Simple actions you can take to strengthen the East Asian medical professions

As a EAM student, my primary focus is learning the medicine. I spend most of my time reading the classical texts and attempting to understand them, memorizing herbs and acupuncture channels, practicing my clinical skills and taking care of my self-cultivation.

However, I also believe that I would be silly not to do what I can now to make sure that the profession I am entering remains viable. By viable I mean that the scope of practice remains sufficient for me to do what I am learning to do, that there are no government intrusions on my ability to obtain and use the tools of my trade and that it is able to generate for me an income that will support me and my family. Oh, and the profession should be active, fulfilling, engaging, as well. I don’t ask for much…

These are all complex issues, depending on a variety of factors. However, I do believe that I am capable of supporting the continued viability of the profession as well as increasing its standing in the eyes of the public so as to increase the potential for growth in our fields.

Here are ten things I have done, as a patient and as a student, to strengthen the East Asian medicine professions in the US – and they are all things you can probably do as well. If you have other ideas – share them with all of us in the comments on this article.

For everyone

Educate yourself about the prevailing issues in natural medicine in general and East Asian medicine in particular.

As the field of natural medicine grows, the issues that arise around it will grow. Research reports, news about use of the medicine, changing governmental policies and a variety of pop culture references are easily available and will all add to your knowledge of how health care is changing.

I use an RSS reader to keep up with most of this information, adding RSS feeds of my favorite blogs, frequently updated websites, and Google News feeds (you can follow the link and then click on RSS on the left side to add it to your Reader). I read this information daily. Sometimes I get multiple notifications of the same news story, or hear several different angles about one issue – but this all adds to the richness of my understanding.

I also keep up with the latest journals in the field, and do literature searches using web tools like PubMed to find out about the latest research. You can acquire the information that is of interest to you… just remember that knowledge is power!

When an issue needs attention – write to your elected officials and other people in power who may be of assistance, encourage friends and family to do the same.

Sometimes your research is going to uncover an issue that needs attention. Perhaps your state legislature is about to enact laws that infringe on EAM practitioners’ ability to properly treat their patients. Perhaps the FDA is removing another Chinese herb with little or no reason for doing so. Perhaps there is an Internet campaign to help obtain loan forgiveness for EAM school graduates through a federal program.

Regardless of the issue or platform, you can take simple actions that will tell the appropriate people that you support natural alternatives to standard Western medicine. Email, phone and send “snail mail” letters to your elected officials, attend relevant rallies, and make sure to support candidates that support natural medicine. You can multiply your force by informing family and friends through conversation, email or even your own blog or website.

Recommend Chinese medicine to friends and family who are struggling with health problems.

The greatest strength of the EAM community comes from the many patients who have had positive experiences. You should share your experiences with others, particularly when they are struggling with a health problem that seems intractable. Some people have never heard of Chinese medicine or perhaps think it is only for pain management. Sometimes hearing the story of a positive experience of a friend or acquaintance is all it takes for someone to try something new, to their benefit and the benefit of the profession.

Broaden your idea of what Chinese medicine can do for you and take advantage of its full range of effects.

You may have gone to a Chinese herbalist for help with fertility and had great success. Perhaps you also know that acupuncture can help with pain management and that some people have found success in treating diabetes and cancer with acupuncture and herbs. Maybe a neighbor has practiced Qigong and that has helped them with their depression. But for every condition you know Chinese medicine can help, there are likely many more of which you are not aware. Think of something you are struggling with today that you have not visited a CM practitioner to treat.

Especially for students and practitioners

Learn about and be involved with the ASA (US based)

The best organized and most active national professional organization for Chinese medicine students and practitioners is the ASA. Membership is “bottom up” as opposed to a direct membership model. This means if you are a member of your state association, very likely you are already a member of ASA. Some schools may have student chapters of their state associations, or have some other option for membership and involvement.

the american society of acupuncturists logoEvery cohesive and successful profession needs a representative leadership organization. They help us to unite our collective power towards achieving goals that benefit us and our patients, and help us protect our profession against inappropriate government intervention. They can also be a vector for systematic education and addressing problems and inequities within the profession. With your membership and active involvement, you can help to shape the ASA into an ever more effective voice for EAM in the United States. The ASA can only become a powerhouse for change in health care with your support, expertise and action. Get involved!

Join any state, local and school organizations.

Most US states have a professional organization focusing on the needs of their constituency. Yours may be quite organized, or just a loose affiliation of practitioners – regardless, get involved! You may even find that there are regional or city groups, or organizations around a specific modality or demographic. Medicine, like all true practices, thrives within the context of community. Sharing resources, knowledge and simply being open to ongoing dialogue all help to strengthen the profession as a whole. Think globally – act locally! 🙂

After you graduate, continue to support your school.

It’s not easy to run a natural medicine college. The governmental support is not strong and many schools do not have big donors to support them. To help keep tuition reasonable and institutions viable, all practicing professionals have a responsibility to be good alumni. Find out if your school has an alumni network, and if it doesn’t, work with your school to get one started. Devote some portion of your yearly income to a scholarship endowment for your school. Participate in events such as auctions, new student orientation, graduation and whatever else may be available. If you no longer live near where you went to school, find out what you can do from a distance.

Create an online presence and use it!

With the growing availability of the Internet, many more people are using it as a primary information source. I was dismayed when I first searched for Chinese medicine information on the web – so little was available, and much of it was either watered down or simply wrong! It’s simple to get a blog, website or online journal started and there are several viable online communities already established! You really have no excuse for not doing what you can to increase the amount of quality Chinese medicine information available online.

Develop your own leadership qualities and use them to advance the medicine on many levels.

I find that many Chinese medicine students and professionals shy away from leadership roles. Unfortunately, this either allows power to be concentrated in the hands of the few who are willing to take on those roles or simply leaves the profession with very few leaders at all. We need strong leaders to advance this medicine. Leaders do not have to be egotistical, do not have to run roughshod over their own principles and the principles of others and do not have to be authoritarian!

My journey as a leader has been long and multifaceted. Developing leadership skills like the ability to organize people, motivate action and speak in public have been interwoven with an overall personal productivity program that has improved every area of my life. There is a huge amount of information available to help you, though you do need to keep your wits about you and analyze sources for their integrity. Also, don’t forget to look to the classical thinkers of China – Confucius certainly has a lot to say on these subjects.

Take your profession seriously – medicine is a practice and a tradition, not just a job.

One of the most important things I have taken from the Classical orientation of my school is the understanding of Chinese medicine as a tradition, a practice and a lifelong pursuit – not just a job with a set of technical skills to be mastered. When you decided to step into this profession, you stepped into a rich stream of knowledge and experience that can never be fully grasped in one person’s lifetime.

You are PART of this stream just as you are IN it and everything you do adds or subtracts from its richness and power. Take this seriously and come into your own as a current or future physician. Learn about the historical, cultural and spiritual roots of your medicine and let the wisdom therein inform your every action. If this was the only thing you did to advance Chinese medicine as a profession, it might well be enough.

[This post has been updated during the 2020 site updates. My goal during post updates was to keep the character of the original post, but update for corrections and clarity, as well as to remove broken links.]

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Tony Brown says:

    Thank you for this article. It has certainly given me food for though in respect to my involvement in the shiatsu society in the UK.

  2. Eric says:

    Tony,

    I’m glad to be of assistance. 🙂

    e

  3. Nick says:

    this was a great article

  4. Michael says:

    This may sound cruel and I may regret having said this later but…

    #11 Actively discourage CM students/practitioners with harmful habits, practices, and ideas from propagating such things (i.e. do not suffer fools gladly).

    Admittedly this can make you the Simon Cowell of CM in a hurry, but I think it is necessary though distasteful to those of us who don’t particularly relish conflict. I don’t know what NCNM is like but at MY school we have a huge population of people with half-baked ideas that are usually ‘esoteric’ and New-Agey and are based even less on the reliable root of CM than the lip-service TCM that is being taught. I refer to them as Qi Huggers. These folks-in their good natured ignorance-go boldly plunging forth dispensing advice and dictums that don’t have any real support by the Classical theory or even the current TCM theory. I think it is the duty of right thinking practitioners who, upon being informed of a really bad idea, to tell the person “Look, that’s a really bad idea and you shouldn’t be doing that” or “you really shouldn’t be handing out advice and treatments and acting like you are a licensed doctor because you aren’t and you don’t know what you’re doing yet.”

    Anything we can do to prevent our new doctors from doing harm the second they get their hands on their first patient is a good thing, as we need as spotless of an image as we can muster.

  5. Eric says:

    Michael,

    I don’t think you should regret it at all. I totally hear what you’re saying.. and believe me, we have our share of Qi huggers.

    One of our professors in particular is known for being a bit harsh with folks of this sort. He’s gained quite a reputation for being… um… less than totally cuddly? But I absolutely respect his position and yours.

    Sometimes I worry that people are going to think that about my site! I try not to give out too much advice, and try not to make it too Qi hugg-ish. 😀

    I think it’s vital to avoid mixing too much unproven new-agey claptrap in with the well tested theory present in the Classical texts and even in some of the TCM theory.

    Thanks for mentioning it.

    Eric

  6. Great article, Eric.

    My favorite point is #8 “Create an Online Presence”. People are looking for safe, effective, natural alternatives to incorporate into (or utilize instead of) conventional medical recommendations. TCM practitioners have great knowledge and information that can be easily shared on their clinic websites. With a little effort and some basic web building tools, even a novice (like me!) can get valuable information out there for the public to see and benefit from.
    It’s a win-win: People get great information about Chinese medicine, and practitioners get traffic to their website, which results in new patients and customers for their ebooks, ezines, and other digital media, thereby boosting the entire profession!

    Lisa Hanfileti, LAc
    http://www.insights-for-acupuncturists.com/website-marketing.html

  7. Eric says:

    Thanks, Lisa. I totally agree. I’m really trying to get people to understand the great power of this medium. It’s slow going, but folks like you are really helping make it happen. Thanks for that – and for the comment!

    Eric

  8. One of our professors in particular is known for being a bit harsh with folks of this sort. He’s gained quite a reputation for being… um… less than totally cuddly? But I absolutely respect his position and yours.

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