"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles,"
I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who
originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations
and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole
acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the
theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do
it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my
growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond
just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates
something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still
help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me
in the first place.
"Moving blood and qi," "balancing
energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are
intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If
we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly,
then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science
in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power
to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun
Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the
fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient,
more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon
Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being
something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is
just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous
to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the
first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was
sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental
What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class,
and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of
Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the
mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings
for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon
= 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.
Yes, he explained, some points are located right
beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and
eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when
energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and
dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at
a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or
vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....
Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures
harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers
themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's
understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many
acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.
And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer?
Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I
took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations
considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern
science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time
again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of
traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who
doesn't like being told, "You're right"?
What's the appropriate relationship for doctors to have with
patients? How do you know when it's OK to accept a gift, meet for a
coffee, or call a patient at home? What's the difference between
being empathetic towards a patient's horrific home life and being
taken advantage of by a patient who thinks you are her new best
In a recent "Doctor and Patient Relationship" class with the
talented Dr. Dennis Delfosse, we explored the all-too-common gap
between what patients might be experiencing in life compared to
what we assume their lives are like. The point of the discussion
was that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe you've heard the
saying "Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about,"
and its usual ending, "...so be kind." But are you?
Do you, interns of acupuncture and oriental medicine, treat your
patients as important individuals, worthy of your time and energy?
Have you ever groaned when you discovered that you suddenly have an
"add-on" patient halfway through your shift? Do you dread treating
that "difficult" patient who keeps scheduling with you, stealing
your qi? Are you counting the minutes until your shift in
clinic is over for the day?
Much like the general population of American doctors (of whom
only 54% would choose medicine as their career if they could do it
all over), practitioners of acupuncture and oriental medicine might
find themselves unfulfilled, unchallenged, or unhappy at work from
time to time. How can we refocus, reframe, and recharge ourselves
and our passion for helping patients find balance and wellness? We
must revisit our goals from time to time, remembering why we chose
our respective field in the first place, realizing that our next
step might be in a slightly different direction than we originally
planned. It's OK to change treatment strategies, to move towards a
different specialization, or to study under a different clinician
One way to change your personal energy
dial-back to "Positive" is to remember that the patients, their
oftentimes unfortunate circumstances and their health needs, are
the reasons that we're here. They aren't in the way, they aren't
the reason we can't finish our paperwork, and they aren't the
problem. Helping them is the whole picture. The key is figuring out
how to strike the perfect--or at least, a workable--balance with
each individual patient to optimize their satisfaction and
Do you want to make your patients happy? Start by being happy
Physician Frustration Grows, Income Falls - But a Ray of Hope.
Medscape. Apr 24, 2012. Retrieved 1/18/14 at
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