Today I’m so pumped to interview Eric Schanke, L.Ac., author of the upcoming textbook Ashi Acupuncture: Advanced Needling Techniques, blogger at Ashi Acupuncture, and owner of a private practice in Oroville, California.
Eric has a unique perspective on patient treatment that I’m looking forward to sharing today. His treatment plans are based on ashi points and do not rely on what most TCM practitoners consider traditional diagnosis using meridian theory.
I think that there are many ways to effectively treat patients and that it’s important to recognize this. One of my favorite things about Chinese medicine is that there are many lenses through which you can assess and treat a patient and get great results.
A major benefit of this concept is that if treating a patient with one lens doesn’t seem to be working for whatever reason, there are still numerous other lenses or approaches you can take to see what works best for the patient. Chinese medicine is diverse, many-layered, and awesome like that, am I right?
Which is why I’m looking forward to chatting with Eric about his style of needling and his impressive soon-to-be-released book. (Sign up on his website for updates on when his book will be published.) Eric is passionate about sharing his expertise on ashi-style needling and gets down to the nitty-gritty in his text. He discusses angles of insertion, needle stimulation, point location, and more, all with full color photographs and diagrams.
In addition, Eric also blogs about practice management and interviews others acupuncturists to get their expert advice on different topics.
So today we’re chatting not only about his ashi needling style and book, but also about his thoughts on practice management and how to build a successful practice.
Let’s rock and roll!
Let’s start with your background. Where did you go to school for acupuncture? How long have you been in practice?
I graduated in 1996 from South Baylo University in Southern California. I attended a couple of other colleges of Oriental Medicine before settling on South Baylo. I started at Emperor’s in Santa Monica because it was considered one of the best at that time. I also studied Tui na under Yu Dafang at Royal University in Los Angeles. He was well known, at least in the Los Angeles area, for his expertise in Tui Na.
I ended up at South Baylo because it was near my parents house. So I could live with my parents while I went to school and save some money. Thanks Mom and Dad!
Looking back on it I think there are some reasons to go to “the best” school if there is a particular teacher you’d like to learn from. On the other hand, the curriculum is pretty standardized now regardless of the school.
And once you get into practice, none of your patients will have heard of any of the various acupuncture schools out there. They will believe that you went to a good school and you know what you are doing. This idea is called “presumed expertise.” Lay people automatically assume that any professional is an expert.
What was your first exposure to acupuncture and/or herbs?
I studied Chinese kung fu before I started acupuncture school. At my kung fu school, I was exposed to some common herb formulas, such dit dat jow, and using a moxa stick. I was a pretty sickly kid and thought kung fu and Qi Gong could improve my health.
In addition to that, I grew up near Little Saigon in Garden Grove. While I was studying kung fu, I started to go to a Vietnamese herb store. The old Chinese man there would check my tongue and pulse and prescribe herbs for me. Some would be Da Wan (big chewy pills), some would be bulk herbs that I would cook with chicken or with beef tendons. He always said, “Make you number one!”
All these things made a huge improvement in my health. One of my kung fu classmates was going to acupuncture school and that piqued my interest so I decided to study Oriental Medicine.
How did you initially start your business after acupuncture school? Were you ever an associate, or did you go right into private practice?
Actually right after school, I studied in China for about a year. When I returned, I started practice in a chiropractor’s office and later got my own office. But honestly I struggled to develop my practice during those times.
Tell us about your specialty and what made you choose that path.
My specialty is treating chronic pain with ashi acupuncture and needle-top moxa. I like treating pain because results are so fast that you don’t have to “manage” the patient for a long time. From my perspective, internal medicine problems take a relatively long time to improve. During that time you have to keep the patient motivated to keep coming in for treatments; it takes too much “sales” for me! You have to be part practitioner and part motivational speaker. And you have to sell them a lot of herbs. I don’t like trying to “sell” stuff to patients. I’m not belittling that stuff, the world needs internal medicine practitioners! It just isn’t a good fit for me.
How long did it take before you felt like you’d “made it” with your business?
I would say that about two years after I finished my “formal” studies with my current mentor, Michael Turk, I was making a good living. The first year I did house calls, the second year I treated patients out of a single room in my house. By the end of that second year I had “made it.”
What made you drift away from the “classical” meridian theory that is common in TCM?
A number of factors. I found treating ashi points got great results, so that I didn’t need the meridian framework to guide treatments. I found that the concept of ashi points is the same as trigger points in western medicine and that they conform to modern science/anatomy/physiology whereas the contemporary concept of meridians does not. Science can find a galaxy two billion light years away and a virus 0.01 microns in size but can’t find the “meridians?” That makes me think that the contemporary concept is fanciful at best.
I’m excited that you’ve written a book about your particular style of needling. Can you talk about your book at bit?
It’s a “how-to” book on needling the most common ashi points. I’m trying to detail exactly how to needle each given point, i.e., how to hold muscle x and at what angle, direction, and depth to needle it. It’s professionally photographed and supplemented with line drawings.
What inspired you to write your book?
I wrote my book because there aren’t enough books out there detailing the actual process of needling specific points/muscles. I also want to help standardize the nomenclature of ashi style acupuncture.
Interesting! Does that mean that there are discrepancies in point names or descriptive terms in the world of ashi acupuncture? This never occurred to me before.
Ashi acupuncture is basically the same as dry needling or trigger point injection work. We’re treating “knots” in the muscles. Charting by the classically described points is more accurate than by the muscle. For example, think of how long the vastus lateralis muscle is. It’s better to chart it according to its location on the Foot Yangming Stomach meridian.
But some points aren’t near a classically described point. My mentor developed some unique point names based on the local anatomy or the function of the point. I introduce all those in my book. I’m not trying to get my point names to become the standard so much as start a dialogue within the profession that could lead to standardization.
When will your book be released, and where can we buy it?
I hope soon! Everything takes longer then you think with a book. I need one more photo shoot to finish the shoulder section. If I can’t get that done soon, I’ll release it without that part and add it later as a second edition. Once it’s ready, it will be available to buy on my website, Ashi-Acupuncture.com. [Sign up for Eric’s newsletter to stay updated on the book’s release.]
What marketing tactics have worked best for you in building your practice?
Although I have studied marketing I really haven’t done much. Of course I have a website for my practice and a Facebook page. But all my success has come from word-of-mouth referrals. I think if I had done the right marketing I might have sped up my success.
Do you have any advice on how other practitioners can increase their word-of-mouth referrals?
I wrote a blog post about this recently called The Missing Key to Success. Basically, give great service. I encourage practitioners to develop clinical excellence. I’ve done almost zero “marketing” over the years but I have a full practice now. Once you’ve provided excellent service and results to a certain number of patients (I think I heard the number 150 before?) your practice becomes a self-referral machine.
Any particular marketing tactics that really did not work well or that you felt were a waste of time or money?
One of the few marketing things I tried in the past was print ads. They didn’t work!
If you could give current students advice about starting/running their future practices, what would it be? What advice can they put into action right now, in preparation for running a business?
Again, I’m a big believer in clinical excellence. With the right marketing you can have success without clinical excellence and I suppose you could have clinical excellence without success. Most of the success advice/coaching stuff I hear is all about marketing with no mention of clinical excellence, and that doesn’t appeal to me. There is a balance point that is probably different for everybody. You need patients to improve your clinical skill and improving your clinical skill gets you more patients.
I believe the fastest way to get clinical excellence is by studying with a mentor. While I was in school, I worked for an acupuncturist. He paid me $40 per day. So I made like $4 an hour. That probably wasn’t even legal back then! But I learned a lot. I encourage everyone to get a mentor. If they pay you, great. But I would even volunteer if need be. If you are a recent grad, I would spend two years with a mentor in the specialty of your choice. I’ve written more on this subject in my blog post, Get a Mentor.
The other advice I’d give if you’re in school: treat the school clinic like your own practice (of course within the rules of your school). Get your own cards made, have your own Facebook page for your internship. Do follow up calls to patients, try all of the marketing strategies that you would use when you start your own practice. Learn some massage. Do a little massage on all of your clinic patients. They will love you and you will be busy. Massage will teach you a lot, especially if you are going to become an ashi specialist!
You have an impressive blog on your website that covers a range of topics useful to acupuncturists. Can you tell us a little more about it?
I want to build interest in ashi-style acupuncture. I want more practitioners to embrace this incredibly effective style. I believe it is one of the crown jewels of Chinese medicine but we are in danger of losing it to other therapists because of our dogmatic fixation on the supposed superiority of treating the “meridians.”
What’s your favorite part about being in practice? Least favorite part?
Seeing a patient get better is pretty damn satisfying! Some aspects of practice start to get pretty repetitive, that’s when you start looking for an apprentice to do those things!
Favorite part of running a business? Least favorite part?
There is a lot of freedom to running a business, and I like that. I can set my own hours and take time off when I want. My least favorite part is dealing with bureaucratic regulation.
What’s the next step for you in your practice or business?
I’d like to get an associate so I can open another clinic.
Do you have a support network of acupuncturists?
I stay in touch with my mentor and also have a couple of acupuncturists that I consider a support network on Facebook. I really encourage practitioners to study with a mentor and cultivate a lifelong relationship with one. I certainly like being able to ask my mentor advice on difficult cases or practice management issues! Networking groups with peers could be useful too but to me there is no substitute for a mentor.
And finally, what is the best piece of advice someone has given you regarding being a healthcare professional?
Find a treatment technique or a diagnostic method and dive deeply into it so that you become an expert.
Thanks Eric! Remember to check in on Eric’s website to stay updated on the release of his book and read his articles on practice management and ashi needling advice.
Have questions for Eric? Leave them in the comments below!