AOM Day Goodwill Message, Oct. 24, 2009
To my good friends of the AOM profession in Pakistan,
A Pakistani acupuncturist recently confided in me how frustrating it is that there are untrained and illegitimate “physicians” practicing acupuncture in Pakistan.
I believe that many MDs in the US feel the same way about doctors of Chinese medicine.
Over the past few years, I have been presenting continuing medical education (CME) lectures to MDs, nurses, and allied health care providers.
I had hoped to express the benefits of integrating drugs and Chinese herbal medicines. I presented numerous research studies that demonstrated how therapeutic outcomes improved, drug dosages could be lowered and side effects could be averted.
A few months after my last lecture, I received a package of feedback from the doctors in attendance. This feedback was extremely negative. One physician wrote “I always believed that Chinese medicine was bogus, now I know it.”
The question of who is adequately trained is a sword that cuts both ways. There is the entrenched medical establishment that looks down on “doctors” such as me. No doubt I am, in their eyes, no different than the quacks of Pakistan.
I’m sure that beneath it all, they have the same frustrations that anybody would in the presence of bogus physicians. Quacks can be dangerous to patients, as well as take income away from legitimate physicians. These frustrations must be universal.
Still, defining a quack can be difficult. I understand that untrained individuals in Pakistan simply call themselves “doctor”. We have a similar situation in the US. The fact that each of the 50 states regulates acupuncture differently gives rise to a wide range of terms that we use to describe our credentials. For instance, in the East coast state of Rhode Island, for a very small price, one can purchase a license to practice acupuncture with the same masters degree we get in California. However, this license allows one to use the title of “doctor” while the California license does not.
So, “licensed acupuncturists” in California will apply, pay for, and receive a license to practice acupuncture in Rhode Island ONLY for the ability to use the word “doctor” when describing their credentials in California. This is an unfortunate loophole in California law, but more importantly, it lowers the perceptions of AOM ethics and our education as a whole.
I’ve even seen some of the worst herbalists making enormous amounts of money with extremely rudimentary herbal understanding. There seems to be little connection between medical competence and sales. I am very clear on that. I would love to say that all you need to do is be better doctors than the quacks and the patients will chose you over them, but unfortunately, I have not seen this to be true.
Clearly, there will always be those practitioners whom we deem less ethical, less competent, and more dangerous. And there will always be those who level those same judgements at us!
If we can’t change the situation with quackery, we must change our response to it. Frustrations surrounding medical quackery are aggravated by our own internal demons. We all live on a continuum of competence and ethics. Nobody is perfect, but only those who recognize, accept, and forgive their own imperfections can achieve the humility required to work in the presence of God.
On this International AOM Day, 2009, my very best wishes go out to all of my AOM friends in Pakistan. May the peace and healing of our daily work help heal the culture wars of your region as well as mine.