Gregory Carey is the president of the AOMA Alumni Association. In the latest alumni newsletter he introduces practice management concepts that he believes to be crucial for a successful practice.
1. Join an insurance network.
By contracting with a medical insurance carrier (e.g., United Healthcare, Horizon, Cigna, etc.), you are joining a medical referral network. Each insurance carrier introduces a proprietary fee structure for its participating healthcare providers. Becoming familiar with electronic billing practices is an essential, though not overly difficult, skill for the rendering provider. Developing a business relationship with a third-party insurance clearinghouse such as Office Ally is advisable and will create efficiencies for your practice.
2. Join a healthcare group or existing practice.
Especially for new practitioners who are capital-deficient, this step is attractive. Cultivating relationships with other practitioners in the medical field may create opportunities for business relationships to develop. Some acupuncture students have found employment by leveraging a front-office position into full-time practitioner status after obtaining licensure.
3. Locate to an underserved population center.
This step can seem a daunting undertaking, though the rewards include reduced competition for patient visits. Furthermore, existing medical providers in the area may be eager to refer to a competent acupuncture provider. Upon making a decision as to your practice location, make every attempt to put in place a long-term operational strategy. The personal and professional relationships that you form over the years will pay dividends – if you are still around to receive them.
4. Create a "disruptive" business model.
To increase your competitive advantage, you may want to consider a Community Acupuncture model. There are a number of AOMA Alumni who have chosen a community-based practice set-up. Fellow Alumni may be helpful in sharing practical know-how regarding community-style operations. Community-style acupuncture is one permutation of the healthcare delivery aspect of this business. It’s up to each of us in the field to understand what our respective healthcare markets are asking for and to deliver that product to our clients.
5. Develop relationships with vendors.
Many are competing for your business consideration, including clinical, herbal, topical, and supplement suppliers. It is not difficult to find another practitioner promoting an herbal or wellness supplement as part of their business. Indeed, some Alumni have created their own product lines! Be discerning when choosing a vendor for your clinic. Ultimately, your patients will be the judge of the products you serve them. If you choose your vendors and products wisely, you have the potential for passive revenue generation, increased referrals, and patient compliance.
The above is not intended to be a comprehensive study of items related to practice management. My intention in writing was to communicate some basic considerations relevant to the practicing acupuncturist and to hopefully generate productive discussion.
For further reading on business innovation, please see:
Johnson, Mark, Christensen, Clayton, et al. (2008). Reinventing Your Business Model. Harvard Business Review, December 2008.
About the author
Gregory holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Richmond and obtained his Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. Gregory holds a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine from NCCAOM and is licensed by the New Jersey State Medical Board in acupuncture. His professional background is in research oncology and pharmaceutical trials, teaching and not for profit organizations.
Over the past 6 years Gregory has specialized in Oriental Medicine, including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tuina and Qigong for the successful treatment of a wide variety of conditions. He is experienced in facial rejuvenation through acupuncture, including the Mei Zen Facial Rejuvenation System. He is a Manalapan, NJ native and is happy to serve surrounding New Jersey communities. His personal interests include the practice of Qigong, Yang Style Tai Ji, Mandarin Chinese, classical literature, hiking and New York Jets football.
There's no doubt that Austin,Texas is a popular place – recently topping the list of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. With such a dynamic environment, it's no wonder that many students choose to pursue acupuncture school at AOMA.
In our first post in the Moving to Austin series, we covered the basics of the Austin rental market. However for students looking for alternative housing in Austin, many opportunities exist including roommate arrangements, house shares, and cooperative living.
Finding a Roommate
For students seeking to limit their housing costs, finding a roommate is one of the best options. New residents have a variety of resources available when seeking roommates, including well-known sites like craigslist.org and roomster.com. These sites provide an opportunity to screen and to connect with potential roommates online.
AOMA offers support in the form of a biweekly Housing Digest that enables new students to connect with future classmates and potential roommates in a secure platform. Throughout the year, current students also post openings for roommates online via AOMA's Housing Opportunities page and LinkedIn group.
When considering a potential roommate, it's important to be clear about your housing preferences. Taking time to consider lifestyle factors like school and/or work schedules, cleanliness, socializing, pet ownership, and personal habits is essential to ensuring a harmonious living environment. Additional factors to assess include the terms of a lease and/or approval from the landlord or property manager.
Cooperative Living & Co-housing
Housing cooperatives (or “co-ops” for short) are member-ship based legal-entities that own residential real-estate. Becoming a member typically grants one the right to live within the co-op house or building.
A number of housing cooperatives and co-housing communities exist in Austin. Many of these co-ops feature communal living environments where multiple residents occupy a single house or building and work together to manage/maintain the property. For residents, the benefits of co-ops can include reduced housing costs and increased social interaction with roommates. When considering this type of living situation, it's important to account for personal privacy and space needs.
Information about housing cooperatives in Austin can be found through the Austin Co-op Directory.
Alternative housing may not be for everyone. Depending on your personal or family needs, more traditional housing may be a better fit. No matter your preferences, Austin has a wide variety of options available to support your lifestyle.
Justine is the Director of Admissions for AOMA's graduate programs and works regularly to support new students in their transition to AOMA & Austin. A native to of the east coast, she relocated from New York five years ago. Since moving to Austin, she has lived in four different zip codes and is happy to share her personal knowledge of the city with newcomers.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health produces videos about the research on complementary health approaches. The three videos presented here explain some of the most popular integrative medicine practices: acupuncture, qigong, and meditation.
What happens during an Acupuncture session?
This video narrates the basic historical and theoretical background of acupuncture while also giving a step by step guide on what to expect during an acupuncture treatment such as possible physical sensations, different acupuncture techniques, and the importance of finding a qualified practitioner.
This video explains how the practice of Qigong can enhance the flow of energy in the body through movement, meditation, and regulation of breathing; and in turn, how it can benefit your daily life.
This video shows the practice of meditation and how it can result in a state of greater calmness, physical relaxation, and psychological balance.
John S. Finnell, ND, MPH, LAc is AOMA’s director of research, as well as doctoral program director. Dr. Finnell’s latest research project “Unravelling the Relationship between Biomarkers of Aging and Vitamin D Metabolism” investigates the possibility that correction of vitamin D insufficiency in humans may result in increased expression of Klotho, an anti-aging protein tightly involved in vitamin D homeostasis. Deficiency of Klotho confers an age-like phenotype in multiple mammalian species. Decreased Klotho protein expression has been implicated in rapid aging and increased oxidative stress, and potentially contributes to increased disease risk and all-cause mortality associated with vitamin D insufficiency. Dr. Finnell and his research team hypothesize that treating vitamin D insufficiency may result in changes in circulating Klotho levels. They expect that this research may lead to a better understanding of the health benefits of sufficient vitamin D status.
The first results of this research were published online on March 31, 2014 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism as “Impact of Vitamin D3 Dietary Supplement Matrix on Clinical Response”. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2013-3162
Read more about current research project at AOMA.
The first cohort of DAOM students share why they chose AOMA’s doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine program.
“My choice to pursue my doctorate at AOMA is an easy one because my experience at AOMA (in the master’s program) went beyond all my expectations. The professors and clinic supervisors were outstanding professionals, approachable and eager to support my learning. When the program was over, I felt very well prepared to begin my practice. I have nothing but enthusiasm about returning.” – Debbie Vaughn
The DAOM at AOMA focuses on the care and management of patients with pain and associated psychosocial phenomena. This has been a key deciding factor for some in choosing the program.
“The AOMA doctoral program on pain care and the psychosocial world offers an exploration of what it means to be human, and that interests me. Pain as a locus of inquiry and a portal into human consciousness is simply brilliant. Pain is a pivot point for people, one that is difficult to ignore and a primary reason for visiting a Chinese medical practitioner.” – Pamela Gregg Flax
Learners develop advanced skills and techniques to care for patients in a collaborative medical setting, and benefit directly from a number of integrative clinical education opportunities.
“When my patients entrust their health to my knowledge, I believe that it is my responsibility to continue learning and become the best that I can. Initially, I chose AOMA because I had heard of Dr. William Morris, his profound knowledge in TCM and pulse-taking techniques, and his dedication to the TCM field. After finishing two terms at AOMA, I realized that all of the faculty here are also the best in their specialties. This is rare to find. The guest lecturers are also the best in their field and are willing to share their knowledge and success. Not only is TCM taught more in-depth, but biomedicine and research methods are also emphasized. Moreover, AOMA has the affiliation with hospitals and other major universities where I will be able to learn an integrative approach to healthcare and get access to the tools needed for my research.” - Thang Quoc Bui
DAOM graduates gain research experience and are prepared to participate in the broader dialogue surrounding the efficacy of TCM and its integration with mainstream paradigms of healthcare. AOMA’s doctoral program prepares learners to explore paradigms of inquiry and use both quantitative and qualitative assessment to conduct and publish individual or group research projects.
“It is now time to move forward and forge new dreams, to build on what I know and journey into what I do not. We need innovative thinkers and healthcare providers to create explainable models describing the mechanisms behind the tools that we use.” - James Phillips
AOMA DAOM graduates are poised for medical academic leadership. Licensed acupuncturists with a doctoral degree cultivate expertise in the field, becoming more effective health care providers and sought-after scholars.
“After 10 years of private practice, I am ready to prepare myself for teaching. The philosophy and structure of the doctoral program at AOMA will further my skills and knowledge to prepare me for teaching in a master’s level program in Oriental medicine, so that new students understand the foundations of Oriental medicine. I think a doctoral level education is necessary to offer this level of teaching.” – Donna Guthery
AOMA’s first cohort of doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine students are learning essential skills, preparing to succeed as instructors, researchers or leaders in the field, and also to improve clinical outcomes and provide a higher level of care to patients.
AOMA’s doctoral program director, Dr. John Finnell, shares what he believes to be the top benefits of attaining a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine degree.
More than ever, I believe that doctoral and post-graduate education prepare the next generation of thought leaders and clinicians to move the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine forward.
Our role in healthcare
Our healthcare landscape needs highly trained clinicians, researchers, and leaders to move the profession forward. Doctoral-level education provides parity at the policymaking table. This may operate institutionally, governmentally, or within the domain of patient care. Parity by title levels the playing field with regard to co-operative patient care.
While a doctoral degree alone does not confer success, it does provide one with a credential to fill leadership positions within academia, act as the principle investigator on NIH-funded research, teach at the doctoral level, and oversee doctoral-level clinical education.
The respect brought by the doctoral title is a feature which enhances patient care and establishes parity with other doctorally prepared professions. Specifically, licensed acupuncturists with a doctorate often find better prospects for hospital employment and faculty positions, and for obtaining research grants and a seat at the table in policy-making processes.
Move the profession forward
Doctoral training does provide the rare opportunity for us to explore our intellectual passions and create a new body of knowledge as the fruit of our scholarship. This same scholarship is the cornerstone to the foundation upon which our profession is built. This is not a stagnant process; the evolution of acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) in North America must be actualized through participation of its members.
Actualizing requires a few key ingredients: vision, action, perseverance, belief, and transformation. All of these ingredients may be found as you pursue your career path. AOMA's DAOM program provides the platform upon which to solidify your role in the actualization of the field of AOM in the next century.
Finally, there are those of us who truly believe in the power of this medicine and want to learn as much as we can to better serve our patients. Improving your knowledge in pain management and the psychosocial aspects associated with pain is certain to improve patient outcomes and your satisfaction as an advanced practitioner of Chinese medicine.
Dr. John is an accomplished researcher and skilled health care practitioner with a rich academic and professional background. His interest in lifestyle and environmental determinants of health led him to earn a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and a Master of Science in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from Bastyr University, as well as a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. As a practitioner of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines, Dr. Finnell’s clinical focus is on nutrition, pharmacognosy, herb-drug interactions, mind-body medicine, disease prevention, and lifestyle education. In addition to maintaining a professional Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practice, Dr. Finnell has also completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and served as the acting Director of Research for the TrueNorth Health Foundation. Dr. Finnell’s strong research background and clinical experience as a Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practitioner enable him to bring an evidence-based and integrative perspective to AOMA’s doctoral program.
AOMA’s Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program is a transformative educational experience that prepares students to begin careers as professional acupuncturists and herbalists. The program combines extensive clinical education with rigorous & comprehensive coursework in acupuncture theory & techniques, Chinese herbal medicine, biomedicine, mind-bodywork, and Asian body-work therapy.
Here are 3 reasons to begin your studies this summer at AOMA:
1. Small Class-size Supports Learning & Connection
New students can apply to begin the program at three points per year: the summer, the fall, or the winter quarters. However, the summer term often sees the smallest incoming cohort with typically about 15 students starting the master’s program each July. For new students, a small class size fosters a tight-knit sense of community, allowing you to get to know your peers very well.
The summer quarter is only 8 weeks long. As a result, students’ academic load is often is lighter in the summer – meaning students frequently take fewer total credit hours than during other terms. Starting as a new student in the summer term with a lighter load is a great way to soften the transition to graduate school – especially if several years have passed since you were last in a classroom. You’ll become acclimated to the classroom environment, learn to incorporate school into your personal life, and “get into the groove” academically with fewer courses to balance.
3. Make the Most of Your Summer
Summer in central Texas is often the season when many locals take vacations. Why not spend your summer in Austin, TX getting to know the city and enjoying the laid-back lifestyle? You can dodge the summer heat by spending your days inside air conditioned classrooms pursuing your passion and taking study breaks at beautiful Barton Springs!
Begin your journey this summer with classes starting on July 21, 2014!
“Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.” Louis L’Amour
Seekers of knowledge know the value of a great education. The cost of attending graduate school can be daunting to those who don’t know all of their options. Learners at AOMA have many choices for funding the masters and doctoral degrees in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
Developing financial literacy should be the first step in the process of exploring your funding options. Learners who manage their finances closely while enrolled lay a foundation for better financial health after graduation. Many AOMA students choose to work while they are in acupuncture school, and use this income to offset the amount they need to borrow for tuition expenses.
In an effort to encourage students to avoid and/or minimize debt, AOMA recommends that you to investigate all possible sources of financial support prior to borrowing, and borrow only if absolutely necessary. In situations where other funding sources do not exist and you choose to fund your education through student loans, we encourage you to budget carefully. Careful financial management before, during, and after enrollment can reduce overall debt and create a solid financial foundation from which you can grow after graduation.
To assist students in this process, the AOMA financial aid office provides support and resources for students in the area of budgeting and money management. You can read more on our financial literacy page or contact the financial services administrator to make an appointment for financial advising.
Types of Financial Aid
Financial aid opportunities for studying acupuncture and Oriental medicine at AOMA include Federal Direct Student Loans, Federal Work Study, veteran's/military tuition benefits, and scholarships.
Direct Student Loans
AOMA is certified by the Department of Education to participate in the Title IV Federal Student Aid program. Loans include the Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS Loans for graduate students. Direct Loans are low-interest loans issued by the federal government to students enrolled in eligible programs at least half-time (six credits). Read more about Direct Loans.
Federal Work Study
The Federal Work Study (FWS) program provides part-time employment to AOMA students with financial need, in order to help cover the cost of attendance. In addition to financial support, the FWS program offers relevant training that supports post-graduate student success. Finally, the FWS program encourages students to participate in community service activities and literacy projects throughout the Austin area. Find out more about work study jobs at AOMA.
AOMA awards a number of scholarships each year to current students. Scholarships include: the President’s award, the AOMA Scholarship, and the Golden Flower Chinese Herbs Scholarship. The number and amount of scholarships awarded depend on the funds available each year. Peruse an extensive list of available scholarships.
AOMA is approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the training of veterans and other eligible persons. In order to receive Veteran’s Benefits, the veteran must first establish his/her eligibility with the VA. Once eligibility has been established, AOMA certifies the veteran’s enrollment. Read more about veteran’s benefits and military tuition assistance.
Applying for Financial Aid
Step 1: The FAFSA
The first step in applying for financial aid for acupuncture college is the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for all forms of federal aid, including Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal Work Study. AOMA also awards some scholarships on the basis of financial need, so we encourage you to complete a FAFSA even if you do not intend to request student loans. Veteran's/Active Duty Military benefits have an alternate application process.
The FAFSA is completed online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and the process typically takes five to seven days. In addition to supplying your Social Security Number (or alien registration or permanent resident card if you are not a U.S. citizen), you will also need to have records of money earned during the previous tax year and AOMA's School Code (031564).
You receive the results of your FAFSA in the form of a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is delivered electronically in an email from the Federal Student Aid office of the Department of Education. Please review your SAR very carefully! The SAR is multiple pages long and contains important information about your financial aid eligibility, including your EFC and a report of any potential issues that may prevent you from obtaining financial aid.
Once you have received and reviewed your SAR, please contact the AOMA Financial Aid Office. We can advise you regarding your eligibility and the remaining steps in the application process.
Step 2: AOMA Financial Aid Process
After completion of the FAFSA, prospective students should communicate with the Admissions Office and complete their application to the Master’s or Doctoral program according to the published admissions deadlines.
If accepted into an AOMA graduate program in Chinese medicine, your next step will be to register for classes and meet with the Financial Services Administrator for preliminary financial aid advising. During this meeting you will be able to discuss financial options, develop a budget for your first terms, and to complete all necessary financial aid paperwork. Students can work with the Admissions Office to schedule both their registration and financial aid advising appointments.
A visitor to the AOMA campus and clinics may notice the beautiful art that graces many hallways and rooms. Most of these striking images were created by Dr. Jing Nuan Wu, and donated by a current AOMA student who was also a student of Dr. Wu’s.
Jing Nuan Wu (1933-2002) was an artist and acupuncturist who practiced in the Washington, DC area for thirty years. Wu considered his art an extension of his healing practice and a new medium for the application of the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Inspired by the Wu Xing (Five Phases), an ancient Taoist theory concerning the balancing powers of color and imagery, Wu created paintings and sculptures to promote individual and collective healing. His work became a form of “visual acupuncture”.
Dr. Wu’s art is a new medium for the application of the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine. As early as the first medical literature in China, which is 4,000 years ago, there is the idea that taste, sound, color and imagery can be used to promote healing or “getting into harmony”. Inspired by this idea, Dr. Wu creates paintings and sculpture to promote individual and collective healing. His art is a tool for accessing the multiple inner realms and deep connections of our own body, mind and spirit. The healing colors and images help us adjust to the energy and workings of the external world.
“I attempt with my art to change the clockwork of our inner being to the most
beneficial and health inducing rhythm. When reset and unburdened from the tics of
anxiety and social pressure, one’s being enters a calm field where new patterns of
behavior can develop and take hold within. These quiet inner fields are my
new medical country and my artwork is the way of passage.”
Of major significance in his paintings and sculpture is the yin and yang duality of all things in existence. A sense of balance must bind contrasting opposites or their dynamic relationship will be disrupted. Likewise, harmony in an individual must be maintained for health to be maintained. Rather than vanquishing illness, the goal of Chinese medicine is to foster the balance necessary for permanent health within the context of constant change that is the world. If one does not work internally and externally with the forces of life, illness will occur.
Before he died Dr. Wu requested that his art be displayed in healing spaces. The original canvas of The Hidden Cure is on permanent loan to the National Institutes of Health. The AOMA student who gifted these prints to AOMA knows Dr. Wu would be happy to have his artwork within a Chinese medicine school and clinics.
Here is a virtual tour of the artwork and their locations at AOMA.
Location: South Clinic
Chiron’s Fee was inspired by a dream vision. This painting honors two great healers, one from China and one from Greece. The central image of a coin blends symbols from the East and the West and represents the fusion of heaven and earth. The intent is that the possessor of this image will always have the provisions for medical care.
THREE CINNABAR FIELDS
Chinese medicine holds that there are three forces that interact in a continuing dynamic. Externally these forces are heaven, man and earth represented by the bands of purple (also associated with the brain), red (also associated with the heart) and gold (also associated with the stomach). A multi-colored circle of qi - the energy that flows through everything in the universe - links the three forces together. When they resonate in harmony and the qi is free-flowing and balanced, health is predominant. When they are in disharmony and the qi is unbalanced, illness occurs.
A DIALOGUE IN THE MOUNTAINS
Location: Mind-Body Center
This painting was inspired by the poetry of the Ancient Chinese Philosopher, Li Po.
You ask me why I live among the green mountains?
I laugh and answer not – my heart is at peace.
Like the peach blossoms in yonder brook, I flow away calmly...
‘Tis another sky and earth, not the world of man.
HEALING WATER AND THE ICE DRAGONS
Location: South Clinic
Water, associated with dragons in Chinese theory, is the most magical substance on earth. In its softest state it can overcome the hardest metal. This painting is a reminder of the transformative powers of an element that is the largest part of us.
JADE EMPEROR’S COSMIC FLOWERS
Location: South Clinic
The ancient Chinese pictograph for emperor was the flower; a divine creation nurtured by the perfect balance of heaven, earth, sun and water. The different colors symbolize the cosmic spectrum within which all life is sustained.
Bright green represents the restoring powers of spring to renew the body and its energies. After a tiring lecture, a long day at the office, a drive on a busy highway or an illness, meditating on the color green, like the simple act of walking on a green lawn, or watching and listening to the leaves of trees stimulates the body to a sense of restored vitality and wholeness.
MOON IN DREAMS
Location: Building E
In Chinese philosophy, human beings are intimately connected with the moon. This galactic landscape, outside the boundaries of the known, where possibilities expand and miracles happen, represents the divine universe within each of us.
Location: South Clinic
A visual interpretation of Notoginseng, one of the most important and mysterious herbs in Chinese medicine used to treat physical trauma and blood disorders.
THE RED PHOENIX
Location: Building B
This print was inspired by the ancient legend of the phoenix. It is meant to evoke the powerful dynamic of rebirth and magical transformation. In Daoist Shamanic rituals, red is used to benefit sadness and isolation as well as troubles with the heart or small intestine.
THE HIDDEN CURE
Location: Building D & North Clinic
This painting is part of a series of images meant for use in combination with meditation to create balance and good health. Beneath the amber mask of polyurethane and gold spray is an ancient Taoist talisman for healing. It symbolizes the enormous power we all have within us to generate our own harmony and well-being. Blue is a color that can be used especially in combination with meditation to reveal the inner qualities of our being. It is associated with calm and strength, and helps to dispel worry and fear.
BLUE MOUNTAINS AND DRAGONS
Location: North Clinic
In Chinese philosophy, mountains in the highest places in the natural world, symbolize heaven. The heavens are inhabited by the dragons of rain which, when collected at the base of the mountains, form vapors that fly back up to the top of the mountains. This free-flowing cycle evokes the interconnected nature of all things that, when kept in harmony, promotes good health and well-being.
First, I’ll tell you that 18 months ago I was established in a career while yearning to go back to school, expand my life practices, and further devote myself to meaningful professional change. Now, a current student at AOMA, I just finished my 5th term. At no point have I looked back, although I never would have predicted my life would take this path. In 2002, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English that included extensive studies in calculus and Flemish art history. I felt like the prototype of liberal arts major, qualified for everything in general but nothing in particular—or so I told myself.
When I first thought about studying Traditional Chinese Medicine
It was 9 years ago when I first thought about studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. The thought lasted about 5 minutes, extinguished when I recalled that my science background consisted of contrasting types of volcanoes in my undergraduate geology class. I was intimidated by the natural science component included in acupuncture & Chinese medicine programs. My extensive knowledge of Renaissance poetry, for all its complexity, would not help me differentiate tendons in the wrist. My essays on the ethics of historical scholarship would not equip me to understand how a virus invaded the body. And somehow enrolling in the local community college at night to get my science prerequisites just to apply to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) program seemed too daunting. At the time, it simply wouldn’t fit into my life, so I gave up hopes of being an acupuncturist.
For the next decade my career progressed in education business management and then teaching special education in public schools. While in these positions, I truly felt that I helped heal children as I taught. No matter what I did, I was a healer at heart. The nagging thought of practicing TCM returned. Finally, I visited AOMA’s website.
That’s when I realized that everything I believed for those nine years was wrong.
Reviewing the admissions requirements for the Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program showed me I did qualify to apply despite my limited natural science background. I realized the graduate program included all of the western medicine courses I thought I would need to complete in advance.
After looking on the school’s website, I scheduled a tour of the campus and talked to some current students. Within a few days I realized that this was the real thing, and I could do it. In fact, the liberal arts major in me realized that I could make a darn fine TCM student.
Discovering the Human Body
The biomedical sciences curriculum at AOMA is delivered by experienced instructors who have insight into anatomy and pathology that is particularly relevant to an acupuncturist. Dr. Joel Cone, who I met in my first week at AOMA, knew I needed encouragement and was very helpful.
My first term within the master’s program, I started taking anatomy and physiology. The biomedicine series continued and I took microbiology and pathophysiology. I spent a full year diving into the human body, the muscles, bones, organ systems, and microorganisms inside and outside of us. I began to walk around looking at everyone, imagining I could see the sinews and tendons underneath their skin moving in a choreographed dance as they walked. After that first year, I felt as though I had developed a magical power to see through skin to inspect everything on the inside. When my throat and lungs got irritated in in the winter, I imagined the tissues trying to expel pathogens rather than thinking about getting sick. The human body came to life as an amazing machine, and I experienced it as a new piece of scientific art that I inhabited.
Don’t get me wrong, every acupuncture student and practitioner must be able to name the tendons in the wrist and understand how a virus invades the body—along with all the bones, muscles, blood constituents, and more. This biomedical background is essential to a Chinese medicine practitioner who must know how to communicate with and build a treatment plan for patients with biomedical diagnoses. However, TCM is made of the desire to heal as much as the knowledge of science. I’ve tried to put my finger on that “thing” that drew me to this field of study and practice. Sure, it was easy to say that I wanted to help people, that it gave me a sense of satisfaction to help those who are sick feel better. But there is also something else. I had previously studied literature and art and TCM fit into an amazing framework of culture and philosophy that I found exciting at an academic and personal level. My knowledge of this framework in a more abstract unscientific view helped me see TCM embedded as a cultural orientation that fit my spirit.
With my liberal arts background, I realized I simply and beautifully had even more to integrate into my journey as a healer.
About Kate Wetzel:
Kate is a graduate student within AOMA’s Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program. Prior to beginning her studies in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine she completed a BA in English at Trinity University and worked as special education teacher for the Austin Independent School District.