Let me begin with a congratulatory card I received from my family that read on the cover, “Success takes . . . perseverance, ambition, passion, courage, heart, humor, talent” and on the inside: “You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes to meet challenges, overcome obstacles and pursue excellence to fulfill a dream.” My name is Joel Smith and I began my studies at American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) in San Francisco, CA. and graduated from Five Branches Institute, in Santa Cruz, CA in 2008 while working full time as a registered nurse. I met Frank He teaching an orthopedic acupuncture class at Five Branches and later became an intern working at his clinic in Sunnyvale, CA. I learned a lot from Frank that I could apply immediately with my family and friends with fantastic results. I am forever grateful for obtaining the knowledge and forming a lasting friendship.
I wanted to take you on a journey of the challenges I had to overcome to finally reach my goal of passing the CA Acupuncture Board exam and becoming a licensed acupuncturist. I always kept a positive attitude about things. My initial challenge began with graduating with my class in 2008 after we all completed our requirements and passed hour final exams. However, I was told that I couldn’t receive my diploma until I satisfied a mid-cum exam that I had not taken when I transferred from ACTCM. However, other mid-level requirements were met. So I arranged to take the exam and I failed it. I was of course disappointed because I routinely received high scores on my previous exams. I was trying to figure out what areas I was weak in and strengthen those areas before trying again. I studied and took the exam again a couple of weeks later and failed again. I couldn’t understand what the issue was. They suggested I take a review course which I did and still failed the exam. At this point, I had to take a break and put it on the shelf until I could figure out why I couldn’t get pass this exam. During the interim, I had an established profession as a registered nurse for 18 years. In the meantime, I kept elevating in my nursing career with concentrations in worker’s compensation as a nurse case manager learning how to coordinate care with M.D.’s, P.T’s, psychologist and others for various work related injuries including catastrophic injuries. Other areas of experience I obtained as a nurse included common ailments of hypertension, diabetes, sprain/strains and substance abuse withdrawals as a nurse manager in a correction facility. About 2 years had passed and I took the exam a few more times before I had enough becoming frustrated. I met with the administrator at Five Branches. I plead my case that it didn’t make sense to withhold my diploma for not passing this mid-cum exam having satisfied all of the other requirements including the final cumulative exam. She later agreed, stating that it was their error that this issue should have been brought up at the time of me transferring to Five Branches and not holding me responsible for their error at the end. This caused a huge strain on my family who shared in my frustration. I finally received my diploma in December of 2011. I applied to CA Acupuncture for my first exam in the spring of 2012. I took a review course to prepare for the exam. I received my initial results missing the passing score by 14 points. On my second attempt, my results were within 11 points of passing score. I remember speaking to my minister at church about not being able to pass my state exam and explaining how I sacrificed time with my family and friends and not understanding how I was not able to overcome this. After feeling that God had gave me a green light to study acupuncture, why would he now tell me no? He told me, that sometimes, the Lord may not tell you No, but say, ‘Not yet’. So, I put taking the exam on hold for about year and a half. In 2014, I tried a different review course and I took the exam for the third time and got within 9 points of passing the exam. It was now 4 years since graduating from school and most of my classmates had been practicing for a few years. A few classmates that were behind me in school graduated, passed the exam and started According to the school statistics, retaking the exam and passing the exam 4 years out had decreasing odds of success. I thought to myself, at least my scores were getting closer toward success than going the opposite way. At this point, my family began giving up hope that I would eventually succeed in my endeavors. I again put the exam on the shelf while continuing working as a nurse. I still had the same passion that TCM worked so much better than our current western model of medicine. Surprisingly while watching TV nowadays there are commercials about a drug to treat depression or other ailment and you hear the announcer describe the side effects being far worse than taking the actual drug. I was able to recall many TCM classes where I recall formulas to easily treat these common conditions without side effects. I continued to feed my passion of acupuncture and herbs by attending various seminars, for example, Acupuncture 1, 2, 3 with Dr. Richard Tan or purchase a series of books on Tung points. Often I got criticized from family members that it was a waste time and told that you are not an acupuncturist. Inside I told myself that I was an acupuncturist and that it was not time yet to pass the exam. During the interim period, I usually had friends and family that often consulted my knowledge as a nurse to help them with various conditions. I often gave suggestions for them to go to a local herb store to pick up a formula for various conditions that had great results. Specifically, when my god-daughter was born, her mother was having post-partum depression. I suggested that she take a common formula of Gan Mao Da Zao Tang that worked wonders for her. Others that back conditions, I was able to relieve their back pain from a level of 9-10 to 0-1 within a few minutes. It was thrilling how well our medicine works. In 2016, I took a review class from a popular and sought out teacher, Dr. Choi who was teaching at Five Branches. I had great hopes this time because his review course was about 6 months long and he had thousands of questions to study from. I was still working full time while studying. I took off two weeks from my job to study for the exam. I took the exam again for the fourth time and got within 8 points of passing the exam. My family again was devastated with the results, saying “This is the last time, right?” I just smiled and kept silent. As you know, when you study each time you put your family on hold for the duration. Especially, my wife who often wanted to go on weekend trips or hangout, I had to tell her no. You know how that went over. In my mind, I kept thinking, “Not yet, but when?” I reflected back that after the third exam attempt, that I didn’t have a complete buy in from my family while studying. I found in your pursuit of any major exam that if you have any negativity in the household or a lack of support it will affect your outcome. So again, I put the exam on the shelf.
In December of 2016, my wife came to me while at home sitting on the couch one day, ‘out of the blue’ saying she wanted to talk to me about something. I lowered the sound on the TV while she spoke. She told me that, “I know I haven’t been fully supportive of you when you took the acupuncture exams in the past and I know it is your passion. If you want to try again and take the exam, I will fully support you in any way I can.” I was shocked. I replied, “Really?!” “Wow that is wonderful.” In January 2017, I immediately signed up with a 6 month subscription with TCM tests. My plan was to take the August 2017 exam since I was too late to begin studying for the March exam. I contacted Dr. Choi who provided with a video series review course that I started in January 2017. Also, I signed up with TCM Review with the taped course that included a two week intense review. One of my past classmates who took the review, highly recommend it. I had taken this review course before; but they had revamped the content and teaching process. I saw a TCM Review clip on YouTube on how to dissect questions using various methods. I was very impressed and it made so much sense this time. By the time TCM Review course started my subscription with TCM tests ended. I began my quest again by submitting my $75.00 application fee for the August exam. About a month later, I got a letter from the Acupuncture board returning my application fee, stating that it was not needed. I was surprised and thought it was odd because that never happened to me before. I thought the state never returns money, what is going on? I was diligent again in my studies while preparing for my fifth attempt at the exam. I took the mock exam and this time, I scored like 78% which never happened before. At that point, I was told by Bina the instructor you are in good shape at this point. Usually student who fall below 70% at this point are not likely to pass. So needless to say, I felt excited. I thought of, the saying of ‘Not yet’ was changing to ‘Now is the time’. I sent my wife a famous acupuncturist in Oakland, CA. Dr. Lam Kong for a particular condition. We later met and he told me to come see him two weeks before the exam for a treatment. He said that he has had acupuncture and bar exam students who failed multiple times come see him for treatment. His acupuncture and herb treatment helps lock in all of the content studied, he said. After my treatment, I walked back to his office where he gave me my herbs to take for five days prior to the exam and to use ear seeds taped on various PC and HT points on my forearm. I asked him how much for the treatment, he said, No charge as he extended his hand to shake mine. He said, let me be the first to congratulate you on passing the exam. I smiled, thanking Dr. Kong for his treatment and positive thoughts.
I again took about 10 days off before the exam to have concentrated, uninterrupted studying of about 8-10 hours per day. I checked into the Hyatt Regency hotel on August 20th 3 days before the exam. The night before the exam, you always get butterflies thinking, did I study enough, do I know enough for the exam. I had requested prayer from all my friends and family. On the day of the exam, I felt such a peace and confidence covering me. I finished taking my herbs while daily pressing on my forearm points from Dr. Kong. I walked into the exam with my bottle of water while going through security checks. Of course, I had to remove my ear seed points on my forearm; but I had what needed. I noticed that on the morning portion of the exam, I finished early before time was called on the last 30 minutes of the exam. I was thinking, maybe I had the easy portion in the morning and the afternoon section will be harder. This was typically what I encountered in the past. During the break, I ate lightly so I wouldn’t be tired during the exam. In the afternoon, I found the second part just as strangely easy. No question on the test I found was a surprise. All the content of the exam, I had seen before while studying. Afterwards, I congratulated my classmates of the review class of being successful. I departed for home. Now it was the waiting period of 30 days. In the past, I was told to look for 8x11 brown envelopes from the CA Acupuncture board that contained a congratulatory passing notification, congratulatory certificate along with the application for licensure. If you didn’t pass the exam you would get a regular business envelope with your failing score along with an application to re-take the exam. So each day after the 16th of the month, I would be looking for that ‘brown envelope’ in the daily mail. My family, friends and neighbors were anxiously waiting with me for the news. On day, 27 and 28th there was still no news from the daily mail. I didn’t remember having to wait this long for results. On the 29th day which was September 22, 2017 while at work, I received an email from American Acupuncture Council titled, “Life after CALE, Now What? The email started off, “As you start your new journey as a practicing Acupuncturist. . .” I was grinning surprised with a surge of excitement asking myself what does this mean. Could it be that I PASSED!? In the past, I never received or heard of such an email from a malpractice insurance company. I thought does the CA Acupuncture board make the insurance companies aware of the results before the candidates or was it purely coincidental. I sent the email to my wife, asking her what you think. She was very excited to say the least. I then emailed Bina at TCM Review asking her opinion. She replied that results were not out yet and we should know by the weekend. I think, she thought it was odd too. Finally, Saturday, September 23, 2017 (30th day) I attended a wedding that day. I called my wife while travelling back home. It was about 3:45pm that afternoon. I asked her did the mail come. She replied, I checked the mail about 5 times today, there is nothing. I finally arrive home about 4:45pm. I walked into the house. I asked again, did the mail come yet. She said again, no.
I thought that was strange. So I walked to the mailbox and found it full of mail. It must have been delivered moments before I arrived home. I pulled out the mail. I frantically was looking for that large brown envelope in the pile of mail and I didn’t see it. I only found that same business envelope that I had received before. My heart sank, I said, “Oh No, This is Not Good!! I walked back into the house and showed my wife the envelope saying again, “This is not good, look at the envelope”
My wife said, give me the envelope, I just know you passed. She took the envelope from me, tore it open and began reading the following words aloud, “Congratulations you have passed the California Acupuncture Licensing Exam. . .” She began screaming, jumping up and down. My eyes widened as she read as I exclaimed, “Really, I can’t belief it?!!” Of course, I began shouting jumping up and down thanking God, which got the attention of the rest of my family and neighbors who all joined in the congratulatory celebration. My wife handed me the letter and as I read my score, it was identical to the score on my mock exam. It was a great surprise because the envelope threw me off. The following Monday, I notified, Dr. Frank He and his staff that I passed the exam and to give me a call. My next call was to Dr. Lam Kong that I had passed as both he and his son; Howard congratulated me again on my accomplishment. Word quickly spread to my friends and extended family as I received well deserved congratulations and acknowledgements of completing what I started, having a never giving up attitude.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. My time finally came and now the journey begins.
Joel Smith, L.Ac.