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Future Shock

East meets West in new holistic health market

About four out of 10 Americans use complementary therapies, spending more than $34 billion dollars annually
University Business, November 2013

What do Bravo TV’s Real Housewives, reality star Kim Kardashian, pro tennis player Maria Sharapova, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis have in common? All have chosen acupuncture as an alternative health treatment, for reasons ranging from women’s health issues to cosmetic anti-aging to pain management to sports rehabilitation and beyond.

With momentum from Obamacare and an increasingly health-conscious population, more attention has been paid to preventive health measures—as distinguished from treating chronic illness and degenerative disease.

As baby boomers transition to 65-plus, the graying patient population is placing an even greater strain on an already overburdened health care system. The National Hospital Association projects that by 2030 the 65+ population will have nearly doubled, and more than six out of 10 boomers will be managing at least one chronic condition.

Yet, Americans are growing tired of designer drugs, invasive procedures, and runaway health care costs. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately four out of 10 Americans use complementary therapies, spending more than $34 billion dollars annually.

Even the American system of health insurance has begun to treat acupuncture as eligible for third-party payment—thus changing the economic dynamics of acupuncture practice. Further, in the new health care environment, acupuncture turns out to be a cost-efficient option for delivering affordable, community-based health care.

In the wake of this public health care and demographic tsunami, alternative medical modalities, such as oriental medicine, acupuncture, and other holistic remedies, have grown in popularity and acceptance. Indeed, this acceptance has spilled over into the contemporary Western biomedical community.

Today, a significant number of medical schools at least offer courses on complementary and alternative medicine. It’s no surprise that each year there are more than 3,000 students enrolled in acupuncture and oriental medicine colleges in the United States, and estimates of close to 20,000 licensed acupuncturists.

Beyond master’s level preparation, schools and colleges of acupuncture have successfully aspired to regional and national accreditation, making universal credit recognition part of the value-added education provided by these mission-specific institutions. In fact, several of these institutions have already migrated upward toward making doctoral level preparation a future pathway for terminal credentialing.

Located in Watertown, Mass., the nationally prominent New England School of Acupuncture was the first college of acupuncture founded in the United States. Today, NESA offers two master’s degree programs: a master’s in acupuncture can be earned in three years; or one can study Chinese herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture, and earn a master’s in acupuncture and oriental medicine.

NESA integrates traditional oriental medical practice with contemporary Western biomedicine, through its partnership with Tufts University School of Medicine.

Unique in its East/West blended partnership, the NESA-Tufts Pain Management track provides students the opportunity to earn dual master’s degrees from NESA and Tufts in pain research education and policy. Speaking of the increasing acceptance and utilization of alternative therapies, NESA President Susan Gorman put it nicely, “There is a shift going on already—just this week I had two different conversations with friends who had a primary care doctor recommend acupuncture.”

Looking west, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine offers two specialized degree programs: a master’s of acupuncture and oriental Medicine and a doctorate in acupuncture and oriental Medicine. OCOM also boasts a nationally competitive research program, with a long list of past and current research partners, receiving funding from the NIH and private foundations.

It is worth noting that the budget for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the NIH) increased a staggering amount, from $2 million in 1993 to $114 million in 2003.

With three campuses in New York, Chicago, and San Diego, the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine educates more than 1,100 students between its three campuses. Pacific offers a broad range of degrees from associate’s level through the doctoral level. All three locations offer massage/bodywork degrees, expanding and refining this modality that has long been considered an integral part of pain and rehabilitation therapy.

In the poignant film “Patch Adams,” Robin Williams proclaims, “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

Such a mindset underlies the very foundation of alternative medical therapies. Today’s integrative and holistic approaches to health and wellness offer the best of traditional and contemporary medicine, and are becoming a permanent fixture of the American medical landscape.

James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of The Sustainable University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.