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Acupuncture has a long tradition in Chinese Medicine and is increasingly being used in health care settings in the United States.
This is part one of a two part series on acupuncture. Part one focuses on how two expert clinicians were drawn to the study and use of acupuncture.
DAVID SOLLARS M.Ac., Lic.Ac.:
As a teenager in the early 1970's I accompanied my father to an acupuncturist for treatment of pain from rheumatoid arthritis. I was interested in medicine and my entire family was hoping to find "a solution". Even though what I observed of the patient interview and examination was like a regular medical visit, I thought that acupuncture looked weird. I was amazed the practitioner left the needles in my father after inserting them, and was surprised that the needles did not hurt, and eventually helped him feel better. My plan was to go to medical school, but then I met a Chinese family who had an Oriental Medicine clinic here in Boston's China Town. Coincidentally, they were looking for an assistant. I started there as a volunteer which provided a unique opportunity for a Westerner to learn. They invited me to stay as an apprentice. This was during the changing times in Massachusetts prior to acupuncture being licensed. I registered at the Board of Medicine and my patients were overseen by a medical doctor. At the time, this apprenticeship qualified me as an acupuncturist. I've witnessed the positives that have grown from the evolution of the acupuncture educational system. The acupuncturist entry level degree is often a Masters and the profession is currently evaluating a doctorate program. Educational standards have expanded as the industry continues to be integrated into a variety of medical opportunities including its role in community medicine.
The New England School of Acupuncture (NESA), the oldest such school in the country, opened in 1977, a time well before any of the discussions of licensing acupuncturists as medical providers. They were one of the leaders in the Oriental Medical community for establishing educational and practice standards. I was in the first class of graduates to complete a 3 year master's degree program at NESA. Now most states, including Massachusetts, require completion of a master's level program, including prerequisites of a bachelor's degree and premed. Once an acupuncturist passes the state boards, they are then licensed. In Massachusetts, acupuncturists are regulated by the Board of Registration in Medicine, similar to other medical providers in the state.
People are still looking to acupuncture for a solution to their problems. The main impetus for the growth of acupuncture is the consumer. Consumers are finding acupuncture helpful and able to fill a gap in care that exists in many conditions. I have seen the transition of thought and practice philosophy shift from the "alternative medicine" model to what is now being describes as an Integrative Medical approach. Patients and practitioners used to think of the either or notion of using something like acupuncture in their care. Recently practice principles are changing. After almost three decades of acupuncture being more widely practiced in this country, both patients and medical providers are learning how to work together in a patient centered environment. I have over twenty years clinical experience and have seen the benefits of integrating acupuncture therapy in a patient's existing healthcare pain protocols. Our clinic has enjoyed a long history of referrals from local physicians and physical therapists that wish to find solutions for their patient's pain by combing therapeutic efforts. We have found a common language for communication, discovered unique and effective treatment protocols and increased understanding of our potential contributions through learning appropriate referrals.
A growing number of individuals joining the acupuncture profession are already medical professionals and thus will be "double boarded". They are viewing acupuncture as a viable profession that has begun a new era of integration in medicine. At our clinic we have professionals who are education-minded. Many of us are writers, speakers and educators. Our clinic team teaches a semester course at Merrimack College on Integrative Approaches to Sports Medicine. We also guest lecture in the athletic training department. Students are interested in finding out what integrative therapies, such as acupuncture, may offer to their future patients. As educational experiences become more widely available and acupuncture research continues to guide the medical industry, acupuncture will find its place among the therapies available to the pain professional.
Belinda Anderson, Lic.Ac., MAOM, Ph.D.:
I have always been interested in new and developing fields, especially in phenomena that current biological paradigms cannot explain.
I grew up in Australia, and also lived with my family for a short while in Hong Kong. Throughout my life I had a lot of experience using Chinese herbs and acupuncture. Most people think of acupuncture as treatment for pain, because that is the way it was first introduced to the U.S., but it is also a treatment for many other medical conditions. As I looked at different medical modalities, what interested me about Chinese Medicine was its long history - at least 2,500 years.
My undergraduate studies were in agriculture, and I earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Sydney. I continued my scientific career in the United States at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
I also continued to develop my interest in Chinese medicine by studying and teaching Western science at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in NY City. Chinese medicine is preventative. Chinese practitioners were paid for keeping their patients well, not for treating them when sick. They focus on how to keep the body system balanced using the body's own healing powers. It is a holistic approach, considering mind, body, lifestyle, support systems, and everything else that impacts on a person. When doing acupuncture you spend a lot of time talking to the patient and getting to know them, initially seeing them up to twice a week. You want to learn more about them than just their main complaint. In my clinical practice at First Health of Andover (Andover, MA) I spend half an hour talking with my patient and inserting the needles each time I see them.
In the U.S. there are approximately 50 accredited schools of Chinese Medicine that meet specific academic standards. Most offer Master's Degree programs involving 3,000 hours of study over 3 to 4 years. Most states require acupuncturists to be licensed, and the board examinations are difficult. Training includes approximately 600 hours of clinical internship. Most schools have student clinics and also send their students to work in hospitals.