Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

A Day in the Life of an Acupuncturist: Learn What’s It Like to Be Part of this Expanding Healthcare Field

Philip Kish, D.Ac.

Acupuncturists today are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare. They treat illness and improve health by stimulating prescribed points on the body with sterile needles or similar techniques that use heat, pressure, or electrical simulation.

As more and more patients and healthcare providers find value in this drug-free, non-surgical treatment method, the demand for acupuncturists will continue to grow.

What’s a day in the life like for an acupuncturist? You can get a closer look below with the help of acupuncturist and Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) alum, Philip Kish, D.Ac.

A brief background on acupuncturist Dr. Philip Kish

To understand Dr. Kish’s path to becoming an acupuncturist, it’s important to know that he dealt with chronic shoulder pain in his early twenties. But neither the medication he was prescribed nor the surgery he received solved the problem.

“Sometimes those measures are helpful, and even necessary. But I didn’t find relief until I ultimately tried other treatment options like acupuncture and chiropractic care,” he says.

In fact, his positive experience with acupuncture in particular compelled him to eventually complete NWHSU’s Master of Acupuncture program so he could become an acupuncturist himself. (For related information, see How to Become an Acupuncturist.)

Soon after, he established Optimal Movement, an integrative healthcare clinic in Rochester, Minn., that also includes a chiropractor, a physical therapist, and seven massage therapists, and offers IV therapy and PEMF (pulsed electro-magnetic field) therapy as well.

(To learn more about integrative healthcare, check out Get Ready for the Healthcare Career Game-Changer: Integrative Healthcare.)

Let’s take a closer look at a day in the life of Dr. Kish.

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Getting ready for the day

For Dr. Kish, a typical morning looks something like this:

Heading to the clinic early. Since he prefers to arrive fairly early at his clinic, Dr. Kish keeps his morning routine simple. “I wake up, hop in the shower, take my supplements, feed the dog, and get my son over to daycare,” he says.

Then there’s the daily stop at his neighborhood coffee shop. “If for some reason I don’t show up, they get worried,” he says.

Getting a quick morning workout in. With around 60 to 90 minutes before patients start arriving, Dr. Kish uses the facilities at his clinic to get a brief workout in every morning.

“I’m creating benefits for my body, but it also helps put my head in the right place.”

Establishing the clinic’s daily vibe. Next, Dr. Kish walks around his clinic to make sure everything is ready for the coming day. That includes getting the music and lights just right—as well as setting up the diffuser.

“If I’m not mentally present yet, establishing the scent of the clinic—a blend of lemon grass, cedarwood, and lavender—brings me right into the moment. That’s also what I want it to do for patients when they step through the door,” he says.

Getting ready for the day’s patients. After making sure his patient room is ready to go,

Dr. Kish reviews his schedule for the day, making notes about each patient so he’s better prepared for their appointment.

For him, this involves more than thinking about the specific treatment plan for each patient. He says, “I’ll also make notes related to where they’re from or something about their kids—just some details to help make it personal. I don’t want people to feel like just a number.”

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Attending to the patients for the day

In a typical 40- to 50-hour workweek, Dr. Kish devotes around 30 hours to patient care. Those other hours are spent on the day-to-day responsibilities that go into running a healthcare clinic—everything from setting up appointments and ordering supplies to doing marketing tasks.

Dr. Kish and his colleagues see a variety of patients. Many come for pain or injuries related to athletic activities. Others have health problems derived from the physical work they perform in their jobs. And, according to Dr. Kish, a growing number of them come for reasons more difficult to define.

“We’re seeing more people who have exhausted all their options,” he says. “They feel like they’re not being heard and are frustrated with the care they’ve been receiving elsewhere. They come in emotionally exhausted.”

Special note on an acupuncturist’s scope of practice

On a daily basis, Dr. Kish’s role as an acupuncturist can involve addressing both physical and emotional aspects of his patients’ health.

“Sure, I’m often helping people with, say, back pain. But I may also try to help people improve their outlook,” he explains. “If they say something like, ‘I feel broken.’ I remind them that they may be hurting, but there’s room for improvement. And that can be an important realization.”

In fact, Dr. Kish says acupuncturists have the opportunity to help patients on multiple levels, from reducing stress and anxiety to improving sleep quality to managing a wide range of pain.

Acupuncturists have the opportunity to help in a number of ways.

New patients: Conducting an extensive patient intake

Though there are exceptions, Dr. Kish typically schedules a 70-minute appointment for most of his first-time patients. He devotes much of that time to conducting an in-depth analysis of the patient, exploring various dimensions of their health history and their life in general, including:

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Occupation
  • Physical activity
  • Stress levels
  • Physical and/or emotional trauma
  • Coping mechanisms for stress

“I’m trying to understand the person as a whole and how certain aspects of their life may be factoring into their condition, whatever that may be,” he explains.

I'm trying to understand the person as a whole.

He also may do a few minutes of breathing exercises with patients to help put them in a calmer state of mind.

Making recommendations

Based on the intake, Dr. Kish may suggest a customized acupuncture treatment plan as well as encourage other options that could be helpful.

“Let’s say we’ve identified a specific issue in the lower back. I might propose acupuncture for more immediate pain relief, but I might also advise that they see the physical therapist to help build back strength or mobility.”

Or if, for example, the patient is having migraines, Dr. Kish may recommend acupuncture for a certain period of time as well as suggest other measures like:

  • Keeping a food journal to help identify migraine-triggering foods
  • Making specific dietary changes
  • Incorporating certain physical exercises
  • Taking a specific supplement
  • Practicing breathing exercises

“I want to be realistic and not overwhelm a patient,” says Dr. Kish. “Baby steps are important. And so is making the patient feel validated. It’s important that they know they’re in control of the choices they make.”

The Ultimate Guide To Northwestern’s Acupuncture Degree Program

Conducting acupuncture during the initial visit

Based on the information that comes out of the intake, along with some preliminary physical tests, Dr. Kish will conduct needle-based acupuncture, in some cases, “to turn on the specific muscles that aren’t working properly.” That process can take somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes.

Acupuncturists may differ with one another in this respect, but Dr. Kish says he typically draws from both traditional Chinese medicine and Western biomedical science when he administers acupuncture.

“I believe it’s important to combine both perspectives, which is why I think having a solid background in both is important.” (For related information, see What to Look for in an Acupuncture Program: 12 Must-Ask Questions for Prospective Students.)

Dr. Kish has stayed true to his goal.

Treating return patients

Healthcare practitioners and even acupuncturists, specifically, vary widely in terms of how long patient appointments last. For Dr. Kish, he’s stayed true to a goal he had when he first opened his clinic: spend more time with each patient.

For example, he takes around 50 minutes with return patients. In that time, he’ll first inquire how the patient is feeling and discuss if they’re noticing any effects from the treatment he’s provided and the recommendations he’s made.

He says a lot of his regular patients take the first 20 or so minutes to share what’s happening in their life, including their stress levels and life changes. “They’re sometimes apologetic about talking so much, but I actually think it can be an important part of the healing process,” says Dr. Kish.

He’ll then turn to performing acupuncture, which he may modify from one appointment to the next based on the patient’s progress.

Incorporating an integrative approach into each day

An integrative healthcare clinic such as Dr. Kish’s typically has practitioners from multiple disciplines. But Dr. Kish explains that truly integrative care involves different practitioners actually collaborating with one another for the betterment of individual patients.

So whenever he thinks it could be helpful, he refers his patients to other practitioners at his clinic, even if only for a brief consultation.

“My colleagues and I really focus on working cohesively in the treatment of patients. We all bring strengths and expertise that can complement one another when we each look at the same patient. It’s powerful. Frankly, it can make the healing process a lot faster,” he says.

(For information on establishing an integrative clinic, check out How to Build an Integrative Healthcare Practice: One Acupuncturist’s Experience.)

I love Mondays.

Why Dr. Kish loves being an acupuncturist

“I know a lot of people complain about Mondays, but I love them,” says Dr. Kish. “I get excited about the patients I’m going to see.” Here are some of the other reasons why Dr. Kish loves Mondays—and loves being an acupuncturist:

He’s constantly learning and growing.

Since no two patients are alike, Dr. Kish says every day presents problems to be figured out. “That makes what I do extremely interesting. I want to be challenged because from challenge comes growth.”

On top of that, he also says the field of acupuncture provides numerous opportunities to add to your skill set through symposiums, fellowships, and other forms of continuing education. “It’s perfect for me because I just want to keep learning and gain as many tools as I can to help my patients.”

He enjoys the rewards of being a “guide.”

Dr. Kish vividly remembers the day his favorite professor in acupuncture school said, “The patient is the doctor. The patient has the answers. It’s your job to help guide them to what they already know.”

The idea had a profound effect on him. Today, he says it’s incredibly rewarding to be a guide that helps people “evolve and change their lives for the better.”

He’s had the freedom to create his own kind of practice.

Becoming an acupuncturist and establishing his own professional practice has afforded Dr. Kish a tremendous amount of freedom as a healthcare practitioner.

“At my clinic, we want people—both the patients and the practitioners—to embrace their uniqueness. This is a special healing space, and it’s been an incredible journey to help create it.”

He’s able to provide much-needed healthcare options.

Through his integrative healthcare clinic, Dr. Kish says he and his colleagues are fulfilling a growing need for alternatives to drugs and surgery, and providing a way to establish more meaningful relationships with patients.

“People’s bodies are hurting and their minds are weary,” he says. “More and more of them are searching for other options. I think that what we practice at my clinic is natural medicine, and I feel like we’re really making a real difference in people’s lives and in the community.”

Your next step: Reach out for more information on acupuncture school

You’ve just gotten a look at one successful acupuncturist’s day—and learned why the profession has been such a satisfying career choice for him. Could being an acupuncturist be right for you too?

If you’re exploring the acupuncture profession, this is an exciting time! Now take the next step. Reach out to NWHSU for personalized support on your path to becoming an acupuncturist.

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