2007 Nuherbs Scholarship Application
Chinese medicine’s grace and efficacy has endured the test of time across the Pacific, but faces challenges in gaining acceptance in the American mainstream. In order for the public on this side of the ocean to experience the benefits of this powerful healing art, it will be necessary to reach into people’s lives form multiple directions, using a variety of strategies. I believe that extending care to communities that are underserved by the modern medical institutions will be a vital part of building grassroots acceptance and support for our medicine, while continually improving relationships with Western healthcare providers will facilitate the development of truly integrated medicine in the 21st century.
Currently, TCM is experienced by only a very small percentage of our population.
The majority of adopters are middle-to upper-middle class white women, of peri-menopausal age. It is true that TCM is especially effective in dealing with problems like the hot flashes, emotional instability, and insomnia brought on by menopause, and our patients are powerful advocates for the efficacy of the herbal and acupuncture treatments that they have received, but this demographic remains a small proportion of the number of people that could benefit from our medicine. Because TCM demands little more than inexpensive needles and a place to sit down for a brief period, the potential for it to touch communities that have been marginalized from the health care system is tremendous.
Oakland is the city that I call home. It has a vibrant Chinatown and a long history of Chinese medicine. Oakland also currently has a high school drop-out rat exceeding 50%, and a homicide rat that makes mothers weep and the police force shake its head in frustration. When I am not studying Chinese medicine, I work for a non-profit in Oakland that does media education and literacy training for under-privileged youth. We offer programs that give young people alternative pathways to higher education, and real job skills in the modern media industry. Additionally, we are currently forming a Mind Body Health Center, as there is a growing understanding that the modern workplace must not divorce job success from well-being, and to give our students tools for lifelong health.
The Center is still in its infancy, and I am lucky enough to be responsible for developing the programs and services that are to be offered there. In addition to dance, yoga, qi gong and martial arts programs, we will offer an in-house TCM clinic, where young people can have a first-hand experience with Chinese medicine. From sports injuries to the stress of being a teen in a rough North American city, acupuncture has treatments that can help. May people who hesitate to go for an expensive and intimidating trip to the doctor would be open to a low-cost treatment at an organization they are already familiar with.
It is in settings like this that the work of bringing TCM to Americans’ everyday lives can begin to happen. If a teenager has a positive experience with an acupuncture treatment, that will be with them for the rest of their days. Because their minds are more open than their elders’, they are likely to recognize effective medicine when they see it, recommend it to their peers, and discuss it with their families. Furthermore, because so many of TCM’s offerings involve lifestyle decisions, a multitude of health problems can be avoided altogether. Type II diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases are all gigantic risks for the population that the Mind Body Health Center will serve. If one is educated in
Conscious, healthy living at at early age, the risks of developing these ailments can be drastically reduced. If the site of education can also offer movement classes and treatments to promote lifelong health and vitality, all the better. If the program is a media outlet, which can produce and distribute success stories from the Mind Body Center, one couldn’t ask for a better place for the beauty and power of Chinese medicine to shine forth from.
This program alone will not move TCM into the mainstream, but programs like it will build the slow surge of grassroots understanding and acceptance of our medicine.
Our medicine is being practiced in California at places like the Jewish Community Free Clinic in Cotati, serving a largely Latino population. Groups like Working Class Acupuncture, in Portland, Oregon, are bringing acupuncture to large numbers to people at affordable prices, and their model is expanding to other locations.
In order to truly communicate with American minds, however, acupuncturists must be prepared to interface professionally with Western MDs. Our education includes an ever-greater number of western medical courses, allowing us to communicate increasingly well with doctors in their own language. We also receive training on how to properly conduct ourselves as primary care providers, keep accurate paperwork, and abide by state and federal regulations. Most MDs recognize the value of acupuncture for certain maladies, such as chronic pain. It is now our responsibility to take this acceptance of one aspect of our practice, and expand upon it. It is not necessary for your average doctor to understand exactly how TCM works, but rather just that it does work. MDs want their patients to improve, and as long as acupuncturists present themselves as competent professionals who pose no liability risk and are willing to coordinate care, the referrals will follow.
It is an exciting time to be a student of Chinese medicine. Even as we expand our patient base, we face challenges from pharmaceutical companies, under-qualified practitioners, and an entrenched medical profession that is resistant to change. But we are also gaining exposure like never before, with HMOs offering mind-body classes to reduce stress, and Oprah Winfrey getting needled in front of a TV audience of millions.
The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it demands no costly technological apparati, while requiring a very human touch. With these things going for it, the future can only be bright.