As I’m nearing the end of this insane educational journey, I wanted to inspire future holistic practitioners by talking to current acupuncturists, herbalists, and holistic clinicians about their practice, experience, and insights. (Don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten about the China Chronicles – they are still in the works!)
Meet Michelle Grasek – a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, admissions counselor, and writer of an awesome marketing and practice management blog called Modern Acupuncture. It is safe to say that she keeps quite busy! Here goes…
1.) Hey Michelle! Thanks so much for meeting with me today. Let’s get started: How long have you been a licensed acupuncturist?
4.5 years. Time flies!
2.) Where did you go to school?
I got my Master of Science in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (MSAOM) degree from Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine of New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and my undergraduate degree in Biology from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.
3.) What did you find most challenging about school?
Herbs were definitely the most challenging classes for me. The memorization of Chinese vocabulary was intense. But herbs are so fascinating and make such a difference for patients that it was completely worth it. And my classmates and I frequently studied together and came up with fun ways to help us memorize the more obscure facts.
I also found clinic challenging at first, as I tend to be an introvert. Clinic forced me out of my shell, for sure! Learning to talk to people about sensitive information was a struggle initially, but the learning curve was steep and it got better. Clinic is all about communication, and I learned that quickly at FLSAOM. Even though it was hard for me at the time, I’m glad I had to go through it and figure it out, because I think it’s made me a much better communicator in all aspects of my life, not just the clinical setting.
4.) What is your herbal background?
Before acupuncture school? None at all. I knew I wanted to pursue herbs in acupuncture school because the professors made it clear that studying herbs helps deepen your understanding of Chinese medical theory and can help you be a better acupuncturist. I knew it was a path I had to pursue to be the best practitioner I could be, and it just turned out that I loved herbs for their own value anyway. But I had never taken herbs or learned much about them before acupuncture school.
5.) Why were you originally interested in acupuncture and Oriental medicine?
As a high school student my class had visited FLSAOM and learned about acupuncture, and that sparked an interest in me that never went away. In undergraduate I initially intended to go to medical school. As I progressed through undergrad, I realized that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the control the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries had over medicine.
Not long after this realization, my grandmother had a mild stroke, and my aunt brought her for acupuncture. No one in my family had much personal experience with acupuncture at that point, and we were all impressed at how rapidly my grandmother improved. She could use her left hand again, which gave her back her independence by allowing her to live alone in her house again. That was incredible to me! At that point I decided to pursue acupuncture instead of med school, and I’ve never looked back!
6.) Where do you/did you practice?
I had a private practice in Irondequoit, N.Y. for about four years before I decided to return to FLSAOM to work full time. Currently I also practice part-time at a long-term living hospital in Rochester, N.Y. It’s a privilege to get to work at the hospital.
7.) Where are you practicing/working now?
I currently work in administration at FLSAOM, in admissions. When I was in private practice, I began to realize that I as much as I enjoyed treating patients, I also really loved managing and running my business. This is not too common for most healthcare providers! But I really wanted more administrative responsibilities, and when I was offered the job here at FLSAOM, I just knew I couldn’t refuse the chance to see what it was like. And as I mentioned earlier, I still practice part-time at a hospital in Rochester, which has been an amazing experience. I love the balance between clinical and administrative responsibilities that I have in my career now.
8.) What advice do you have for prospective students?
Be prepared for a heavy workload over several years. I think people don’t realize that acupuncture school is a serious course of study. It’s one of the longest masters degrees out there! The MSAOM program is over 160 credits. You can become a lawyer in only 120 credits! But at the same time, know that you can do it if you put your mind to it. If this is what you love, commit to it and know that your hard work will be worth it. Nothing worth having comes easily. And your classmates will make the journey easier. They’ll always be there to study with you and support you, even after you graduate.
9.) What has been your most memorable patient?
There have been so many! I’ve had patients with wrist pain whose pain went entirely away after just one treatment. Those cases were so amazing! I also specialize in cosmetic acupuncture, and I once saw it entirely erase a childhood scar from a patient’s eyebrow. Awesome! But ultimately my favorite, most memorable patients are the ones who have been with me the longest. Getting to know them and help them manage chronic conditions, like MS, has been life-changing, in the best way.
10.) Have you ever traveled to China? (A few pics if possible!)
Yes. I had the opportunity to go to China with my FLSAOM classmates in 2009 for the China Elective Class. It was amazing! We spent one week sightseeing in Beijing and two weeks shadowing doctors in a learning hospital in Hangzhou.
It was incredible to see the seamless integration that exists between Eastern and Western medicine in China. It’s inspirational to know that a model of healthcare like that exists. It’s all about providing whichever method or style of medicine will provide the most benefit for the patient.
It was also incredible to see how natural it was for patients to take herbs and use acupuncture. In China, acupuncture and herbal medicine are simply part of the culture. They grow up with Chinese medical concepts as part of their daily lives, so acupuncture and herbal medicine make sense to them. People are not afraid or skeptical to use herbs.
The China trip left me feeling like my pursuit of acupuncture and herbal medicine was validated in ways I never imagined. It’s such a powerful medicine, and we in the US are only beginning to use it and trust it to the level that it deserves. But seeing it practiced in China was inspirational and reminded me of why I chose this medicine in the first place. It’s an amazing medicine with the capacity to heal difficult conditions with almost no side effects. It changes lives, and the China trip reminded me of that in a big way. I plan to go back to China again someday, hopefully with FLSAOM again, since I had such a great experience the first time!
11.) Have you participated in any mission trips? What was your experience like? (A few pics if possible!)
Yes, and it was amazing! In 2013 I traveled with the nonprofit organization Project Buena Vista (www.ProjectBuenaVista.org) to Peru to treat under-served patients in the Amazon rain forest. Project Buena Vista travels to Peru twice a year, bringing acupuncturists and other hands-on healthcare providers to volunteer their services to local people in need. It was such a fantastic experience. I felt so moved by the experience that I decided to volunteer as a board member after I returned, so that I can contribute to their cause even when I can’t make it to Peru.
12.) Why is becoming a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist a good career choice?
It’s a great career choice for so many reasons. Before I go into detail: I’m always concerned that people will assume that I left my private practice because it was doing poorly, or because you “can’t make it as an acupuncturist.” That was not the case at all. My practice was successful and growing larger and more lucrative every year. It was simply that my passion for management was getting hard to ignore. I took my current job in admissions at FLSAOM because I wanted to remain in the acupuncture community, but see what it would be like to have more acupuncture-related management responsibilities. Combined with my independent practitioner status at the hospital, I’ve found a balance that works perfectly for me and inspires me every day.
There are so many benefits to becoming an acupuncturists/herbalist. Because most acupuncturists own their own practices, I would say that the primary benefit is that you are in charge of your future. You control the direction of your practice, your specialty, your fee schedule, your hours, your vacation time, everything. The luxury of taking time off whenever I needed it is something I sorely miss!
When I ran my own practice, I often started at 10:30 in the morning and only worked a half-day on Fridays. You can mold your practice into your own personal vision, and that is a rare thing in today’s workplace. You’re not an employee, you’re the owner.
Don’t get me wrong. Running a business is a lot of work, and it can take years to build it up. But as long as you get the support you need and are willing to work hard for something you love, you can make your acupuncture practice whatever you dream it to be.
13.) What opportunities are out there for future professionals in this field?
There are so many opportunities!
- Private practice
- Practicing in a wellness group
- Practicing in a hospital (often as an independent practitioner)
- Associate practice (working as an employee for another acupuncturist)
- Practicing on a cruise ship
- Teaching at an acupuncture school
- Teaching wellness classes or alternative medicine classes at community colleges (which only require a Masters’ degree to be an adjunct)
- Researching acupuncture
- Writing about acupuncture for newspapers, magazines, online resources
- Volunteering your acupuncture services at home and internationally
- Providing educational wellness seminars
- Acupuncture is useful and in demand all over the world. I think acupuncture can take you anywhere you want it to. So far it’s taken me to China, England, and Peru, and I don’t plan to stop there.
Michelle provides acupuncture marketing and practice management advice as well as inspiration for future professionals in her blog: Modern Acupuncture (www.modernacu.com) She is passionate about helping everyone succeed in this amazing medicine.
Thanks Michelle! 🙂