This paper was submitted in the
Doctor of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine program at
Pacific College of Health & Science on January 18, 2022
Please cite my paper if you use any part of what I have written,
in any type of communication or publication.
This is not the original format, as I simply copied/paste onto my website.
Dr. Anna Dolopo
Doctor of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine
posted online February 6, 2024
How to Make More Money in Your Acupuncture Practice
Anna Katherine Navida Dolopo
Pacific College of Health and Science
Dr. Tuesday Wasserman
January 18, 2022
The majority of acupuncturists who graduate from Chinese medical school are left to figure out how they are going to make a living the moment they are licensed. Some are lucky to find jobs in hospitals, small clinics with doctors of a variety of disciplines as their employers, but many find themselves having to open up their own clinics. Various studies online show that most acupuncturists earn less than $100,000 a year, with a median salary of $52,000 nationwide. The salary statistics do not prove to be commensurate with the amount of money, time, and effort that an average Eastern medical school graduate puts in and has to pay back in student loans.
This article shares the importance of having confidence in creating a successful acupuncture practice. Three steps are shared to help the new business owner on the path to creating money doing what they love: 1. A new acupuncturist should consider following an admirable and profitable practitioner. Observing how things are done helps create confidence that the process can be replicated. 2. Hire a mentor who can teach the new acupuncturist how to achieve the desired goals. Close communication with a mentor can help a new practitioner learn aspects of business more easily and faster. 3. Surround oneself with very successful acupuncturists who can further instill the confidence required to create a thriving practice. Iron sharpens iron. Our income is the average of our 5 best friends, so we should choose our business associates cautiously.
These 3 business fundamentals can cut the learning curve for the new practitioner and speed up the profitability index.
When I started practice in June 1999, I knew that building a clientele would not be immediate nor easy; my teachers at Pacific College already had prepared me for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the actual work it would take to build a practice that would sustain a lifestyle of financial independence. I didn’t earn much of a profit, much less a living that I could be proud of from 1999-2006; 7 years of barely figuring out how to make money as an acupuncturist! There were times when I considered leaving my profession, only to prove my family right when they told me in 1994 that I was an idiot to choose this career. “Did you get stupid when you went to college? Who’s going to pay you to do that?” It was drudgery figuring out how to get clientele and keep them coming until I fixed them; I also felt great humiliation for many years, while my friends from high school and undergrad were making financial gains, buying houses and cars, while I was barely scraping by. Some of my friends had no problem ridiculing me that going into business for oneself is definitely not the way to go. “It doesn’t pay to open up a business. Just look at Anna.” If you were to tell me from 1999-2006 that I would one day I be teaching The Business Acumen of Successful Acupuncturists with The Academy of Acupuncture, be faculty with Dr. Eileen Han, the most senior student of the late Grandmaster Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan, I would not have only thought you were lying, I would have wholeheartedly believed that you were another person making fun of me during my darkest hours.
My intention in writing this article is to inspire hope to acupuncturists worldwide that you can make a living. Perhaps a few golden nuggets here may touch the heart of at least one aspiring doctor of Eastern medicine to keep faith that one can make a wonderful living with this as a career choice. These concepts and steps are rooted in one word: CONFIDENCE.
Making money starts with confidence. You can sell anything as long as you have confidence to sell it. My training outside of Eastern medicine has taught me how to sell anything and make great money doing it. You can do perfect marketing and networking, but if you lack confidence, you will not make good money.
School did not teach me how to have confidence in opening a practice. Being confident in life and being confident in opening a business can be two different things. I was a confident person when I started, but I had zero sense in how to open a practice. Confidence doesn’t automatically give a person knowledge on how to create a business.
I love 3-step rules because they are easy to remember and follow.
Follow an acupuncturist that you admire. You admire that professional because they have confidence in their medicine and a business skillset. Ask how they started and emulate what they did in the beginning of their practice when they started profiting. The beginning is more important than what they are currently doing. The foundation of their practice is the real reason why they are so successful; that’s when their hands got really dirty because they had to figure many things out on their own, probably the hard way. Pay attention with your observations. God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them proportionately. Look, listen, and learn. Do it the old school way. Monkey see, monkey do. Just watch what the clinic is doing and follow suit. A busy clinic may do 1 of 2 things to you: it will make you feel overwhelmed, and you may feel more lost on how to create that situation for yourself, or it may inspire you to create something like that clinic or even better. Contrast is excellent in life. When you see what you don’t like, you then have clarity on what you actually want. Perhaps seeing over 100 patients a week is not your cup of tea. I personally believe that a new practitioner should see 1 patient an hour until they feel confident to see 2, then 3, and more. You can make a terrific living seeing 1 patient an hour, but to meet specific financial goals, you will have to charge more for your time. For those of you who aspire to see more patients per hour, make sure that your medicine is good, and that you put your work reputation ahead of anything else. People do business with whom they love and trust, and one thing I’ve learned is this: people usually love to see their doctors work hard and be very skillful. There still is something very mystical about Eastern medicine, and when we do magic with our tools, we truly are looked upon with high esteem by those we serve. Do not shy away from the esoteric aspect of our medicine. Many lay people are still attracted to our work because we are non-mainstream. Embrace that. Use it to your advantage. Be the healer that they yearn for. Many of my own patients lost faith in western medicine, and I somehow became their savior; someone who listened to them and believed that their suffering is not just “in their heads.” Most importantly, I deliver results that they want: less pain, less medication, better quality life, and more.
Hire a mentor. If you see someone who has what you want and has been where you are, you should really consider hiring them if they are willing to teach you. Hire them as your doctor, but also hire them as a mentor. This costs time and money. Never assume that people just want to give their knowledge for free. People who pay, pay attention. If you desire to get something for nothing, then what you will get is absolutely nothing. Your mentors owe you nothing, so if you get something for free, don’t expect that to last for long. Your zero investment adds nothing to the energy you are expecting from someone successful and skilled. Our greatest resources are money and time. Treat their resources that they share with you like gold. All of the money that I have invested in myself continues to pay off: CEUs, marketing strategies, personal development, and more. Your education did not end the day you earned your degree, it simply started. A willing mentor will help you cut that learning curve. You will invest, but you will save money, time and heartache in the long run, and you will earn more money sooner. In 2020, while so many acupuncture clinics were closing due economic hardship, 6 of my (EBBs - my business students) opened practices with . They are thriving. was instilled in them that they COULD make a profit while many acupuncturists were drowning in their financial sorrows. I taught them HOW.
Surround yourself with successful acupuncturists. These professionals have put in sweat equity to get to where they are today. Dr. Tan drilled into my head to stop associating with sad, broke acupuncturists. I learned in my personal development training that our income is the average of our 5 best friends. My billionaire mentor told me that if Aristotle Onassis lost everything, the first thing he would do was to surround himself with very wealthy and successful people. Iron sharpens iron. Success breeds success.
Understand the Industry
Onassis also said, “After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.” (Quoteswise.com, n.d.) Remember that Eastern medicine is game. Attitude + Action = Success. Cultivate a winning mindset and do money-making activities daily. Do the right things long enough consistently with the right attitude and your marketing activities WILL PAY off.
According to Career Explorer (2022), “The average salary for an acupuncturist in California is around $68,750 per year.” I like to reverse engineer data. This means that the average acupuncturist earns $5,729.17 monthly. For an acupuncturist to earn this at $100 per treatment, the acupuncturist sees 57 patients a month. The average rent for housing is $1,566 in California according to RentCafe.com (2022). $4,163.17 is now left for a car payment, car insurance, office rent, malpractice insurance, business insurance, so let’s say we somehow, we keep that budget down to $2,000. The acupuncturist is now left with $2,163.17 to live on for 4 weeks. This does not include student loans. The budget is now to live on $540.80 per week for groceries and anything else.
Natural Healers (n.d.) states “The median salary in the USA for an acupuncturist is $82,420. The bottom 10% salary is $43,200. The top 10% earn $160,990. The projected job growth is 4.7%.” I emphasize to my EBBs that if they want to be respected like a surgeon, they should act like a surgeon. Let’s take this data and see how our quality of life improves. The acupuncturist is now earning $13,415.83 per month, with a gross weekly budget of $3,353.96. More money usually relates to less stress and more options. When someone has a bigger budget to live on, that automatically resolves many issues. How often do some of our patients come in for stress, and how many of them are financial? We cannot heal others if we cannot help ourselves. $13,415.83 amounts to 134 patients a month, which is 33 patients a week, 7 patients a day. This is totally doable! Here’s the magic I share with my EBBs once they start seeing the potential numbers: I ask them exactly how many tables and recliners they can put into their clinics – single rooms or community space (regardless of the total square footage). I practice in a community space and my lowest follow-up rate is $90 per treatment. Without going into full detail here, my EBBs start seeing a glimpse of their possible future. If they can see 4 patients an hour and give exceptional service at $80 a treatment (this seems to be the sweet spot for most acupuncturists), they are earning $320 an hour. The excitement begins; all of a sudden, my students start wanting to work harder and wanting to see more patients. Our consultations work out tailored-made logistics. Acupuncturists now see possibility of earning a minimum of $1000 a day, $5000 per week. $20,000 per month. Can we make more? We absolutely can! I see all out-of-pocket patients at a minimum of $90/treatment. I have 6 massage tables, 4 recliners and 2 lobby room anti-gravity chairs. I learned first-hand from Dr. Tan how to deliver powerful, sustainable, and amazing results, while not having to bill any insurance since 2008 when I left the insurance game. In any business, CONFIDENCE creates MONEY and MONEY creates CONFIDENCE. I say this over and over in my private training videos: YOUR MEDICINE BETTER BE GOOD. You can’t sell bad medicine and stay in business for long. If you want to be in business, deliver what you promise. If you want to prosper in business, deliver more than you promise.
So how do you make more money in your acupuncture practice? I focused on CONFIDENCE in this article. I gave a bird’s eye view on this topic. When you emulate someone who does a skill daily, you’re bound to become like that person. Dr. Tan was that person to me. Repetition is the mother of skill. Start with 1 patient an hour and go from there, and if you deliver great results, you have the power to earn a great income.
Confidence reflects how you present yourself daily, market yourself on social media, newsletters, online photos, videos, networking events, seminars, as well as business and social events outside Eastern medicine. The Legendary Wong Fei-Hung was my original master in 1991. Subconsciously, I’ve acted like him since. You are the product you sell. Sell YOU like your livelihood depends on it.
Anna Dolopo, L.Ac., Dipl. OM, has been serving Southern California since 1999, specializing in fertility. She received her Master in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, San Diego campus in 1998. Anna is currently enrolled in the Doctorate program at Pacific College of Health and Science. She earned her Gold Level Balance Method Acupuncture Certificate in 2012 and Ba-Zi Certificate in 2015 from the late Grandmaster Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. Anna’s thriving private practice, Elements in Harmony Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs, is located in Laguna Hills, Orange County, California. Aside from treating patients, Anna also teaches The Business Acumen of Successful Acupuncturists course with The Academy of Acupuncture. She provides invaluable knowledge and mentorship to new and seasoned acupuncturists alike. With various achievements such as a Level V Global Information Network member and a Purple Belt Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, Anna is also a proud mother of three with children ages 4, 11, and 17, and happily married for 20 years. Her ability to balance her personal and professional life is nothing short of inspiring. When Anna has free time, she plays violin with her family.
Acupuncturist Salary in California. (2002). Career Explorer. Retrieved January 11, 2022. https://www.careerexplorer.com/careers/acupuncturist/salary/california/
Aristotle Onassis Quotes. (n.d.). Quoteswise.com. Retrieved February 6, 2022.
California, MD Rental Market Trends. (January 2022). RentCafe. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
What Can I Earn as an Acupuncturist? (n.d.). Natural Healers. Retrieved January 11, 2022. https://www.naturalhealers.com/acupuncture/salary/