The Role of Medical Acupuncturist in the Time of COVID
If you are a medical acupuncturist like me, you are probably a bit … different … from your peers. You are probably a bit more willing to observe and see things that you don’t have a ready explanatory model for. You are probably a bit less risk averse than the general population and your peers. You probably are also a bit more willing to commit to exploring the boundaries of your knowledge and be more comfortable with uncertainty than average. You are probably prone to thinking the world is a bigger place than what we have been traditionally taught. You are probably willing to try new things to help your patients, peers and family —even when it’s not conventional. You are probably a bit better at listening and hearing where someone else is coming from. Basically, you are a bit weird.
As a medical acupuncturist, you are by your very nature and practice trying to synthesize a greater world out of what at least on the surface may seem to be disparate parts. You are a round peg in a square-hole world, a square peg in a round-hole world, a hexagon in a rhomboid, or whatever (I don’t want to mis-assign anyone’s identity).
My journey to acupuncture was odd, as I suspect many of yours were. Going from medicine to decision science to operations research to computer science to systems engineering to mind-body medicine, all the while immersing myself in martial arts, eastern philosophical traditions, and ethics. An atypical path for most, but perhaps a typical path for a medical acupuncturist.
It is both personal practice and what I teach my students to try to simultaneously cultivate three types of areas: (1) areas where one is a master of a set of skills, (2) areas where one has growing competence and (3) at least one area where one is a complete novice, or as my daughter might say, where I am a “clueless newb.” Cultivating mastery with the beginner’s mind allows one both confidence and grounding, as well as a joyousness of curiosity. Medical acupuncture is a discipline that allows one to be both master and student easily.
Your own personal journeys have led many of you to become translators of thought from one group to another. There is no time I can recall where this skill and talent has not been more needed. After two years of COVID pandemic, as clinicians we have seen several phenomena raise their heads. On the clinical side, we have seen disorders like long-COVID syndrome, which seem resistant to reductionist medicine but might respond to a more holistic approach. On the human side, we have seen injury caused by tribalism, denialism, misinformation and resource constraints, resulting in despair and burnout.
There is no more important time to be the example and not the lesson. To follow the way, commit to exemplary behavior and to embody the golden rule (something both Lao tse and Gong fuzi agreed upon). As I tell my students, the golden rule implies action in the world. The first act of the golden rule is to recognize the humanity and human value in someone else. The second is to let that recognition guide you in actions both specific and general. Or as Maimonides is reported to have said, “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. The rest is commentary.”
The lessons learned from bringing friends and family back from tribes, cults and denialism are patience, compassion and nonjudgmental listening, while also being true to yourself. People can only grab your hand if it is open. As I tell my students, keep an open mind but not so open your brain falls out. The curiosity, compassion and openness you have cultivated to become a medical acupuncturist place you in a good position to help those around you. As the pandemic starts transitioning to endemic and life begins to take on a more normal shape and rhythm, there will be a great need for healing. All those tendencies that made you “different” are the ones we need now.
James E Stahl MD, DABMA, CM, MPH
AAMA Board of Directors