Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated August 1, 2003







Do Acupuncturists Burn Out?
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and maintains a private acupuncture and herbal practice in San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.
Hi Brian,

I'm glad I found your website, your articles are very informative and easy to read. I'm currently considering a career in TCM. I have a few questions about it, that I hope you can answer if you have time: What do you NOT like about being a TCM practitioner? Do you ever feel over-stressed or burned out? What is your MBTI, and which type(s) do you feel is most suited for this career?

Thank you!

Good questions, Ben.

What don't I like? Self-promotion. It's only a means to an end. I belong to a networking group, which is perfect for acupuncturists, because most of us acupuncturists don't want to promote ourselves. Other network group members promote you by referring friends and clients to you. Of course, I live in an expensive and surprisingly conservative city (San Diego), and those are factors that may not be an issue elsewhere.

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Can an acupuncturist get over-stressed and burned out?

This is more about the person than the career. I suppose some jobs may be boring, but most are stressful. Acupuncturists usually are their own bosses, so they make their own hours.

I have a medical billing service do insurance verification and collection, because that's a full-time job and could easily overwhelm. Most importantly, I have personal commitments that: money is not my #1 priority (seeking and doing God's will is), and that I should walk my talk and live moderately and healthfully.

Here is an older Q&A (from February 2003) on this topic from a fellow acupuncturist:

Q. A while back someone was asking about workload, which is somethingthat here in Europe we don't get much discussion on, and my question is mainly for those like Brian Carter, Al Stone and Bob Flaws, who seem to have so much going on, what with web sites, businesses, writing books, advising people, holding clinic, courses, etc. How do you manage to work out your time? Are you working 24/7?

A. Ha! Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides! Apples and oranges.

I suppose I do have a lot of projects going on- 3 books in the works, the Pulse website, our TCMFormulas.com business, Acupuncture Today column, writing press releases whenever something comes up, and of course giving our needy kittens all the love they need.

I grew up a type-B personality and I've become so type-A that it amazes me, but I guess that's just the phase of life I'm in. Wood or Fire.

To address your question about burn-out...

I just submitted my April column to Acupuncture Today which is on a topic inspired by the best-selling business book, "Good to Great." It tells you how to make sure to only be doing things that fulfill all three of these very important criteria:

1. What you are passionate about
2. What you could be (or are) the best at
3. What makes you money

If you do that, you will be doing the most efficient, lucrative, and joy-producing activities. Trying to do things that don't fulfill all three sucks the life out of you.

I've been reading about William Osler (the father of modern western medicine), and he, like B. Franklin, had each day tightly scheduled the same way. I'm not that organized - yet.

Another thing Osler mastered early on was how to reproduce the effect of everything he did. For example, take your patient files, write each one up as a case report each day, submit them occasionally for publishing as case studies, then put them all in a book later on for re-publishing, then go do seminars on the strength of that book.

Other than that, I can only suggest "Physician Heal Thyself"- diet, lifestyle, etc. and taking lots and lots of herbs!

HTH (Hope that helps),

Subsequently, I got a hold of "The Power of Focus," which is written by 3 authors, 2 of whom are the Chicken Soup for the Soul guys. This book helps you organize all the things you have to do, and dream of doing, make sure it's balanced (work, fun, learning, family, etc.), and then turn it all into manageable plans for 3 months, 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years.

What is your MBTI, and which type(s) do you feel is most suited for this career?

Mine is XNFJ- I'm not really extroverted or introverted; it depends on the situation. It does appear that most people attracted to CM are NF's. Have you read my article on personality types? That page has a link to an MBTI quiz and then a survey for people to respond- I've received a statistically significant response (more than 33 people times the 16 possible answers). You can "View Results" with the link under the vote button. The respondents are lay public and acupuncturists, I assume, since that is the Pulse's audience. The biggest groups are NF's.

Based on a Meyers-Briggs personality survey of 692 Pulse readers, 71% are introverts (29% are extroverts), 68.6% are intuitive (31.4% are sensing), 63.9% are feelers (36.1% are thinkers), and 50.6% are judgers (49.4% are perceivers).

But, I don't think there is just one type most suited to practicing Chinese medicine. NF's will do well because of the right brain pattern identification diagnosis, and the need to spend a lot of time talking and exploring experiences.

A Journal of the American Board of Family Practice survey of various medical professionals (pdf) showed that acupuncturists spend three times as long with each patient as MD's do. So, if talking to people like that interests you, you'll be turned on. Otherwise, it may take a lot out of you.

But, NT's could also do well, because it can be a very complicated system of diagnosis, treatment, etc. There's just as much data, diagnoses, treatments, and specifics about herbs and points to learn as in Western medicine. I'm not an MBTI expert, so I confess I can't fully answer this question.

Acupuncture is a Diverse Profession

As you can see in my article "My Top 10 Favorite Things about Chinese Medicine," (see #11) there are many career options with an Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine. I'm sure some of these options would be more suited to one type or another.

All the best!

About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

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