Ancient Medicine for a New Millennium
What It Is & How It Works
Unknown to many, Traditional Oriental Medicine is a major healthcare system for over one quarter of the world's population. Cited as an effective system of healthcare by the National Institute of Health and the World Health Organization, acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are becoming a serious alternative or complement to conventional pain management and medical treatment.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world, originating in China more than 3,000 years ago.
Oriental medicine is an effective, low cost medical treatment that works in harmony with the body's natural healing ability. Diagnosis in Oriental medicine involves the classical procedures of observation, listening, questioning and palpation, including feeling pulse quality. Treatment focuses on the well-being of the entire person, not simply on the physical complaints and symptoms.
According to the theories of traditional Oriental medicine, all the disorders or diseases from which people suffer can be related to an imbalance in one's Qi, or vital energy. Oriental medicine's aim is to improve the patient's health both physically and spiritually by rebalancing the body's own healing mechanisms.
Over 2000 acupuncture points on the human body connect with 14 pathways, called meridians. Chinese medicine practitioners believe these meridians conduct energy, or Qi, between the surface of the body and internal organs. Qi regulates spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical balance. When Qi flow is disrupted, through poor health habits or other circumstances, pain and/or disease can result. Acupuncture acts to keep the normal flow of this energy unblocked.
Acupuncture is the insertion of hair-thin, disposable metal needles through the skin in points on the body's meridians. Acupuncture needles are solid, usually made of stainless steel and extremely flexible. Inserted a few millimeters into the skin, the small diameter and contoured shape of the acupuncture needle allows it to be inserted easily and painlessly. Acupuncture needles can also be stimulated with pressure, heat, friction or electromagnetic impulses to further activate a person's Qi.
The intent of acupuncture is to stimulate the body, release energy blocks, and reestablish normal equilibrium, thereby facilitating the body's natural ability to heal itself. In the last 40 years, Chinese and Western studies have suggested that the insertion of needles at acupuncture points helps release some chemical neurotransmitters in the body, including endorphins.
Endorphins are the body's own, extremely powerful, natural pain killers which relieve pain and bring about a sense of well-being. Clinical studies of acupuncture in the treatment of a wide range of illnesses have also led to acupuncture's acceptance beyond pain control to immune enhancement and increased energy and well being. A study from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center using a scanning technique called SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), found that acupuncture increases blood flow to the thalamus of the brain, an area that relays pain and other sensory messages.
Oriental medicine's effects are gentle and free of the side-effects of many drugs used for the same conditions. As a form of primary healthcare, Oriental medicine addresses a broad range of conditions that Western medicine finds difficult to treat such as stress, depression, addiction, chronic pain, allergies, migraines and low back pain. In addition to treating primary health complaints, the benefits of Oriental medicine include pain relief, immune enhancement and increased energy and well-being.
Another Way To Look At "Medical School"
Currently, over 4,000 students are enrolled in acupuncture and Oriental medical colleges in the United States, and the majority of U.S. medical schools now offer courses on complementary medicine. According to the American Association of Oriental Medicine, an estimated 12,000 nationally certified acupuncturists were practicing in the United States in 1998.
In most states, acupuncturists are considered independent or primary care providers. This responsibility requires extensive training. With over forty acupuncture colleges being accredited or in candidacy status in the United States, choosing where to pursue a career in Oriental medicine is becoming more of a challenge. Pacific College, one of the nation's largest and most prominent schools of Oriental medicine, has established a curriculum of over 3,000 hours of training, offering an accredited Master of Science in Acupuncture and Traditional Oriental Medicine degree. Acupuncture, herbal medicine, anatomy, Oriental body therapy, biosciences, Qigong and Tai Chi (Taiji) form a curriculum allowing students to learn to view health and disease from both Western and traditional Asian holistic perspectives.
In this particular program, the fundamentals of all aspects of traditional Oriental medicine are introduced in the first academic year and prepare the student for the clinical assistantship experience. The educational approach emphasizes integration and synergy of subject matter. Treatment, diagnosis, and prescription are introduced and practiced from the beginning of the program. As students sharpen their mental and physical diagnostic skills, Taiji and Qigong benefit their health and sensitivity. Students learn Tui Na (Chinese medical massage), the Chinese equivalent of physical therapy, along with many powerful, non-invasive acupuncture techniques such as moxibustion and cupping.
As a Clinical Assistant in the second year of the program, the student works as part of a medical team comprising other assistants, interns, and Licensed Acupuncturists. In off-site internships, the team may be expanded to include medical students, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and counselors, depending on the facility. The student gets hands-on experience helping people with holistic and Oriental methods of treatment while interfacing with allied health care colleagues.
Clinical Assistantship consists of almost 400 hours of training and provides the student with the opportunity to assist in, and become familiar with, all aspects of an Oriental medical clinic. Clinical assistants assist interns and private practitioners by performing orthopedic evaluations, charting herb formulas, and performing moxibustion, cupping, massage, other non-invasive acupuncture techniques, and closely supervised needling. The clinical experience prepares the student for the responsibility of accepting their own patients as an intern in the third year.
The second year's classroom experience leads to a more in-depth understanding of the practice of acupuncture, Oriental medicine and biomedicine. Advanced needling techniques and advanced herbal prescriptions and modifications are practiced. The student is introduced to and required to apply the principles of self-directed learning and life-long learning skills that will be necessary in private practice. These are the skills that distinguishing one as capable of interfacing with the wider medical community as an independent practitioner. The curriculum emphasizes the integration and application of Chinese medicine, biomedicine and research skills to support clinical reasoning.
In the third and fourth years, much classroom time is spent discussing clinical cases. Medical understanding deepens and the student embodies and assimilates the fine points of their art.
Over two years of study and practice are challenged and refined by treating real patients in Clinical Internship. Intern activities include the formulation of diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis, and the implementation of treatment for a wide variety of individual patients. Students are guided to develop and maintain the highest standards of professionalism and responsibility for patients until such standards become habits. Students master the principles of Oriental herbal and acupuncture treatment and directly experience the result of their studies when their patients' conditions improve.
The Clinical Internship program provides almost 600 hours of training, during which time an intern will have participated in at least 250 patient visits. With total of over 1000 hours of training in the college's clinic, as well as internships at local clinics & hospitals, students develop acupuncture techniques, evaluation and diagnosis skills, professional conduct, and confidence in practice.
All Pacific's Master's-level programs lead to primary health-care competence in the field of Oriental medicine, enabling graduates to take licensure and certification examinations and become an integral part of the modern health care system. Pacific's record of students passing state and national examinations is among the best in the nation. Graduates typically build a private practice as associates in established clinics. Others are hired by multidisciplinary clinics and work alongside medical doctors, chiropractors and others.
The widening acceptance of Oriental medicine by allied health care providers can be seen by the integration of acupuncture and Oriental medicine in community health centers across the country. Pacific College engages in active cooperation in this integration with the wider medical community in the cities it serves. In a dozen facilities, student interns use acupuncture to treat a variety of disorders from tobacco cessation to pain in terminally ill patients.
Most clinics are low cost and offer patients acupuncture as an effective means of treatment in addition to basic Western medical care. Many of the clinics service prisoners, ex-offenders, homeless and HIV-positive populations. At facilities such as Yonkers Community Hospital and University of California@San Diego, Pacific interns work in conjunction with medical personnel treating pain and related symptoms.
To provide its student body personal access to the authors and researchers of Oriental and holistic medicine, Pacific College organizes the annual Pacific Symposium. The finest speakers from around the world, including Ted Kaptchuk and Giovanni Maciocia, join students and hundreds of licensed acupuncturists for eight days of learning and sharing. Pacific Symposium is recognized as the leading continuing education event in the profession.
Pacific College's mission is to critically assess and present the theories and practices of Oriental medicine, together with its traditional and modern derivations, in order that its graduates may deliver effective patient care. The purpose of the Master's program of Acupuncture and Traditional Oriental Medicine is to train practitioners of Oriental medicine and to enable them to function as primary, independent health care providers. The programs are open to applicants who have prior undergraduate study that indicates the ability to undertake graduate level work as well as those demonstrating the necessary maturity and interest in the field.
With fifteen million acupuncture treatments performed safely each year, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine is at the forefront of offering accredited graduate programs as a means of entering this growing profession. The College, founded in 1986, has established campuses in San Diego, New York and Chicago.
Pacific College President and licensed acupuncturist, Jack Miller, has noted that 'the campuses are strategically situated to attract the current and future leaders of Oriental medicine from Europe, the Far East, and the Americas.' Pacific College is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which is recognized by the United States Department of Education.
Where Acupuncture Is Headed
In the United States there is increasing public awareness of and demand for complementary medicine, including acupuncture and Oriental medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimated in 1993 that Americans made 9 to 12 million visits per year to acupuncture practitioners and spent as much as $500 million on acupuncture treatments. With the baby boom generation currently being the largest population group in the U.S., the need for complementary health care and practitioners is on the rise.
As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 42% of adults have used complementary medicine, spending a total of $21.2 billion on complementary treatments. While in 1997 there were 385.9 million visits to mainstream primary care physicians, there were a whopping 628.8 million visits to complementary medicine practitioners. Reflecting this public demand, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the nation's insurers covered some acupuncture treatments in 1996.
Alternative medicine use and expenditures increased dramatically from 1990 to 1997. As a result, the budget of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, created by Congressional mandate as part of the National Institutes of Health in 1992, has exploded from $2 million in 1993 to $50 million in 1999.3 Over 300 drug treatment programs now use acupuncture in the U.S., including: community health clinics, court affiliated programs, halfway houses, prisons, jails, Native American clinics, and municipal hospitals.
In 1997, a National Institutes of Health panel deemed acupuncture "an acceptable alternative, or part of a comprehensive treatment program" for certain conditions. "One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions."4 Often acupuncture treatments can result in avoidance of surgery, fewer hospital visits and quicker return to employment.
Since the 1997 endorsement by the NIH, interest in Oriental medicine has never been higher. Although still relatively new to the United States, the fact that Oriental medicine has been practiced for thousands of years not only shows it has survived the test of time, but also supports its effectiveness in treating illness.
1. R. Sandroff, "Does Acupuncture Really Work?", Vegetarian Times (August 1999) : 44-45.
2. National Institutes of Health
3. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse
4. National Institutes of Health
Rebecca Wilkowski, Director of Public Relations & Advertising, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, 7445 Mission Valley Rd. Suite #105, San Diego, CA 92108. Tel: 619-574-6909 or 800-729-0941. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: www.ormed.edu
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