Food is medicine and ancient cultures like China and India have been implementing this knowledge for centuries. Michelle Schreiber also takes this statement seriously at her acupuncture practice Sage Acupuncture in Austin, Texas. Schreiber is a successful AOMA alumni who combines clinical counseling with traditional Chinese medicine. She utilizes theories in the Traditional Chinese Medicine models and couples it with western nutritional research to find a plan that is specific to her clients’ needs. Schreiber has always been interested in nutrition and after she graduated in 2003 from AOMA she continued to get training from the Center for Mind Body Medicine at Georgetown University Medical School and became a certified Nutritional Consultant by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC).
Recently Schreiber has been focusing her practice on treating cancer patients. She was inspired to work with cancer patients after watching her dad go through various cancer treatments for 10 years. Schreiber said, “I wish I had lived closer to him to provide consistent treatment. Additionally, I believe that many practitioners are afraid to treat cancer patients, even though Chinese medicine has a lot to offer them.”
AOMA students learn from faculty who are engaged in clinical practice as well as having expertise in their academic field. Many of AOMA’s faculty members are internationally recognized for their research, teachings, and presentations published internationally in training programs around the globe. Schreiber was encouraged by AOMA faculty member Dr. Yuxin He’s work with cancer patients. She said, “He specializes in treating cancer and to have a role model let me know that it can be done and gave me that extra confidence.”
Another inspiration for choosing to specialize in oncology is studying with, Jeffrey Yuen, a Daoist priest and acupuncturist based out of American University of Complementary Medicine ( AUCM ) who is on the frontier for bringing the spiritual roots back to Chinese medicine. Yuen reminds Schreiber that she is treating people not just diseases and that this is what makes all the difference in cancer treatments. Yuen emphasizes the importance of diet for cancer patients and gives special attention to treating the kidneys because of the fear and shock most people experience when they deal with the reality of their prognosis. Schreiber has also integrated this technique into her practice and has seen great results.
Schreiber currently sees all stages of cancer. Every day she helps her patients deal with the side effects and toxicity of long range chemotherapy treatments by helping them keep their immune systems strong. She says most oncologists have been supportive of acupuncture and some have even gone out of their way to recommend it to their patients. This may be due to a recent study published in Hamburg, Germany that showed acupuncture decreased the pain and nerve signals in cancer patients just after ten treatments.
Schreiber has not been as fortunate with medical doctors supporting herbal supplements. She has found that medical doctors need more education about herbs to feel comfortable because they fear that the herbs are going to decrease the efficacy of the chemotherapy. However, in her professional practice, Schreiber has found otherwise and observed patients who have combined herbs with their chemotherapy treatments improve faster and with fewer side effects. Schreiber says she is in the process of increasing communication and education with oncologists in hopes that more medical doctors come to know the valuable combination that herbs and acupuncture have to offer this unique population.
Kirsten Hurder-Karchmer was teaching linguistics at the University of Texas when she began having some serious auto-immune health issues. After seeing several medical doctors and having surgery she turned to AOMA faculty member Jamie Wu for acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments. Amazed by the results, Kirsten started looking into acupuncture as a career choice. She recalls, “I was already a teacher and thought that to be a good doctor, it required a great deal of patient education, so it seemed like a good match for me.”
Kirsten states, “I was instantly interested in gynecology because I saw that when you regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle, so many other problems are also resolved.” Upon graduation from AOMA in 2000, she was invited to help open the first women’s clinic in the AOMA professional clinic with faculty member Dongxin Ma. In 2001 Kirsten opened her current business in Austin, the Texas Center for Reproductive Acupuncture (TCRA), where she and her team specialize in infertility, ovulation disorders, and recurrent pregnancy loss. Success led to additional locations in San Antonio and Plano. Kirsten said, “Last year alone the clinic in Austin saw 220 patients, had 159 pregnancies and only 4 miscarriages. That is less than a 4% miscarriage rate in a risk population that should be more around 40%.”
The Austin and San Antonio clinics are fully integrated with western medical doctors, operation and recovery rooms, and technology such as ultrasound machines. In the Austin center Kirsten and her team collaborate with reproductive embryologists and urologists to help couples create families, and with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Texas to conduct research. Kirsten says, “We are currently conducting three large scale studies on the effects of acupuncture on in vitro fertilization (IVF), acupuncture anesthesia for oocyte retrieval or egg collection and recurrent pregnancy loss.” This research will be collected and published in the scholarly journal Fertility and Sterility in the next year or two.
Kirsten furthers her mission to change the face of health care through membership in the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine, doing research and developing training at one of the most successful reproductive acupuncture clinics in North America. She is becoming a leader and pioneer in her field of recurrent pregnancy loss. Her tip for success is, “The more I learn Western medicine the better I understand Chinese medicine. We can pioneer a new kind of medicine, but acupuncturists have to learn as much or more, if they want to integrate, than most doctors.”
After thoroughly studying OB/GYN and reproductive embryologist medical texts, Kirsten has been able to strengthen her ability to communicate with medical doctors and overlap Eastern and Western medicine. This deeper understanding has allowed her to build some amazing relationships with the physicians in her field. She responds, “Now they come to us when they get stuck for a bit of voodoo opinion.” Dialogue with medical doctors has helped Kirsten to speak in layman’s terms about Chinese medicine to make it more accessible to people of all backgrounds.
In conjunction with Dr. Francisco Arredondo, Kirsten and her team plan to open the nation’s first fully integrated center for underserved women experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss. The Hope Center will open in Austin and San Antonio in 2012.
All students at the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine are required to study both acupuncture and herbs. Some students tend to gravitate toward one or the other of those disciplines, as is the case with AOMA alumnus David Jones, who sees himself more as an “herb guy.”
Before entering graduate studies at AOMA, Jones earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. Although he knew AOMA was located in Austin, he didn’t know much about it until he began exploring options to go back to school. He finally decided to enroll at AOMA for graduate studies after he sat in during a class and thought it was, as he says, “the coolest thing ever.”
AOMA is known for drawing some of the finest professors from China, making its herbal program one of the most comprehensive and challenging in the country. During Jones’s studies at AOMA, he was especially attracted to the herbal curriculum because of his long-time interest in the chemistry of medicinal plants, and he wanted to take advantage of the knowledge and experience the professors at AOMA had to offer him in this rigorous program.
Following his 2006 graduation from AOMA, Jones chose the path many graduates do, launching a small acupuncture practice with a well-stocked herbal dispensary and working hard for the three years that it normally takes to build a successful practice. However, in 2007, AOMA alumnus and friend Jeanine Adinaro pitched Jones the idea that eventually led to the formation of Third Coast Herb Company (TCH). Jones says, “It was one of those ‘this might just be crazy enough to work’ moments.”
While Jones still sees a few acupuncture patients, he says most of his time is focused on building Herbalogic into a national brand. Although he acknowledges it is a lofty goal, “We have a pretty good start on it. We sell retail in about 60 outlets in four states and all 17 Texas Whole Foods. We have recently extended ownership to two nationally recognized marketing and branding professionals who bring over 40 years of experience to the table and we have hired on a couple of brokers so you can buy Herbalogic from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Boerne, Texas. We also have a large number of happy practitioners. Although we sell mostly retail our line makes a very accessible entry point to herbs for some patients who are resistant to the idea of barks, bugs, lizards and leaves” Jones says. “To develop the line, we made a list of the most common ailments we saw in the clinic. We then matched those ailments with herbal formulas we knew would work really well and work really well in an extract form.” The original five conditions the business partners decided to address are allergies, insomnia, stress, low energy, and musculoskeletal pain. Four new formulas are currently being tested and as Jones says, “some of them are going to change lives.”
Jones and Adinaro have seen the company through challenges. “You just have to be flexible, be prepared to revise your business plan again and again, and never lose sight of your goal. One of my goals is to sell one million units in a year. If we can do that, then I get to have touched people’s lives with Chinese medicine a million times,” Jones says. The most satisfying aspect of his business is, Jones says, “is when someone I don’t know sends us an email telling us how much our products helped them or when I have practitioners call us to tell us a story about how much our products helped a patient. We are passionate about Chinese herbs and to see someone who may have only had this small exposure to them spreading the word is one of the reasons we went into business.”