ALTERNATIVE HEALING: Enters Mainstream as MDs Return to School
As Asian healing practices gain popularity with patients, more and more Western-trained doctors are going back to school to learn the philosophy and practices of Eastern medicine, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. And nowhere is the trend more apparent than in California. The University of California-Los Angeles, for example, started an acupuncture-training course 10 years ago with about 20 medical students and doctors; today the program teaches nearly 600 providers each year. UCLA Center for East-West Medicine director Dr. Ka Kit Hui says that the dominant approaches in the two hemispheres, once seen as presenting divergent philosophies, are increasingly being seen as complementary. While western medicine continues to focus on acute problems, Eastern medicine takes a more holistic, long-term approach through acupuncture, massage, and herbology. But Lixin Huang, president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, said the two philosophies don't always come together so smoothly. She said that western doctors see their patients feeling better, with greatly improved symptoms, "but they don't understand why or how. Our goal is to create a path between the communication of the two groups of practitioners so they can serve the patients better." Improved communication may be the path of least resistance: for U.S.-trained physicians who have already had years of school and residency, "Attending a traditional Chinese medicine school for four years is a tough pill to swallow," the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. Said one physician who decided to take the additional training: "I had no idea in the state of California that I had to learn 340 to 350 herbs. If that wasn't enough, I had to learn 140 formulas with 12 to 14 herbs. If that wasn't enough, I had to learn internal Chinese medicine diagnosis." Another doctor, Dr. Chang Sok So, began with a degree in Asian medicine and later earned his western credentials. He said, "Oriental medicine can treat a stroke. But it's difficult to diagnose what is the cause of the stroke." Dr. So co-teaches a bilingual anatomy class at UC-Irvine.
The AP puts some numbers to the trend, noting that a 1997 AMA study showed that over two-thirds of U.S. medical schools offered classes on Eastern healing techniques, while the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture estimates that around 4,000 doctors have been trained in acupuncture (Williams, 11/15).