Acupuncture Student Spotlight: Michael Still
Michael Still began his collegiate studies at the University of Texas with a focus on traditional Western medicine. His father was a physician, and Still had an interest in pursuing a similar career path. While still at UT as an undergrad, Still’s father battled and finally succumbed to cancer. The experience of seeing his father’s suffering as the disease did not respond to traditional Western medical treatments left him with many questions in regards to society’s reliance on conventional medicine. In Still’s words, “Weren’t there other methods to help this incredible man?”
Still found himself lost in many ways following his father’s death, but he also began to discover himself. He returned to college to study neurobiology and was particularly fascinated by the embryonic development of the nervous system. Through his interest in martial arts, Still was lead to apply for acupuncture school. He believes the experience of studying with renowned doctors from China with backgrounds in both Western and Chinese medicine will benefit him in his future pursuits. “These are talented, brilliant people—these are people who want to be mentors and welcome questioning in pursuit of knowledge.” Still also spends a good portion of his time at in the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine’s library, where he says the resources are extensive and current. “My Western medical understanding has increased exponentially,” he says.
Acupuncture is a safe and affordable form of health care that has been scrutinized by practitioners for over 10,000 years. The most well-known traditional Chinese medical procedure, acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles into the body at specific points to relieve pain or treat a disease. Acupuncture triggers spontaneous healing reactions in the body, and scientific studies have proven its efficacy for treating inflammation, pain, depression and a host of other disorders. Chinese medicine unites the parts with the whole, linking the health of organ systems to the health of the individual and linking individuals to the world around them. The relationships between the mind, body, and spirit play an important part in this holistic system of health care.
To become an acupuncturist, one must attend an accredited school and obtain a master’s degree. The degree in Texas is a Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Usually a graduate program in this field takes around four years to complete. After passing the national exams one can apply for licensure in whichever state they will be practicing.
The use of acupuncture is on the rise in the United States. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of visits among adults nearly tripled, rising from 27.2 to 79.2 per 1,000 adults. According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 3.1 million adults in the United States used acupuncture in 2006, a 47 percent increase from the 2002 estimate.
The demand for acupuncture could soon outweigh the number of practitioners that can currently fulfill that demand. There are many possibilities for acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners. Most chose to work in private practice or work with a group of practitioners, like a massage therapist or chiropractor, at a holistic health or rehabilitation center. As acupuncture is growing in demand, opportunities to work in pain management clinics and hospitals are becoming more available. The military is also becoming more open to employing acupuncturists to research post-traumatic stress which has shown positive results for treating veterans. There are also opportunities to travel with acupuncture by working for groups such as Acupuncturists without Borders or island hopping on cruise ships.
There is increasing scientific evidence proving the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of medical ailments including chemotherapy-induced nausea, autoimmune disorders, chronic back pain, hypertension and allergic rhinitis. Acupuncture is also used for fertility, facial skin tightening, weight management, and a host of other common complaints.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) are major contributors to this conversation. They recently published research that found acupuncture is effective at controlling the pain and improving the functionality of knee osteoarthritis. The National Health Interview Survey is another organization that produces research and they concluded in 2007 that back pain was the most commonly and successfully being treated by acupuncture, followed by joint pain, neck pain, severe headache/migraine, and chronic pain. Clinically acupuncture has been tested to be a safe and natural way to maintain and restore health. Recognition of Chinese medicine as an important and necessary part of American health care is increasing. Coverage of acupuncture by major health insurance plans is on the rise, and compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are less expensive. Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs, making it a safe, affordable and accessible healing modality.
Still is still young--in his early 20s--and plans to attend a Western-style medical school upon graduation from AOMA. He is deeply interested in the integration of both perspectives of medicine and challenging society’s views of Chinese medicine. His passion for teaching will assist in this pursuit, as he believes education is the best way to bring the two worlds together. Of the medicine he says, “I feel part of greatness in a journey to change how we practice medicine.”