Jennifer Dubowsky of www.tcm007.com gets JobShadowed about her career as an acupuncturist in Chicago, IL.  You can also find Jennifer on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview or on her blog. 

What do you do for a living?

I am a licensed acupuncturist in Chicago and have maintained a practice in Chinese Medicine for over 10 years. My work includes, but is not limited to: acupuncture; Chinese herbal medicine; moxabustion; and cupping.

How would you describe what you do?

My practice is Chinese Medicine so, every day, I have appointments with patients who are experiencing a wide variety of health concerns and complaints. Some common problems that I treat are: pain, fertility issues, allergies, and digestive disorders.

When people come to my office to consult with me, I ask them many questions, have them fill out paperwork, and then I look at their tongues and check their pulses to best assess how I can help them.

What does your work entail?

I’m an acupuncturist and about 95% of the time, I perform acupuncture on my patients. Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine needles into specific points along the body. This treatment helps balance the body and encourages free flow of energy called Qi (chee) by the Chinese. In addition to the acupuncture, many of my patients are also helped by taking Chinese herbal supplements which are formulas that are suited to their constitutions and made to specifically address their problems. I use other techniques, such as Cupping, when I deem them to be helpful. I make the decision of exactly which techniques to use based on the type of problem we are dealing with during that meeting.

What’s a typical work week like?

I go into the office everyday but I do try to book appointments close together because that leaves me chunks of time to get other work done. When I am not seeing patients, I return phone calls and emails, get paperwork done, write for my blog, order supplies, and market my practice. I am now writing a book so that seems to take up any spare time that I used to have.

How did you get started?

I have been in the health field since college, so that has always been my interest. I knew I wanted to further my education with a Masters degree but had difficulty finding a program that both interested me and would provide me with the type of career I wanted – in health, to work with people, to be self-employed, to have flexibility, and to have work that remained creative and interesting. When I learned about acupuncture and the programs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I felt confident that I found my passion.

What do you like about what you do?

I like being helpful to people; I appreciate the variety of people and problems that I see; I enjoy working for myself; I am grateful that Chinese medicine is endlessly fascinating and I will always have new ideas to learn, and I am a believer in Yin and Yang which is a philosophy of balance.

What do you dislike?

I dislike dealing with excessive paperwork. While it is a rare occurrance, I also dislike dealing with difficult people. Working for myself has some drawbacks, for example, no paid vacation and no one else to step in if I don’t feel well. I also don’t like seeing people in great pain – that is upsetting to me.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

My patients pay at the time of service. currently, I charge $90 per appointment, and I take credit cards, checks and cash. If they have insurance policies that cover acupuncture, I give them a super bill that they can submit to their insurance company for reimbursement.

How much money do acupuncturists make?

I don’t know what the average practitioner makes. The range seems to be wide; some people only practice part-time and others struggle. There are not many acupuncture jobs out there. As alternative medicine continues to becomes increasingly popular, there are more opportunities and people who are willing to work hard to create a successful practice have the potential to earn over $100,000 a year.

How much money do/did you make starting out as an acupuncturist?

Very little. I worked very hard to build my practice into the business that it is today.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become an acupuncturist?

You need to get a Masters Degree in Oriental Medicine. This is a 4 year degree which includes, when I was in school, over 2500 clinical hours. Upon completion, you must pass the national exam given by National Certification Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Once you have passed the exam, you must also comply with your state’s laws governing the practice of acupuncture.

What is most challenging about what you do?

While I was well trained in Chinese Medicine, I was not trained in how to run and market a practice. Learning how to create a successful small business has been one of my biggest challenges.

What is most rewarding?

Chinese medicine can produce amazing results. When a patient feels significantly better, that is great. When mothers who came to me for treatment because they had trouble conceiving send me photos of their babies, it is gratifying. Moments like these are the rewards.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

The concepts of Chinese medicine are complex. The Eastern philosophy is very different from what we are familiar with in the US and in Western medicine. It takes time and open mindedness to grasp the essence of Chinese medicine.

Also, the degree is a long program that requires a lot of study and commitment. Getting your career started is hard – you can’t expect to immediately make a lot of money.

How much time off do you get/take?

I work for myself so the decision is always up to me. however, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and that needs to be taken into consideration when I plan my vacations and time off.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

Some people have preconceived notions about Chinese medicine – they think acupuncture is painful, or they think that Chinese medicine is very odd and ‘out there’. These people don’t realize that my work work is the result of many years of schooling, and the successful history of Chinese medicine goes back thousands of years.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My goal is to continue to have a thriving practice. I have also expanded my work to include writing. I have a blog – Acupuncture Blog Chicago that keeps growing. I am in the middle of writing an ebook about Chinese Medicine that I hope to have completed this summer and it may become the first in a series. The goal of my book is to make Chinese Medicine more accessible to the general public and give people a better understanding of what Chinese medicine really is. This is a new direction for my career.