We Can Do Better
— Michael Freedman, MD, FAAMA, Secretary, AAMA Board of Directors
A relative recently had an unfortunate experience during a visit with his primary physician. A veteran of multiple combat deployments and now approaching 40, he has aches, pains, and medical issues. With enough medical understanding from his own reading and growing up with two physicians for parents, he went to the appointment expecting to discuss his concerns and to ask questions. He envisioned engaging in a conversation and planning how to optimize his health now and into the future. When the physician entered the exam room the first words out of her mouth were something like. “You have five minutes. We can talk about one problem; for anything else make another appointment.” He was a bit taken back and flustered and ill prepared to pick out one of his overlapping complaints to discuss. There was no laying on of hands, no exam. Nothing was accomplished at the visit other than a reinforcement of the idea that he had nowhere to turn, and that military medicine was in his experience often tantamount to no medicine.
In defense of the physician, she may well have been alone in a busy clinic and felt like she was treading water, barely able to survive the workday. She may have had no sleep, nothing to eat, and in the back of her mind worrying about her own upcoming deployment. She may have wondered what her purpose in life had become and how different being a physician was compared to what she envisioned before the long years of training.
So how can we do better? Perhaps if the physician had been trained in medical acupuncture, she could have walked in the room, smiled, and said, “Hi. I’m your doctor. We don’t have a lot of time, but why don’t we start by you telling me where you might be hurting the most today. While I’m taking care of that pain you can list for me your health issues and concerns. We can plan together how to tackle your concerns, get some testing done and start getting you feeling better. The next visit we’ll count on spending more time together.”
In this alternate reality, my relative may then have experienced the healing touch of a physician and the relief of any one of his chronic pains accumulated from nearly two decades of warfighting. After a five-minute encounter he would have left feeling physically more comfortable and spiritually encouraged with a vision of a way forward. The physician might have felt an internal sense of warmth and pride, grateful that she had chosen a profession that allows her to go home at the end of the day knowing she has done her best to relieve her patients’ pain and suffering.
What can we do as a society of medical acupuncturists? To begin, perhaps those of us with friends involved in medical education can discuss with those friends the possibility of visiting their institutions to give presentations and hands-on demonstrations. Lunchtime grand rounds might be turned into a learning opportunity and not a napping opportunity. Rotations through different specialties in medical schools could incorporate a one-needle treatment for each specialty, like CV-2 for cystitis when on Urology, LI-14 for shoulder pain on Orthopedics, or Shen Men to reduce anxiety while doing Psychiatry. We could advertise our own annual symposium to the physicians and physicians-in-training we know who are not currently medical acupuncturists. A one-day workshop teaching simple one- or two-needle treatments for common problems most clinicians encounter every day could be offered.
We are sitting upon a gold mine of good will and satisfaction for both patients and doctors. If we fail to share our experience with those who have no training, we run the risk that the opportunity and privilege to practice medical acupuncture will disappear. We also run the risk that practicing the art of medicine will be forever lost.