Hi everyone! Happy snow day if you’re in the Northeast! I’m actually on snow day number two here in Seneca Falls – crazy right? Two snow days in a row is unheard of.
I’m using the free time to paint a few of the rooms in my house and read a fascinating new book I just got in the mail: The Brain’s Way of Healing by Dr. Norman Doidge.
Have you noticed Modern Acupuncture Marketing was quiet for all of February? Well the reason is… I bought a house at the end of January! I’ve been swamped with projects since then and I’m totally loving it ❤️ I’ll be posting before and after pictures later this month, don’t worry.
Today I’m excited to interview Brad Whisnant, DAOM, an acupuncturist with a super successful practice in St. Helens, Oregon. He sees an average of 100 patients a week, in just four days. Yep, you read that correctly!
Brad also teaches the Master Tung style of acupuncture in seminars internationally and online. He studied with a Chinese master and has studied and treated patients around the world.
Once I learned about Brad’s crazy booming practice and his unique (and intense!) TCM educational background, I couldn’t wait to pick his brain about what it takes to be a successful acupuncturist in our fast-paced world.
His realistic and no-nonsense approach to finding and retaining patients really resonates with me, and I hope it does with you too!
If you want to learn more from Brad about growing your practice, be sure to check out his online course, Practice Management: How to Grow, Build, and Sustain Your Practice.
You can also take Brad’s Master Tung and Dr. Tan acupuncture courses online at www.BradWhisnant.com.
In this interview, Brad shares:
- Why he thinks acupuncturists should never use TCM jargon with their patients
- Why the dosage of acupuncture treatments is more important than point selection (!)
- What marketing efforts have not worked for him
- How he manages over 100 patients a week by himself
- His best advice for a successful acupuncture practice
This post contains affiliate links.
Hi Brad! Thanks for being here today. Your practice is currently packed with patients, which is amazing: 100 patients a week, 30-35 patients a day, on average. Where do your patients come from? Do you do any specific marketing for your practice? Is it largely referrals at this point?
I’m a numbers guy. You need a ratio of about 9,000 people to one acupuncturist to be successful anywhere. I get 95% of all patients from my existing patients. I rarely advertise anymore, but in the beginning when I had zero patients, I had to go out and advertise, hustle, do talks, dog and pony shows, meet doctors, blah blah blah…
Then when I got a few patients? You do a great job and then you ask them… Honestly, straight in their eye, “Do you know of anybody that would love the great medical benefit of acupuncture?”
It’s like most acupuncturists want patients but they won’t ask for more. That’s like being unwilling to ask Santa Claus for a present! You gotta ask!
I’m sure readers are wondering how you manage 30 patients a day. Would you mind explaining how that works in your office? How much time do you spend with each patient?
I work hard and I don’t take breaks. I’m alive, excited, passionate, and I light up about what I’m doing. It’s easy. You love to breathe, don’t you? You love to make love, don’t you? You love to do what you’re passionate about! Why is treating patients any different?
I love what I do. Obviously! The first time with a patient is 60-90 minutes, then follow-up treatments involve a 5-10 minute check up and 30 minutes of rest time. I have three rooms so I can see three to four patients at once assuming it’s not a first visit.
The other issue is, why does Chinese medicine need to take so long? You know what you’re doing. You know the points. The points have an effect immediately in the Dr. Tan and Master Tung styles. Why does taking a long time mean it’s better?
I’d say if you know your stuff, your stuff works, and you have experience it should be quick. Here’s the patient’s issue, these points work, let’s get to work. Do you want to heal? Or do you want to chat? Either one is fine, but chatting ain’t gonna fix your issue.
I work 9:00 am to 6:00 pm: no lunch, you pee before work and let’s get going. I’m here to work, not screw around. I work four days on and I take three days off. I want to work when I work and I want to be off when I’m off.
Some people might argue that so little time with each patient is the opposite of why we as acupuncturists are so valuable in a broken healthcare system. That we can give our patients what other healthcare providers can’t: our time, our attention. Do you feel like there’s any difficulty connecting with patients and creating meaningful dialogue with them in such a short time?
That’s fair, but whoever said more time means more connection? I have fallen in love in a blink of an eye! In one second I knew my wife was the one. Hell, I lived with a girl for four years and that never worked. Time spent does not equal connection.
Being present, being open, being alive equals connection.
What’s the most important determinant of whether a patient will come back and stick to a course of treatments?
I think having a plan for each patient. Not a sales package, but a plan of what it will take to make a patient feel better and how long it will take; your best guess. The issue is that acupuncturists think patients decide whether to continue treatment based on the cost of treatment; but it’s not about money.
We need to stop thinking for our patients. Rich or poor, black or white, boy or girl… just be honest. Give them your best medical advice and be honest. Then people will stay or go, but it’s not up to us. The original meaning of the word “doctor” was teacher. We are here to educate, present what we know from our experience, and let our customers (our patients) decide.
Plus you gotta perform! Every time! I know it’s not fair, but so what! Water is wet and rocks are hard. So what! We need to perform, we need to produce a result. Once we stop producing results our patients will walk. That may not be fair, I agree, but this is the world we live in.
Why are Master Tung points such a good fit for our fast-paced, results-driven society?
Master Tung points are great for this because they produce instant, lasting and measurable results every time for the patients. I always say, I’m not that great. I’m super successful at treating patients and it’s not because of dear old Brad… It’s because of the effectiveness and ease of the Master Tung points. If I can do this, anybody can!
The power of a “system” is that it’s reproducible. I know lots of people who teach this or teach that… But look at their students. They don’t do that well. The system only works for the teacher.
That’s the power of the Tung points. 99% of people that do Tung points are super successful, have great results, busy clinics. It’s kind of a no-brainer.
The Tung points are perfect for our modern day, fast food, Facebook, texting, “I want it now, immediately” nation.
Less than 3% of my patients are in “preventative” health care. I see 100+ people a week and it’s always, “I’m sick, I need help, stop my suffering, and stop it now!” Not next week, not tomorrow, not in four months…
Where did you learn and become an expert on the Master Tung system?
Dr. Wei Chi Young was my teacher, and then 70,000 patient treatments was the proving ground. When I was India, I treated 100 people a day, six days a week for 3.5 months. That was just one country I treated in. You learn real quick what works or doesn’t work when you have 50 cases of back pain before lunch on Monday. Or you see 50 cases of diabetes by Thursday of one week.
This is an experiential medicine. You need to try it, feel it, think about it, test it, experience it, fail, win, fail again, think, try, fail, get back up. This is not a, “Let’s think and discuss for 10 years and treat one patient a day.” No! You gotta get into the trenches and treat! And treat a lot!
Books are great, teachers are great, it’s all amazing…but the only way to get good is to treat.
How did I get so good? I failed so much I succeeded. Every time I failed? I pondered. I still fail and I still think. It never ends. The day your don’t fail is the day your aren’t trying hard enough.
What made you want to teach it to others?
I just want others to succeed. It’s that simple. It breaks my heart that so many acupuncturists struggle. They shouldn’t.
You mentioned in a previous chat we had that for acupuncture to be successful and get someone out of pain, the quantity of acupuncture treatments, not the diagnosis or point selection, is the most important thing. I think this can be such a shock for many acupuncturists to hear. Why do you feel like quantity is so important?
Well we all know the secret to herbal formulas many times is not the formula but it’s the actual dosage of the formula. Pick the perfect formula and dose it wrong? The formula is worthless.
Acupuncture is the same. You may pick the best points, but if you dose the acupuncture incorrectly, meaning not enough treatments, then you won’t help the patient.
Dosage is the key. Quit trying to be a magic healer. Even in China, they treat every day. For eye acupuncture we treat two times a day. Overseas I’d treat a patient for 24 out of 30 days. You can move mountains when you treat enough. But in one to three treatments? It’s gonna be a challenge.
Remember, people don’t want to suffer. So if people aren’t coming back, it’s not because they chose to suffer. It’s because we as acupuncturists are not delivering measurable results for our patients.
In that case, how do you convince patients to get enough acupuncture to see results?
I don’t convince anybody. I merely tell them what it will take and let them decide. I didn’t convince my wife to love me; I merely presented my case as to why I was a good husband and mate for her. She decided.
My patients are the same.
The issue is acupuncturists take on the patients and think for them. “Oh, it’s too much treatment, too much money, too much time.” Stop it! Quit thinking for the patient. You don’t know what they’re thinking.
Your job is not to out-think the patient. Present your medical plan, based on experience or your best medical guess. Be honest and then deliver on what you promise.
You feel pretty strongly that acupuncturists should not use acupuncture jargon, either in person with their patients or on their websites. Why is that?
You are right! Do you speak the Zimbabwean language? If I were to speak Zimbabwean would you understand me? No! My patients speak English, so I speak English to them.
When I treated in Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala, and India I had a translator to translate my English into their language. How could they understand me when I didn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak mine?
So do your patients know, care, speak, or understand Chinese medicine? No! Less than 3% of your patients will care that their “liver is invading their stomach.” But 97% will care whether you can help them sleep better or stop their pain.
The biggest hurdle to acupuncturists are themselves. They want to talk and prove and speak all their jargon. Patients don’t care about their TCM diagnosis; they care about not being sick. So that’s what I speak to them about.
You’ve mentioned that you don’t think it’s necessary for acupuncturists to identify so much as “acupuncturists” but as healers who just happen to use needles. Why is that?
You are not an acupuncturist. You have chosen acupuncture as a manifestation of who you are. Acupuncture is an extension of who you are.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. I know that is a hard concept for most to get.
Acupuncturists think acupuncture is what people are looking for. No, they are not. Patients are looking for answers to their medical problems and that answer happens to be acupuncture. It could be bathroom crystals or a garden gnome…
This is why I tell acupuncturists to quit looking for people that “get” or “are into” acupuncture. It doesn’t matter! Are there sick people in your community? Do they need help? Then you can help them. Acupuncture is merely a vehicle to stop suffering, pain and disease.
You can see that I don’t mention, “I do acupuncture, it’s been around for 3,000 years and needles are cool.” Patients don’t care.
Can you end suffering or can you not? And when a patient picks you, can you deliver on that promise? Can we produce a measurable result for the patient, as defined by the patient?
What are your top three or four tips for building a successful acupuncture practice?
- Work your ass off.
- Quit complaining, get real, get in the trenches, figure stuff out, don’t give up, don’t expect anything.
- Remember this is medicine, not magic.
- People are paying us for a result. Make me healthy, end my suffering, whatever. We are here to help our patients, who are our customers. We have to give them results.
In a previous chat we had, you mentioned that “to do a good job” in a treatment can have different meanings for us, as acupuncturists steeped in TCM diagnosis, vs. for our patients. Why is it important to keep this in mind?
Well, my patient doesn’t care if their spleen qi is weak. They could care less. So many acupuncturists focus on fixing the spleen qi xu. But what patients care about is being fatigued. So what if you fix my spleen qi xu, I don’t even know I had a spleen. I’m just tired and fatigued. If you fix my spleen qi xu and I’m still fatigued? You have failed me.
So it’s about letting the patient define what they want their results to be. I like that; I think a lot of marketing and how we talk to patients should be focused on the specific goals that the patient wants to achieve.
You mentioned earlier that, “Acupuncture is medicine, not magic.” You try to emphasize this in the way you talk to your patients to help manage their expectations. Why is this such an important concept for us to keep in mind as practitioners, and to teach your patients?
This stuff takes time to heal, we need to quit telling patients we can treat them in one to two visits. It’s a physical medicine. It’s not hocus-pocus. If it is magic like so many acupuncturists want to think? That’s fine. But then here is your issue. Your patients will say, “Okay, I believe you, it’s magic. Then wave your magic wand and fix me instantly.”
But we know only one in 70 people will get better with one treatment. So now if I’m saying it’s magic but I can’t fix you in one treatment? Then I’m in trouble. But if I’m clear and honest and I say, “This isn’t magic, it’s medicine, so its going to take a bit of work to fix you?” Well then that makes sense to patients. I’ve been sick for while, its gonna take while to get me healthy. Let’s do the work together.
Have you ever tried any marketing efforts that simply didn’t work for you?
The biggest issue with marketing is people don’t back it with enough money. You need to remember that people will not act on your “ad” until you have touched them seven times. So for example you can use paper ads, Facebook ads and postcards to touch somebody six times and then finally on the seventh marketing attempt? That customer finally acts. Most acupuncturists want to market one time or only spend a little bit of money.
Unless you are completely committed to it? Don’t even start.
And yes, the biggest waste of time is the phone book! Nobody uses the phone book anymore. Stop using the dumb old phone book.
I could not agree more! A lot of marketing is about consistency and the long-term game, but many acupuncturists were not taught that. We want to just throw a couple hundred bucks at one newspaper ad and then expect it to sustain our practice for a whole year. That’s just not going to be enough. I’m happy to hear you emphasize that repeated and consistent effort over time is essential; that’s just realistic.
What’s the most important advice you would give to acupuncture students regarding starting their practices?
Be prepared to work your ass off! We have no customers! Go out and get them! It’s like dating. How many women do you think I could have dated if I stayed at home and didn’t do anything? None! You gotta dress up, you gotta shower, fix your hair, go someplace, be a nice person, say hello, genuinely care about a person and their well-being.
Most acupuncturists just think, “I graduated, okay, meditate and my patients will show up.” No! Get out and work! Get up early and work! Stay late and work! What CEO do you know that works less than 60 hours a week when they’re starting out?
You have no patients, but western medicine has 10 million patients just waiting for them. They don’t care. You? Have zero! You need to be a farmer: work your soil, plant your seeds, nourish your plants, and then? Only then will they produce fruit.
When you first started your practice did you do anything “wrong?” Is there anything that you would do differently if you had to start over?
My ability is that I failed my way to success. They’ve done studies about people on sinking boats at sea. When people were in a life raft and did the wrong thing, they still had a better chance of survival then the people in life rafts who did nothing.
I bring that to my practice. Are you gonna fail? Hell yes… You gonna screw up? Hell yes… You gonna go left when you should have gone right? Hell yes. But through that failure you learn. You never quit, you keep pushing.
When people win, they party. When I fail? I ponder… That pondering is what will make you succeed. I welcome failure, because tomorrow I’ll be stronger for it.
Any big future plans? I know you mentioned you’re buying a new building for your practice.
Ahh my future planes are a secret! 🙂 Basically, I want to specialize and not be a general practitioner. I think specialization is the future. You can hate it and you can fight it but it’s coming and any person that doesn’t see that is making a mistake. Specialization in the medical field is the future. My clinics I’m setting up now are specialty clinics.
And the other “future” is? There are a few diseases that nobody can treat, and I want to learn those. So I’m off to China in 2018 to study with some people that “report” that they can cure these issues. That remains to be seen. I need to see it to believe it. So I’m searching for answers that nobody can provide me.
Thank you Brad!
If you have questions for Brad, you can email him at email@example.com.
Awesome cover photo from HauteChocolate.ca