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Check Out Susan Wiggins’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Wiggins.

Hi Susan, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was initially inspired to study acupuncture in 2008 by the person that was treating me. I had a catering business that was thriving. While the work was extremely satisfying, it was very physical. I found myself doing just about every task to the point where I really needed to expand and grow it, or simply close it. During my acupuncture treatments, we would talk about the profession and the schools in SoCal, and she recommended I go visit a few of them. After touring Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I knew that’s where I would study.

Near graduation in 2012, I discovered the community acupuncture movement. The mission of affordability and accessibility deeply resonated with me. I loved the emphasis on patient-centered care, empowering them to choose what they paid, where they sat for treatment, even how long they wanted to rest with needles. I learned about trauma-informed care and how to implement best practices. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t already a community clinic in Long Beach, given the diversity and demographic of our populationI began to make plans. With word of passing the California State Board exam in 2013, I opened Long Beach Community Acupuncture (LBCA) on September 9 of that same year.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Overall, I would say yes. But I quickly realized why there wasn’t a community clinic when I began to set one up. It’s much easier and cheaper for someone, especially new graduates, to rent a room or work for someone else than to take on the lease space size and cost that community clinics require. This business model requires more of everything (needles, cotton balls, sheets, cleaning products, etc.) because the focus is on high volume and low cost.

My clinic began really well, growing at a steady pace that was not overwhelming. I was able to keep up as it got busier and busier and still do a good job with patients. Originally, the sliding scale fee was $15-$30 and there were 11 chairs in the treatment room. We were able to take walk-in appointments and easily accommodate late arrivals or people bringing along friends and family at the last minute. It was a heady time, very exciting and fun. The clinic was located on 3rd and Atlantic in downtown Long Beach and a lot of new businesses were opening up and I was part of that wave.

I began with volunteers helping me run the front desk, then hired my first employee by 2014, an office manager. After that, I hired another acupuncturist to expand hours and access and then it became clear we needed another administrative person. The more a business grows, the more support it needs to function well. LBCA has enjoyed the help of a diverse range of people and the clinic has served an equally diverse demographic.

By 2020, I had moved the clinic to a smaller space with seven chairs, and while we still treated six people per hour, our fees had slightly increased after the first five years. The pandemic hit community clinics really hard because of the common space treatment room and LBCA was no exception. My main goal during that time was to sustain the clinic through the pandemic. In order to establish safe physical distance requirements and reduce operating costs, I eliminated all but three chairs, raised fees, and let go of my employees. These were difficult decisions to make, though they streamlined the practice and allowed me to stay in business and provide care during the last three years.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I absolutely love practicing acupuncture this way. As a community acupuncturist, I have treated people as young as 1 month to as old as 90 years. I have treated people in active labor and also those with a terminal illnesses. I have treated family members together and friends who bring their dear ones to experience the power of this medicine. I am an absolute nerd for technique and continually hone my skills to provide comfortable, effective treatments to anyone. I do not believe that acupuncture has to be painful to work well.

I do not have a specialty but regard myself as a happy generalist with an interest in treating just about any condition that a person presents with: low back pain, yes! Headaches, absolutely! Hormonal conditions, you bet! Autoimmune reactions, yep! Digestive issues, of course! PTSD, sure thing.

I am most proud of creating a safe environment where people can come rest. Over the years, I have witnessed serene scenes of complete strangers with different socioeconomic backgrounds and absolutely different politics resting peacefully next to one another. The unique experience of a community clinic is access and that’s what my clinic mission has been since 2013: to try and remove as many barriers to treatment that people may encounter.

What matters most to you?
Safety. It matters to me that patients feel safe in the clinic, and not simply in a physical way but also in an emotional way. The first tenet of healthcare is to do no harm. That motivates me to do my best to create a place where people can show up, however they are, however they feel, and know they will be welcome without judgement. Feeling safe allows for trust. It is not lost on me how “strange” the practice of acupuncture is: someone (not related to me) lets me stick needles into their skin. There’s a lot of vulnerability in play in these moments.

Pricing:

  • Acupuncture treatments: sliding scale of $40 to $60 with new patients paying an additional $10 fee

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Susan Wiggins

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