Hey, Ryan, what’s the limb?

      Do you have a breakdown of how many of the NADA members are practitioners? It is great that NADA is doing so well.

      • I don’t, good q: But I would bet most are *not* acupuncturists, I wish myself and others within NADA had time to research q’s like this, but that always comes at a cost of time which there’s little of since we’re volunteer and most folks are just busy doing the work. This is only current members with NADA. And it is after a 2 year dip in numbers, so in 2011 I believe NADA had 2000+. Pretty impressive considering that other than a few acupuncture schools, most do not have NADA training as part of the curriculum. And schools (like OCOM, Tai Sophia) pump out probably most of the acupuncturists who end up being NADA members.

        I would bet POCA becomes the largest member acu org any year now. A few years ago I was told they had a few hundred or 500 or so and so that shows how fast its growing.

        • Oh, I thought in your previous comment you said most, if not all, NADA members were practitioners. Keep up the good work with NADA. One of the struggles with almost all of our organizations is that they have so little paid staff. We’ve got a lot of people who could be spending time treating people or doing outreach, etc. instead doing things like manually updating membership lists. It’s a shame.

          • Sorry didn’t mean to brush over your q. It’s probably mostly, if not all, practitioners, but no I don’t know the exact breakdown. POCA has a great model to bring in patients and include them and empower them, something all organizations could learn from. They’ve got a very direct relationship with most of their patients, because of their unique model, different from a lot of other models including NADA.

  1. I totally agree with your sentiments about our mismanaged professional organization not meeting (or caring about) the needs of its members. Having served as president of our state organization for many years in the 1990s, and now on the board of its reincarnation as csaom, I agree that it’s so often a few people who do most of the work. (This is true of any organization. I’ve been in non-acupuncture groups with the same issue.) Add apathy due to lack of confidence in leadership, and the problem is exacerbated.

    However, comparing of POCA to AAAOM is comparing apples and oranges. POCA is not a national representative professional organization and doesn’t claim to represent the acupuncture profession. In fact, POCA is the first to admit that it does _not_ represent the profession. POCA is a specialty professional organization, the specialty being community acupuncture. Japanese acupuncture organizations represent that specialty, Japanese acupuncture, and Asian herbal organizations represent Asian herbal medicine. These kinds of organizations make solid contributions to our profession, but do not represent the profession as a whole. Nor are they supposed to. A national professional organization such as AAAOM _is_ supposed to represent us all.

    POCA should be applauded for what it is doing for our profession, and obviously it’s doing something right in the organizationing skills department. But it doesn’t belong in this discussion of what to do about national professional organizations representing the acupuncture profession as a whole.

    • I agree that POCA is a different “beast.” It does not want to represent or speak for all professional practitioners and does not fill that need for the profession as a whole. But, honestly, POCA is the closest we have to a national professional organization by default. The AAAOM has not filled that role for years. And even if some coalition of state groups had a voice at the “Leaders” meeting that’s pretty removed from the average practitioner, especially those in the states with no functional association. (Each state having its own independent association certainly sucks up a lot of resources.) Maybe one could say the AAAOM became a specialty group too — the group for acupuncturists who wanted to become as much like MD’s as possible.

      When you look at the POCA mission, and see what it has done and is doing for the profession, I don’t think it is entirely accurate to put it in the specialty box either. Consider these items from the POCA vision — To establish affordable acupuncture training and continuing education programs, to build healthy relationships and foster collaboration among our practitioners, staff, patients, and communities, to establish micro-lending programs, scholarship funds, insurance/benefits programs, and further financial support to POCA members, to ease entry into the practice of acupuncture and work with legislators to ensure safety and reasonable regulation. Add to that the steady movement to opening an acupuncture school and there is no denying that POCA will have a significant impact on the profession. In my opinion, it belongs in the discussion because it is the only national organization that is strong and growing and providing tangible services to practitioners.

      It may be apples to oranges, but in this case it’s the only decent fruit around.

      And, yes, I hear you.

  2. ‘Is the message that the interest of “the profession” doesn’t include the interests of practitioners?’ — now there is a topic. And when (not ‘if’) this is the case, who exactly is “the profession”?

    • Well, based on the “leaders” at the meeting, the “profession” seems to be the schools, the accrediting agency, the credentialing agency…. The businesses that make money based on how many people decide to go into the profession and not so much from how many people stay in the profession or how many patients get treatment.

    • I admit, it is sort of a convoluted message. Not one of my clearer posts for sure. The differences between professions and professionals is part of it. Another part is that it isn’t enough to call for unity or say join your organization — people try, and most orgs are disappointing at best. And even a success like POCA seems to get excluded by those “in charge.” Then again, I suspect part of POCA’s success is that they are more than happy to stay out of the fray. They’ve got their own prize to focus on — treating loads of people.

      • Goodness, it wasn’t a criticism. I think you hit the nail on the head… should have made that clearer in my comment. My question was on the rhetorical side.

        • Oh, quite alright. I was having some doubt as soon as *I* posted, so what you were hearing was my own self-criticism. I’m not sure the answer to the question is as obvious to everyone as we feel it should be!

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