An “Average Joe” Acupuncturist in the Oncology Setting

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An “Average Joe” Acupuncturist in the Oncology Setting

by Joshua Singer, L.Ac


After seven or eight years as a solo practitioner of Chinese Medicine in central Vermont, I joined with another acupuncturist and we established a practice located within one of our town’s hospital-associated health clinics. The clinic’s title changed to include the word “Integrative” and we were excited to see some integration of our medicine into a well-respected mainstream medical clinic in town. We began calling the various practices of the hospital to see if they were interested in a lunch talk to learn what we were offering as part of this newly expanded integrative practice. They were mostly welcoming as we worked through our nerves to share about the practice of acupuncture and how we may be a resource for their patients. We remained humble, used some research, kept it simple and spoke their language.


I’ve learned that most providers really do want to help their patients. And when they are struggling and have heard and read something positive about acupuncture or maybe a certain acupuncturist, especially from another patient or provider, they may take the leap to refer. We found that the hospital’s cancer center was very receptive to us and was most interested in having us spend time weekly on-site. In my observation, oncology care is one of the most integratively-minded specialties in health care as cancer is one of the more challenging conditions we face.


I’m sharing here mostly because I consider myself the “average Joe” acupuncturist who has now been working in oncology care for over ten years. And there have been other practitioners interested in cancer care who’ve reached out to me curious as to how I was able to make this happen and more of the details of how it works for me. I maintain a private practice and work two half-days at the hospital as an independent contractor. I find it freeing not necessarily to be employed by the hospital. There is a supervisor that I treat as such and regularly communicate with, but I do feel that I am mostly humbly in charge of myself there.


This cancer center has a patient fund which they regularly fundraise for. The fund pays for various services, like transportation or healthy food programs. It also covers the cost of seeing me, as well as the massage therapist they have available to patients. We’ve agreed on a fee per patient and at the end of the month I send an invoice for the total patients seen throughout the month. There is no insurance involved and it’s a free service to the patient. It works out quite smoothly for all parties. The patients are grateful for the free access to acupuncture as part of their cancer treatment process and the hospital is grateful to have me on-site for a reasonable fee per patient. In gratitude sometimes a patient will contribute to the patient fund when they finish their treatment.


They, however, do limit the time I spend there and the maximum number of patients I see in a week. The patient has a half-hour for acupuncture, often scheduled once a week directly before or after their radiation treatment. I also treat patients during (in the chemotherapy suite) or right after their chemotherapy infusion. They may come for support with recovery from surgery. I currently use one room, though I have used two and found it a bit too fast paced for my comfort with the relatively short treatment time. There’s an average-sized, carpeted, comfortable room that is not far from the check-in area, with nice music playing that suits our practice well. I am very lucky to have such supportive staff, including the nurses, technicians, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, as well as the front desk. After over ten years there, I feel to be an integrated and respected part of the oncology team. I’ve built personal relationships with all who work there and find it a truly enjoyable place to spend my time both as a provider and a co-worker.


Rather than sharing my clinical experience here, for which I owe a great deal to the TCM Academy, this is meant to show an example of the average acupuncturist working in a cancer setting. I imagine other practitioners wonder about some of these details, so I hope this is somehow helpful or inspiring. It’s important to build trust amongst the people you may work with in the Western medical setting. Keeping your humility, asking relevant questions, being interested, supportive, flexible and kind-hearted will all help you succeed. Feel free to reach out if there are other specific questions you may have for me that may be helpful in your process.



Joshua Singer, L.Ac. has been practicing acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for twenty years in Montpelier, Vermont. He spent a year in Shenyang, China teaching English at Northeastern University while learning Chinese language and observing the medicine in its culture, before attending and graduating from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2002. Josh greatly enjoys supporting cancer patients through their treatments. He is a graduate of TCM Academy’s Oncology Acupuncture Program. You can can reach out to him at [email protected].

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