I ran a survey at the end of last year to see what my students were interested in learning in 2016. One of the questions was about the Free Student Clinic. A survey respondent posed a question that I remember asking myself, back in the day when I was a broke student with no extra cash to spare:
Why would a student, who has already paid to study Herbology for 1-3 years, want to pay someone to work in a clinic for free?
(A little background on the Student Clinic: The Student Clinic is a practice clinic where students can build their confidence, while practicing on clients who are aware that they are being practiced on by students. It’s a low pressure environment, and students are free to take their time, and apply their knowledge and skills to the best of their ability. A supervising instructor is always on duty.)
How You Benefit from Attending a Student Clinic
Experience. You have a lot of training under your belt, you have read a lot of textbooks and swallowed a ton of theory about herbs and the human body. So, do you have any personal experiences about how those herbs interact in a variety of human bodies? Have you had a chance to try out a herb/extract/dose and get feedback from a client? Wouldn’t it be interesting and relevant to hear from other clinical students and instructors how their clients react to the herb you want to use, and what their experience with doses and extraction methods have been? If the answer to any of those questions is Yes, then you can probably learn something from the student clinic, the instructor and the students who have more experience than you.
Practice. As Herbalists we absorb and attempt to memorize an exquisite amount of information. Flashcards are awesome (one of my favorite tools!) but nothing quite solidifies a knowledge base in your brain like applying that information to the real world. Also, the opportunity to test that knowledge out and decide for yourself if you like how it works. The Dalai Lama quotes the Buddha, “Respect the teacher, but question the teachings.” That means if you haven’t tried it out for yourself yet, you just really don’t know!
Clinical Skills. Before you jump into starting your own business as a healer, you may wish to learn about the fine art of Bedside Manner (a healer’s attitude and approach towards the person undergoing the healing). If you have never worked in a clinic before, you can be surprised at the number of healing elements that have little to do with your textbook knowledge of herbs and bodies. From creating a comfortable atmosphere, to inspiring the trust of your clients, you can learn so much from watching a practitioner who has experience. How to explain healing and health expectations to my clients and discussing their personal issues in a compassionate manner, are two of the greatest lessons I received from the herbalists I studied under. Skill sets like these are part of what make me an effective healer with happy clients who come away with that cared-for feeling you get after a good listening-to.
Feedback. Clients, the instructor, and other students will (and should) give you feedback on all aspects of your practice. This includes your choice of herbs/doses and combinations thereof, assessment and interview techniques, and even your mannerisms and attitude towards clients. I encourage bold but kind, constructive feedback in my clinic as a valuable learning tool. Other students who sit in as your ‘practice client’ will be especially useful in telling you how they felt during and after the interview, and can provide the kind of feedback you want to receive from a fellow, not a client.
Confidence. Confidence comes of knowledge combined with experience, and enough practice to trust that you know what you know, as well as an appreciation of what you don’t know yet (and knowing that that is okay!). Confidence is a priceless characteristic that cannot be learned in a textbook but just comes with doing something for a long time until you are good at it. It’s easier to build confidence in a supportive environment, such as a student clinic. And when you are less than confident in your formula or advice, there is always someone there to look it over with you!
Connection. There is very little room for getting to know your fellow students in modern correspondence or online classes. This is so unfortunate! Making a connection with people who are passionate about your passions is one of the luxuries of attending workshops, clinics and gatherings. Not only can you learn from each other, you may end up with business partners, role models, and network connections that land you a job interview or refer clients your way in the future. Getting excited about herbs together is powerful energy. Sense of Community is a big and beautiful part to take in at least a few student clinic nights; but be warned – getting together with other herbalists is addictive!
Why Student Clinics Cost Money
Well, there are a couple reasons why we ask students to pay for their learning at student clinic.
Hosting a clinic involves a few fees and expenses. Rent for the location, insurance for the clinic and honorariums for the instructors and clinic director are the most prominent. Office supplies and printing costs are a minor but real expense.
Free clinics often serve a low-income demographic, people who can’t afford to pay the $60-100 to see a professional herbalist. To look at it from another angle, you are volunteering your time to help members of your community.
You may not realize that students who are new to the clinic won’t be seeing clients directly for their first few clinics. Depending on their experience and abilities, they could spend the first 20-30 hours sitting in on the work of advanced students, learning from the instructor or operating the dispensary at the clinic.
The instruction and guidance you receive during all of this, is what you are paying for. Students gain fresh perspectives from the living examples of humans who are experiencing the diseases or conditions we read about in our textbooks. Along with these novel exhibits of human condition, you have access to the collective experiences of advanced students and instructors in the clinic, who take the time to help you understand and apply all that you have learned.
I hope this helped to illustrate some of the reasons student clinics cost money, and also that that money is not wasted but directly benefits you as a herbalist. As usual, I am open to (bold but kind) constructive feedback about this article, and discussion of its contents.
Read more about the Student Clinic at Kodiak Herbal.