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TCM Doctors – What Most People Don’t Know About Oriental Medicine Doctors

By Shihan Mary Bolz
Licensed Acupuncturist
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor

For all practical purposes and in reality, licensed acupuncturists, especially in the state of California, are Oriental medicine doctors. They are, in reality, doctors. Doctors of Eastern medicine. In China, Japan, Korea, and most of Asia, they are respected as doctors because they are. In the United States, Europe, and most of the Western countries, they are not thought of as doctors. Traditional Oriental Medicine is one of the very oldest forms of medicine in the world. It has been recorded as professional medicine in texts and journals beginning 2,500 years ago, as a formal system. It was in practice long before that. Historians of the medicine throughout the world and of China estimate as long as 5,000 years ago. It begins with the book of the Yi Jing in China. It is one of the Five Ancient Classics. Some say it has been around more than 5,000 years, but some traditional sources say it had its beginnings with the legendary ruler named Fu Xi who lived 2800 BCE-2737 BCE. The first word of the Chinese written character for this text is •• (yì). When used as an adjective, it means “easy” or “simple”, while as a verb it implies “to change“ or ‘to exchange/substitute one thing for another.” The second Chinese character •• (jing) here means “classic (text),” derived from its original meaning of “regularity” or “persistency”, implying that the text describes the Ultimate Way which will not change throughout the flow of time.

The Nei Jing, the Canon of Internal Medicine, attributed to Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, is the basic text from which Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis and acupuncture is derived. The most important ancient book of Chinese medicine as well and lifestyle is the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), said to have been compiled by the mythical Yellow Emperor. It consists of two parts, the Suwen •••• “questions of fundamental nature” and the Lingshu •••• “spiritual pivot” (a book also called Zhen Jing •••• “Classic of Acupuncture” because the latter is its main content). The book is structured as a dialog between the Yellow Emperor and His advisors. Huang Di and His advisors should be considered fictional—they are needed for the question and answer format predominant in the Neijing. This is also quite old. In the book Celestial Lancets (first published in 1980), authored by the highly respected scholars Joseph Needham (1900-1995) and Lu Gwei-Djen (1904-1991), it states that the consensus of scholarly opinion is that the Suwen belongs to the second century BCE. The Neijing departs from the old shamanistic beliefs that disease was caused by other worldly influences. Instead, the natural effects of diet, lifestyle, emotions, environment, age and heredity are the reason diseases develop. The universe is composed of various forces and principles, such as Yin and Yang, Qi and the Five Phases. These forces can be understood via rational means and humans can stay in balance or return to balance and health by understanding the laws of these natural forces. A human is a microcosm that mirrors the larger macrocosm. The principles of yin and yang, the five phases, the environmental factors of wind, damp, hot and cold and so on that are part of the macrocosm equally apply to the microcosm that is humans.

The first of the pharmaceutical natural histories, the •••••••••• Shen Nong Bencao Jing (Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica) soon followed. These are two of the main classics in which the principles of medical practice (acupuncture and herbal pharmacology) are based on. There are three other main classics for this medicine on cold diseases, on febrile diseases, and on herbal medicines. The unchangeable laws of the universe, which is based on change, the laws of yin and yang, are the principles and foundations, which are still applied today and will continue to apply in future centuries as long as the earth, the solar system, and the universe set up in place continues to exist. While eras may change and technology develops, these laws do not, not ever. That is why there is no such thing in Eastern medicine as this is what we think now and what we thought 10 years ago was wrong. You do hear and read about this all the time in scientific research about past and present uses of certain foods, medical techniques, and drugs. What was good yesterday is poison today and vice versa. Theories of diet change every five to ten years in Western nutrition and science and many different diseases on what is the correct thing to eat exist at the same time. Not so Traditional Chinese Medicine.

What was good for humans 2000 years ago is good for them now. It is based on the laws of nature and physics. These principles and concepts do not change. In addition, a basic principle is that changes, which are in cycles, are always occurring. Once that is thoroughly understood, one can practice lifestyle, diet and natural medicine, which has sound principles that work.

So why is Oriental medicine doctors not referred to as doctors in this country? Well, Western medicine is in vogue and has established such financial and political autocracy that they are claiming to be the only doctors. However, change is coming in the West. As more and more people go to Eastern medicine because they are not getting the desired results from conventional Western medicine, the Western medical doctors will have to learn to respect Eastern medicine. One cannot argue against good results for too long. The fact that Eastern medicine has been covered up in the past but is continuing to be known more and more to the public, will no longer leave the Western medical doctors as king, but as team players in the people’s health care. Arrogance and fear are the two worst enemies of human beings. It results in disease and war. Western medicine has contributed much to our society and continues to do so. It could contribute more by cooperating with Eastern health care practitioners and the medical doctors should have some semesters of training in understanding how Eastern medicine doctors work and what this medicine can do. By both Western and Eastern medicine practitioners working as a team for the patient, the best of both can be obtained for the individual person and result in better health for our society as a whole.

Eastern (Oriental) medicine practitioners do study Western clinical medicine, besides their own. Besides premedical courses at the undergraduate level which include anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, and others, the Eastern medicine practitioner studies Western medicine in traditional Chinese (Oriental) medicine colleges. The Oriental medicine practitioner can order any laboratory test or imaging study such as x-rays or MRIʼs that a medical doctor can in the state of California, and in most other states. That means the practitioner is trained to read and interpret the findings. therefore, besides the traditional Oriental medicine diagnosis, modern technology can also be combined with this. This really creates an all-encompassing health evaluation in an Oriental medicine practitioner’s clinic for the patient. The ancient diagnostic methods of Oriental medicine are based on sound, reliable principles. The methods include a comprehensive and difficult pulse diagnosis system, tongue diagnosis, eye diagnosis, palpation diagnosis, and observation, questioning and smelling.

Before entering an Oriental or Eastern medicine school, (most are referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine schools,) the candidate must have either a Bachelor’s Degree in any specialization or at least 60 credit units of undergraduate studies, depending on the entrance requirements of the college. The course is four academic years, with 3,109 hours being required to complete with passing grades to graduate. At graduation, a Master’s degree is obtained. Recently, in the last few years, there are many doctor degree programs popping up at Traditional Chinese Medicine Schools. This is a two-year program (beyond the required four years of a Master’s program), with intensive didactic and clinical hours, requirements and a research project which must be orally defended before the practitioner can graduate. The practitioner has an option for a clinical or Ph.D. program, but most of them are clinical and the practitioner will earn a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine title (DAOM), which is analogous to Western medicine’s M.D. title. A Ph.D. program is another degree and would be additional didactic hours and another/different research project and thesis.

Let us look at some of the courses required at one of the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) colleges in California.

Under the TCM training: TCM Foundations, TCM Diagnostics, Five Element Theory, Classic Medical Texts I, II, III, Channel (meridian) theory, Meridians & Acupuncture Points I, II, which includes lecture and lab, Acupuncture Techniques I, II, Extra Points & Microsystems Lab, TCM Herbology I, II, III, TCM Dietetics, Herbal-Pharmaceutical Drugs Interactions, Advanced Herbology, TCM Internal Medicine I, II, III, TCM Traumatology & Orthopedic medicine, Advanced Gynecology, Advanced Oncology, and other electives.

Under the Western medicine training: Biology (besides undergraduate prerequisites), Inorganic Chemistry, Medical Physiology, Microbiology, Human anatomy, Psychology of Wellness, Organic Biochemistry, Pathophysiology I, II, Physics, CPR First Aid, Diet, Nutrition, Vitamins, Western Medicine Case Management I, II, III, Western Medicine Physical Exam, Psychology & Counseling of Patients, Public Health and Epidemiology, Research Methods,(some require a full-fledged research project), Medical Modalities, Immunology, Neuro-Ortho Physical Exam and one or two courses on pharmacology.

There are 1,350 clinical practice hours. Depending on the college, a student may have treated 400-900 patients before their graduation date. Different schools have different specialty options; one of them offers Sports Medicine, Five Elements, Hepatitis C, and Medical Qi Gong.

Since TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is broad and wholistic while at the same time very in depth in its own theories and practice, most acupuncturist/TCM doctors are general practitioners. Whatever you would go to your conventional Western M.D. for, you can go to a TCM doctor for as far as diseases, acute or chronic pain and injuries. For setting bones and heart attacks, the best choice is the ER of Western medicine and after getting into the recovery phase, goes to TCM. Some TCM practitioners do choose a specialty because of their personal preference or interest.

The depth of the diagnostics, acupuncture and extensive Chinese herbal pharmacology is great and the course is rigorous. This is perhaps the only programming the nation that students study so rigorously for four to five academic years and receive only a Masters Degree. With another two years of training, the practitioner can earn a clinical doctor degree or a Ph.D., if the practitioner would rather go into research. It would be beneficial to people if the Western medical doctors were more aware of the extent of training of the Eastern medicine practitioner and of the medicine itself so they know enough to refer their patients to an Eastern medicine doctor and to realize that it does work and that a patient taking no medications is a great goal. M.D TCM doctor learns enough about Western medicine to understand the methods of diagnostics and how to use that information in treatment to understand the patient’s condition, and to be able to recognize any red flags for referring patients to an M.D. When both medicines, East and West, have enough knowledge and respect of each other’s medicine, it works for the benefit of the people and the earth. Then we humans may live in harmony with each other and with the universe, which is why we are here, is it not?

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