Success by choice not by chance: an Interview with Amanda Banks
by Farrah Riaz
I’ve been working at The City College in the Old Street area of London for 12 years now in a variety of roles, currently as the Director of Assessments. During this time I’ve seen many developments in our educational portfolio all the way from HND up to MSc. Our big initiative over the past few years has been the creation of the City College of Acupuncture (CCA), which runs a BAAB accredited acupuncture course and a Tui Na Chinese massage course.
I’ve helped develop these courses with our lecturers for some time, but there are always new people being added to the expanding course team. Amanda Banks joined us last year and seems to have made a big impact so I wanted to give her a chance to let people know what she does at CCA.
Farrah Riaz: Hi Amanda, it’s good to talk to see you again. Could you start by outlining your roles at The City College of Acupuncture?
Amanda Banks: I teach the Pre Qualifying Development module at CCA and help with the strategic business development of the college. I don’t get to see the students until the end of year two when they have learnt most of the TCM theory and they are preparing to move into the clinical aspect of their training in year three. Working in our teaching clinic involves far more than just treating people and we need to prepare our students for all aspects of this such as advertising, marketing, safety in the clinic, and of course the every day admin that is essential to running a successful practice.
As a college we need to ensure we practice what we preach and I am involved in the advertising, marketing, social media and business development aspects of the course.
Farrah: That’s quite a lot. Could you expand a little bit on what you teach?
Amanda: The Pre Qualifying Development module is taught in the third year. We are acutely aware that the transition from student to practitioner is a big step – every acupuncture graduate has been there and experienced this. My module is very practical and ensures that our students leave with business cards, practice plans and the outline of a website which enables them to be up and running on graduation. They have invested a huge amount of time and money it is essential they start to see a return on their investment straight away.
Farrah: Yes, The City College is a really practical, business-oriented environment. Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself? How comes you are teaching this module? What is your back-ground?
Amanda: I started working in London when I was 19. One of my first roles was at a firm of architects as a project manager and this totally played to my skills as an organiser. I developed these skills and I have to say this is key to running your own business. I worked in London for quite a few years following this and spent most of my time working for a small corporate finance company where I was surrounded by accountants. I guess at that time I picked up some valuable business acumen. I have run a small business for 12 years now and juggled this with family life and a part time job in a doctor’s surgery!
Farrah: That sounds like a busy life! Despite all of that, you retrained as an acupuncturist. Why was that?
Amanda: I thoroughly enjoyed being at home and bringing up our children but as they hit their teenage years I began to realise they would have their own lives and I would have a huge gap in mine. My job at the doctor’s surgery was flexible and part-time but not fulfilling. I still felt relatively young and realised I had many years of earning potential. My health was not brilliant and Western medicine was unable to help me so I was seeing an acupuncturist to try the Eastern approach. It helped, but I felt it could do more for my condition. I was so fascinated by it and one day, whilst having a conversation with my daughter about careers, she asked what would I choose to do if I had my time again. I immediately answered, “Acupuncture”. “Go and do it,” she said, “you are always telling us we can do anything we want to with hard work and determination”. Note to self: be careful what you say to your kids! So with no excuses and feeling I had to follow through with the advice I so glibly handed out, I started to enquire about re-training.
Farrah: How did you find studying again?
Amanda: Retraining! Gosh, there are so many words to describe that… where do I begin? First of all there were the nerves regarding getting back to learning again as I was much older, and I can tell you that initially it was not easy! You do get back into the way of it though, and it just becomes part of your life again. I would schedule study time at home and sit at the kitchen table flitting between preparing dinner and reading my books. I would sit with the kids when they did their homework and I would do mine! I gained a new-found respect for the pressures in their world of assignments, projects and deadlines. It was not easy – but if it was, everybody would do it. I met some wonderful people and we shared the highs and lows of being students, exam pressures, and successful exam passes. Hours of study times on Skype, at each others’ houses and sharing each others’ lives… after 3 years we could safely say that as a group we will be life-long friends. We still meet up; in fact next week is our scheduled Christmas get-together.
Farrah: Exams are now a thing of the past for you. Do you enjoy your new career as an acupuncturist?
Amanda: The short answer is yes! It is amazing, I get to help people everyday. There is a huge sense of fulfillment when somebody who has been suffering pain for years texts you to say they are feeling better. For example, a neighbour of mine limped down to my house recently as she had sciatica. A few needles later she skipped out and went home, and texted to say she had cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom! I receive cards from couples who have gone through IVF and thank me for my help in creating their family. Look at this gorgeous little one!
I love the flexibility: I am my own boss, I create my own schedule. I am very lucky and travel a quite bit, and would never be able to do this with a full-time job. When my daughter comes home from ‘Uni’ I can take a day off to spend time with her, or just have a day of getting the house organised for the weekend.
Farrah: So it has been a rewarding career change?
Amanda: Most definitely! I live by the mantra that I would like as few regrets at the end of my days as possible. My new career has enabled me tick off quite a few boxes: it makes me happy, gives me a sense of purpose and most definitely a sense of achievement. But it is not all about the fulfillment. Let’s face it, we all work to earn the money! I was determined that I would make back the money I had invested in my retraining and once I had graduated I took just three weeks off and then started two practices one in London and one at my home in Essex. I managed to earn back the cost of my course fees in eight months. Boy oh boy, did that feel good! I did it, I retrained and I recouped my money – even my husband was impressed!
Farrah: Besides being an acupuncturist, you now also teach. What do you bring to the acupuncture course at CCA?
Amanda: You should direct that question to our graduates!! Maybe it is the fact that I am living proof you can retrain and create a successful business. I came to acupuncture later in life but that was possibly a plus as I had lots of business experience already. I did not really have to learn this side of things, it was the technical acupuncture aspect that I was missing. When I re-trained there had been no clinic at the college for over a year so I volunteered to run the clinic. We started from a zero base and very quickly we had too many patients and had to start a waiting list. It can be done! I then went on to set up two other practices, so within the space of one year I had set up three clinics and they were all busy.
My role at CCA is just to pass these skills on to our graduates.
There is no use in us producing graduates that are great at Chinese Medicine if they can’t get any patients, what would be the point? This is such an important part of our course: we want our stu-dents to be successful practitioners, earning a living and not scraping by or having another part-time job to supplement their income. When they leave they have a practice plan, business cards, the outline of a website… all the bits that most acupuncturists have not even thought about until after graduation. We also offer them a space to practice; this was one the first strategic changes I made. On graduation you may not be not that confident and the transition to professional therapist takes a little time, so we offer one day a week in our clinic space free of charge to graduates to help with this. They are in the same space they are used to, treating many of the patients they have already seen in clinic where they have been guided by our highly experienced lecturers. And they get to keep all the money they make! This enables them to feel far more confident, helps them to attract other patients and start building up their own client base. Then we can watch them fly. I am delight-ed that 100% of our graduates are practicing, and my goal is to be part of the process that helps this to continue at CCA.
Farrah: You only graduated personally a few years ago, didn’t you?
Amanda: Yes, but I’m not teaching acupuncture, I’m teaching business skills, which I have a life-time of experience in. Everything I teach is relevant to now: up-to date-business skills is a big selling point on this course as part of our practical, hands-on aspect – we want to train people to go out there and make a living.
Farrah: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone considering retraining as an acupuncturist?
Amanda: It’s a huge investment. Do your homework: choose the right place to study and you will never look back.
Farrah: Wise words!