The history of acupuncture professional organizations is a sad tale. We’ve had so many. Some thrived for a few years then withered away. Some live on as zombies. New ones are formed with high hopes. So much energy has been wasted when organizations implode, explode, and disintegrate. We need to do better.
The plethora of organizations, many with a small membership, drain our limited resources. And governments can’t determine how to help us when multiple acupuncture groups demand different things.
This is a problem for the profession as a whole. Recently it’s been a particular problem in California, where there are close to thirty professional groups. There may be more Acupuncturists in California than any other state, but there aren’t THAT many.
In early 2018 California Assemblyperson Evan Low encouraged the formation of a new association (here’s the memo ), hoping to unify the profession with one umbrella organization that could communicate needs and goals to the legislature, the licensing Board, and various departments and agencies. A series of meetings confirmed that there was significant interest within the acupuncture community for such a group and in May 2018 a steering committee was formed to establish a new non-profit association.
The original steering committee was a robust group with 4 at-large members, 1 student, and members representing nine existing associations. They volunteered countless hours and eventually adopted working documents and by-laws for the new association (CalATMA).
In October 2018 the steering committee announced that CalATMA was open for membership and that Board elections would take place in November. Twenty-one individuals applied to serve on the Board.
Meetings of the new Board were contentious. There were objections to the recently adopted bylaws and to committee chair assignments. The leadership did not agree on priorities. Board meetings became a war of wills. An Executive Director was hired, but resigned in short order, sharing his experience of the infighting and obstruction.
Recently, a number of CalATMA board members have resigned. Their resignation letters mention:
“the narcissism and egotistical nature of far too many of the members of the Board of Trustees whose primary interest is self-promotion, prestige, and status”
“the clear misunderstanding of what the role of the officers of the Board of Trustees truly is, and an overstepping and abuse of those positions by these officers.”
“A lack of will and support in creating a genuine effort to build a diverse and broad membership in the organization. This includes recent initiatives that are focused on the desires of a small group of the acupuncture and TEAM profession rather than the broader legislative and advocacy mission originally intended.”
“Notwithstanding the thousands of hours that I have invested in the unification effort, proposals are being made even now by the president and vice president to disassemble all that work for the benefit of their own legacy organizations. There continues to be blatant disregard for the ultimate mission and vision to elevate CalATMA from an amateur organization to a professional trade organization.”
When we learn of conflict within a group, we must decide whether to walk away, or to stay involved. We don’t want to support an organization that works against our best interests. But how can things get better if people leave when it gets difficult?
I consider — Is the leadership is acting in good faith? Are they competent, and doing their best to meet the demands of a diverse membership? Are they prioritizing good governance? Is there a commitment to establishing management and administrative support so that the organization can thrive? Are they manipulating an organization to drive a personal agenda? Is that agenda self-serving, or one they believe will benefit the profession as a whole?
I’ve been a member of multiple acupuncture organizations over the past 27 years, and been on boards for most of that time. Sometimes I’ve been enthusiastic about our work, sometimes I’ve had to force myself to write my membership check, and sometimes I’ve walked away, even sending up a warning flare as I left.
I am thankful to CalATMA’s departing board members for their efforts to create a strong voice for the practitioners in California. And I am glad they are sending up the flares now. What a shame that their hard work has been co-opted.
Our profession isn’t without accomplishments. A relatively small number of people have devoted a lot of energy to our organizations. (Yes, those people usually have practices, and families and other interests, just like you.) If you haven’t yet served our profession by working with one of our organizations, please do. And, please, don’t be too hasty to walk away from a group that is trying to do good work, but sometimes fails.
(Kenny Rogers was right – “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”)
(Also, register for the ASA conference. So far, they are doing good work!)