Patience vs. Patients
How long have you been in practice? I began my journey more than 20 years ago and opened my first acupuncture clinic in 2008. Just like you, I've learned a lot over the years. Recently, I sat in an interview and was asked what made me successful. Success can mean many different things, depending on who you are and what your goals may be. In this instance, the interviewer was referring to monetary success. You know the kind I'm talking about. Show me the money. Can you pay your bills? Do you have money in the bank at the end of the month? Are you living a lifestyle you are happy with? Can you afford to take a vacation at the end of the year?
I'm not a specialist when it comes to "business," but I have done a few things right. The simple answer to her question was this: patience and patients. These are the two biggest contributors to my practice success.
Anyone who's been in practice for any length of time will quickly relate to what I have to say about patience. However, what I have to share about my patients role in helping me to be successful may be a concept of interest.
If you're like me, you had a dream, a vision, an expectation, and a hope of what life would look like in the future – when you were finally finished with college and owned your own private practice. You knew your education would give you the opportunity to help people, but you also expected you would be able to make a comfortable living in the end. You finally graduated college and jumped into the world of running your own practice. Here's where you learned all about patience.
That diploma you received at graduation had nothing to do with knowing how to run a practice. It takes real-life experience to learn all the ins and outs of running a practice. How much "on-the-job experience" is needed through this transition all depends on your life experience. For some it can be a long, arduous journey.
My advice is two fold. First, find people in our field who fit your personal definition of successful. Who is living the lifestyle you want to live? Find them. Learn from them. Ask a ton of questions. Figure out what they went through to get where they are today. Second, be persistent. It doesn't really matter where you are today. After you get that degree, you can't stop learning. If you aren't progressing where you want to be, figure out what your weaknesses are and push through. Find resources and don't quit. Successful acupuncturists are both patient and persistent. It takes patience to build a practice that is full of patients.
Your patients are great teachers and if you allow them to, they will mold you into becoming a great success. The trick is figuring out what your patients are teaching you. Here are a few things my patients have taught me.
First, be yourself. People are attracted to you because of who you are. Is it your quirky personality? Is it your gregarious demeanor? Is it your attention to detail? Own it. Be yourself and then the most amazing people will be attracted to you.
If you find yourself in a situation where you aren't happy with the patients who are coming through the door, it's probably because on some level you are not being who you really want to be. Are you treating in a clinic that doesn't really fit you very well? Are you doing a style of acupuncture that doesn't really make you happy? These patients are teaching you that something isn't right in your world. I'd suggest you do some self-reflection and make adjustments.
I've tweaked and adjusted my clinic over the years (many times) to the point where it finally fits me. Once I became really clear on what I wanted, everything came together synergistically. It was kind of like going through the experience of building my dream home. I made lists about every aspect of my clinic — look, feel, smell, type of patient, income, logo, website, community presence, etc. It took years to figure this out, but the payoff has been huge. It's amazing to go to work every day and love the people you work on.
Second, treat with your heart. With experience you will learn a lot of different techniques and styles of acupuncture. When I graduated college, I was sure that TCM was the only way to treat a patient. Then I started taking more classes (I highly recommend that by the way). The more I learned, the more excited I became about our medicine. There are so many ways to do acupuncture. Some styles work on some patients and other styles work on others. There isn't a specific cookbook approach that works for every practitioner, and that's okay.
I started out with the basic tools I gained in college, which is really enough for you to take exams and get licensed. But for me, it wasn't enough to keep me happy. I just kept learning more and more. Now, I have a huge array of both ancient and modern treatment tools, techniques and strategies. I like to call my style of treatment "intuitive acupuncture." I continue to fill my mind with new strategies year by year, but I let my heart guide me during a treatment session. I ask my heart what this patient needs, the I let my intuition guide me. The heart-to-heart experiences I've had while treating patients have been amazing. These experiences have taught me that treating with my heart is what patients want. When I treat in this way, my schedule is always full.
Third, the best advertising is free. Did you ever consider that your patients are your best marketing team you could ever have? Once you connect with your patients they will tell everyone about you, most often through social media. For me, Facebook is a valuable resource. Patients often check in and share posts from my business Facebook page with their friends. I put about 30 minutes or less per week into this avenue of connecting with patients and it doesn't cost me anything.
Here's a unique, heartwarming situation that happened in my clinic because of the power of the Internet. I have a patient who is suffering from end stages of cancer. He and his wife have been coming to my clinic for many years. One of their friends asked them one day how they were coping. They shared how acupuncture helps him with pain. Their friend lovingly created a post on Facebook saying something like this: "Anyone who knows and loves John and his wife, and wants to do something special for them as he struggles with cancer, should consider donating to their acupuncture fund. Acupuncture helps relieve him of pain and also helps his wife deal with the stress and anxiety of taking care of her husband." They then tagged my business page in the post. I received email after email from people all over the U.S. offering donations to help this family with acupuncture. Because of the Internet and the love of a friend, this couple had acupuncture regularly through the end of his life and beyond. What a beautiful, business-promoting experience this was, and I had nothing to do with it.
Here's another example of powerful advertising which began because of a patient. You've heard of Google, right? This is an avenue I'd obviously recognized but had't really done anything with. A random potential patient called me one day and asked: "Are you any good?" I was a little taken back by his question, gave a hesitant chuckle, then answered: "My patients think I'm pretty good. Why do you ask?" His answer hit me like a ton of bricks. "Well, I typically choose who I do business with based on Google reviews. You don't have any. So, how do I know if you are good?"
The conversation I had with this guy was the most valuable business coaching I had ever received. He taught me how important it is to have a Google presence on the Internet. After that, I began systematically emailing patients who were happy with my work, asking them write a review on Google. I now have a five star rating on Google. I can't tell you how many new patients I now get from random Internet searches because I was willing to learn from a patient who gave constructive criticism.
Wherever you are on your road to success, I hope you recognize that patients can be great business coaches if you patiently take the time to recognize what they are teaching you.