What is POCA Tech?

tl;dr: please watch this short video!

In September 2014 the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) opened a school to train the next generation of community acupuncturists. Community Acupuncture is a social business model providing affordable & accessible acupuncture to whoever needs and wants it.

The POCA cooperative urgently needs qualified licensed acupuncturists both to work in existing community acupuncture clinics and to open new clinics in underserved areas. POCA Tech will fill the needs of:

  • students of ordinary incomes for a genuinely affordable acupuncture training program;
  • existing POCA clinics for employable graduates who are fully prepared to work in a community acupuncture environment; and
  • the profession for students from communities that are geographically and culturally diverse, particularly those demographics currently underrepresented in the profession.  

POCA Tech offers its students something no other school can provide: the collective, freely-shared wisdom earned from delivering over 1,000,000 treatments annually to a combined patient base in the hundreds of thousands. These numbers provide POCA Tech students with significant research opportunities, due to large patient samples. In addition, POCA member clinics provide dozens of employment opportunities per year for its graduates. POCA Tech is open only to POCA members. If you are interested in attending POCA Tech, the first thing you need to do is to join POCA.

POCA Tech is the beneficiary of a massive endowment of goodwill, social capital, knowledge, skills, competence, and volunteerism via its relationship to the POCA Cooperative. POCA resources include over 700 acupuncturist members, over 1,300 patient members, over 160 clinic members, and 8 organizational members. Together, members have contributed tens of thousands of hours to building POCA and can matched or exceeded that contribution in supporting the development of POCA Tech.

POCA Tech does not discriminate against any individual whether student, volunteer, instructor, or administrator, on the basis of age, physical disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin or any other status protected by the law in its admissions or employment practices.

POCA Tech is a 501c3 nonprofit educational corporation.

I don’t understand the requirement to work in or start up a POCA clinic after graduation. Can you explain that more?

We suggest that all prospective students do some market research on acupuncture school tuition. If you do, you’ll probably notice that tuition at other acupuncture schools costs anywhere from $40K to $100K, while POCA Tech’s goal is to keep tuition under $25K. How do you think that’s possible?

POCA Tech is a magical unicorn?

Nope. POCA Tech is a product of POCA. POCA designed and built its own acupuncture school because POCA clinics need workers. POCA wanted a school so badly that it poured a huge amount of resources into setting it up -- we’re talking thousands of volunteer hours, people working for free doing what other schools have paid staff to do -- like write curriculum, draft policies and budgets, apply for a state license, a lot of hard, detailed work. Speaking of budgets, POCA raised over $100K over a couple of years in thousands of small donations (keep in mind that most POCA members don’t have a lot of money).

What a beautiful humanitarian organization POCA must be, to put in this huge effort just so that I could go to an affordable acupuncture school! I think I love you!

Actually, POCA isn’t a humanitarian organization at all, though it sometimes gets mistaken for one. POCA’s a co-op, and it’s really important to understand the difference.

There’s a difference?

Yes. POCA is based on the principle of mutualism. The dictionary definition of mutualism is the doctrine that mutual dependence is necessary to social well-being. The second, related term is mutual aid, which means cooperative as opposed to competitive factors operating in the development of society.  This is really different from charity. POCA isn’t a position just to give things away, because POCA is made up of people who need things and who depend on each other to make those things happen. If you go to the school that POCA made, POCA wants something in return. There are obligations.

You mean like tuition?

Well, tuition’s one of the obligations. Here’s where we get into a very important distinction: between consumers and cooperators. All of us who grow up in this society are trained to be consumers, we’re not trained to be cooperators. That’s why there are relatively few successful cooperatives.

Sometimes people treat POCA, and POCA Tech, like a vending machine. They expect to put their money in -- whether it’s membership dues or tuition -- and have something delicious fall into their hands. They think if they do a certain minimal amount, they should get what they want; it’s a transaction, right?  And in a sense every co-op is made up of transactions. But the trick is that co-ops can’t run on transactions alone. POCA is a multi-stakeholder co-op and there’s a saying about those: they’re “transformational not transactional”. If POCA only had consumers as members, it would fall apart. POCA depends on people who can hold a big vision and who can make some sacrifices -- who can sometimes put aside their personal preferences in order to work together towards a common goal. POCA needs cooperators.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that.

Yeah, POCA and POCA Tech aren’t for everybody. And we’re not trying to appeal to everybody.  Anyway, getting back to the concept of mutualism -- POCA’s got all of these people working for free and also people who don’t have a lot of money making donations. People making sacrifices, basically. And it completely depends on those people in order to run POCA Tech. And you’re right, nobody enjoys making sacrifices for no reason, so if they’re going to keep doing it, they have to feel like it’s worth it. They have to feel like they’re fulfilling a larger mission. For example, the mission of POCA Tech: “ to recruit and train students to provide acupuncture to underserved communities through the POCA Cooperative”.

I hate to break it to you, but the people who have put so much into POCA and POCA Tech, and who continue to do so, didn’t do it because they wanted you to have a beautiful, amazing experience going to acupuncture school. They did it because they wanted you to get out, get a license, and treat people who currently need acupuncture and can’t get it. And they want you to do that in a model that we can prove works, which is POCA’s model, and which has some very specific guidelines. You can’t get out and do whatever you want, you have to do what POCA as a whole has agreed the school is going to train people to do.

What are POCA Tech's expectations if I decide to attend?

Before being granted a certificate from POCA Tech, you will need to demonstrate a:

  • thorough understanding of clinically practiced trauma informed care
  • practical plan of how you will fulfill your 3 year commitment to the co-op
  • substantive and tangible contribution to the co-op via a Year Three Capstone Project. Some examples of approved projects are: working on a Job Task Analysis project, creating an online CEU for the POCA Coop, creating an outreach program to a marginalized community
  • willingness to roll up your sleeves above and beyond what is expected at any ordinary school and participate in administrative tasks

Is POCA Tech a “social justice” school?

As we noted on this page, POCA Tech is a technical school which offers a Master’s level certificate rather than a Master’s degree. POCA Tech is not just a cheaper way to go to acupuncture school; it’s designed for people who want to do a very specific job in a very specific context. This job might or might not line up with prospective students’ idea of “social justice”, which can mean different things to different people. POCA Tech isn’t trying to be a social justice school, it’s trying to be an acupuncture school that serves the needs of the POCA Cooperative.

So when we talk about social justice, solidarity, and Liberation Acupuncture at POCA Tech, what do we mean?

Liberation Acupuncture affirms that the value of acupuncture is in its practical usefulness to people who are suffering. Or, as Ignacio Martín-Baró wrote, "True practice has primacy over true theory”, or what you do is more important than what you say. Liberation Acupuncture requires people willing to do the difficult, demanding job of providing acupuncture to lots of people who otherwise couldn’t afford it; the POCA Cooperative needs a workforce. Our goal at POCA Tech isn’t to do a good job of teaching social justice, it’s to do a good job of preparing students to work in POCA clinics -- those aren’t, actually, the same thing.

POCA Tech’s curriculum includes topics like the social determinants of health and the effects of structural violence because we think students need a basic grasp of those issues in order for them to do a good job of treating the people who walk through the door of a community acupuncture clinic. Some of the most marginalized people in the healthcare system are people dealing with chronic conditions and particularly chronic/persistent pain.  Community acupuncture clinics are designed with their needs in mind and POCA Tech spends a lot of energy preparing students to treat those people.

We also think it’s important for students who are studying the “tech” of community acupuncture to understand who is originally responsible for developing that technology: the Young Lords and the Black Panthers, the laypeople behind the occupation of Lincoln Hospital. If it weren’t for their work, the concept of community acupuncture -- the idea of using acupuncture to meet the needs of a marginalized community -- wouldn’t exist. Community acupuncture was designed as an expression of solidarity, not charity.

That said, POCA Tech is still about training students to do a specific job in a specific context. People who are good at that job might be political or apolitical, conservative or progressive, libertarian or anarchist. Someone who identifies as an activist might be happy at POCA Tech, or they might not. You don’t have to espouse any particular political ideology to apply to POCA Tech. If your politics lead you to want to treat a lot of people who need acupuncture, that’s wonderful. If you’re not political at all and you just want to treat a lot of people who need acupuncture and who don’t have a lot of money, that’s fine with us too. (Just please don’t argue with us about where the concept of community acupuncture came from, or that structural violence exists and affects our patients.) Mostly we care that you get the concept of mutualism. Our goal is to prepare you to make access to acupuncture a real thing for a lot of people, not just a lofty ideal. If that’s the hard, unglamorous, un-theoretical work you want to do, POCA Tech might be the right school for you.