Ensuring Adequate Training
Dr. Marilyn Walkey, MD, LAc

acupuncuncture and medical doctors

We in the Oriental medicine community in Oregon are beginning a push to change Oregon state law so that all practitioners of acupuncture will be required to fulfill the same requirements in terms of education, training and proof of competency.

I am a medical doctor practicing in the state of Oregon since 1993.

I took a 300-hour "medical acupuncture for physicians" course in 2004.

After this brief exposure, I made a decision that this was the medicine I wanted to practice, so I left a lucrative career in diagnostic radiology and began my training in Oriental medicine in Portland.

In June 2007, I will graduate from National College of Naturopathic Medicine with a master's degree in Oriental medicine.

I have recently passed the NCCAOM board examinations and, after my graduation, I will be prepared to submit my application to become a licensed acupuncturist in Oregon.

The Oriental medicine program at NCNM includes 3,600 total hours of education, of which nearly 1,000 hours are required clinical rotations.

During these rotations, students see patients under the direct supervision of clinical supervisors approved by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners.

I have walked this path and have the unique experience of having participated in two vastly different acupuncture training programs. Through this experience, I have gained an exceptionally clear understanding of the dangers involved in allowing medical doctors to practice acupuncture with such limited and brief training.

Three hundred hours of exposure to Oriental medicine is barely an introduction to this complex and complete, ancient science of healing.

I know that when I finished the 300-hour medical acupuncture training, I didn't feel at all comfortable beginning treatment on patients when I had no clinical experience whatsoever.

Our only "hands on" experience was practicing on fellow doctors during our five days of training.

When I look back on my brief "medical acupuncture" training after studying Oriental medicine for three years now, and try to make an analogy of my medical acupuncture training and its lack of adequacy in preparing me for the safe practice of acupuncture, two scenarios come to mind:

1. It would be like allowing MDs to do dentistry after 300 hours of bookwork, lectures on DVD and working on each other's teeth; and

2. It would be like giving mechanical engineers permission to treat hypertension after they have been carefully instructed on the use of a sphygmomanometer, what the systolic and diastolic pressures mean, and what the limits of normal are, because they have an understanding of the physics of how pressure from a balloon can obstruct the flow of blood in a blood vessel.

Medical doctors have no exposure whatsoever to the science of Oriental medicine in their regular medical school training. Oriental medicine is a complex and unique form of healing that requires years of training to even begin to apply its most basic principles in the treatment of disease.

To assume that MDs somehow have the benefit of discerning how to practice acupuncture from their training in Western medicine is absurd.

Acupuncture has very little to do with "sticking needles into people" and a lot to do with determining cause of disease, analyzing pulse and tongue, doing a complete medical intake, that is highly structured, and then developing a treatment plan.

Needling techniques are complex and involve methods such as tonifying, reducing, warming and cooling, and the use of varying needle retention times, all of which are based on the specific Chinese medical diagnosis.

More importantly, the use of needles is even contraindicated in some cases, based on the diagnosis.

Understanding prognosis, developing a long-term treatment plan, knowing what chronic diseases are particularly amenable to acupuncture, knowing when to refer patients for acupuncture treatment - all are such important issues for the American health care system, and MDs don't have a clue about them, before or after a so-called "medical acupuncture" course.

In fact, giving physicians the credentials to perform acupuncture without adequate training does a huge disservice to patients, since it potentially siphons clients away from powerful practitioners who can successfully and naturally treat patients with conditions such as chronic disease, stroke, neurologic disorders, infertility, migraines, sciatica, common cold, influenza, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, drug addiction, fatigue, palpitations, herpes, insomnia, numbness, premenstrual disorder, sexual dysfunction, impotence, eczema, psoriasis, anxiety, stress disorders, depression, allergies, asthma - the list goes on.

I believe it's time to raise the standard and disallow the performance of acupuncture by physicians, dentists and chiropractors who have had minimal training. I don't feel it is safe for such practitioners to practice acupuncture.

It's time that licensed acupuncturists stand up and speak. We must, if we are to champion the cause of so many patients suffering from so many illnesses, and where we can make a difference and Western medicine has failed not only to treat, but also to even recognize the possibility that Eastern medicine has answers and cures beyond what they themselves can offer.

I suggest we begin a dialogue on this topic at the national level and pass legislation in all states that would protect Americans from unsafe and inadequate acupuncture practice by untrained or undertrained practitioners.