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John Paul Liang

Dr. John Paul Liang is the former President of the Texas Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine and currently the President of the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.  He is also the former Chair of the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. Dr. Liang is in charge of all of the College’s acupuncture outreach at The Methodist Hospital. He received his Bachelor of Science from Cornell University in 1997 and his Master of Science in Oriental Medicine from the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in 2001. He has been involved in numerous research studies in conjunction with Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital and the University of Houston. He has made several television appearances and speaks regularly to the community and to healthcare professionals in organizations including the Texas Women’s University, Texas Children’s Hospital and Memorial Hermann Healthcare System.

transcript

September 1, 2021 

Early Life

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I was born in Brazil in 1974. I remember at the time my dad's clinic was attached right in front of our house. You could see patients coming in and it was also easy for my parents to keep track of us three boys at the same time because we were right behind. One of the nice things about being in Brazil is the people are really friendly and they have a really good heart. It's just unfortunate that there is a lack of sufficient middle class. So there are people who are really well off, and then there are really poor people.

 

When you have this type of situation, the crime rate will go up. But as my father said, we had our fair share of being victims of crime to various degrees. The time when my dad got slashed on the hand by a potential carjacker was probably the thing that triggered us to decide to move; I think my parents said this is the final straw, we can't raise kids in an environment like this anymore. So I moved here in 1984 when I was around 10 years old. I then went to Cornell University for college and was actually doing operations research and industrial engineering at the time, and then moved to California and worked at Anderson Consulting for about a year. That was around the Y2K period in 1997 and 1998.

 

At the time, I realized that working on non-living things just didn't provide me with any passion. Being in front of the computer all the time was not something that I was interested in doing, so I decided to move back to Houston and my dad told me that I should try and work a little bit until I figure things out, but at the same time, just take one semester of courses, and see if I liked it; if I didn’t like it, I could move on to another degree, and if I liked it, then stick around. He'd been trying to get me to do this for a long time. Probably due to just rebellious tendencies, during my teenage years I tried not to get into this field, but as soon as I studied one semester, it fit well. I stayed on and studied for the rest of the program.

 

I've been in the institution since 1998, and I worked from the bottom as a coordinator and moved up as time passed. So I've been in the institution for about 22 years which makes me quite old now. But it's something that I enjoy and I have a private practice on the side, where that's kind of like my fun time. Being an administrator is not always a nice time for me. It can be stressful sometimes. So actually seeing patients is my enjoyable work where hopefully I get to see a lot of different types of patients. I used to see a lot of pain management and fertility patients, then during this pandemic depression and anxiety by far went to number one, so you could see the impact of COVID. You could also see how people are such social creatures, and they need to have this type of interaction with each other, and when you take that out, you have people with a lot of stressful conditions. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG 

My neighborhood was a cul de sac. And I remember in Brazil, there's a big Japanese population, so we had some neighbors who spoke Japanese. I remember my grandparents, who didn't know a single word of Portuguese, were somehow able to communicate with a lot of different neighbors, not just the ones who spoke Japanese, but also the ones who spoke Portuguese; somehow they used sign language or something and were able to communicate. The clinic was in the front and a lot of the Brazilian houses, including ours, had a gate. We had a German Shepherd because there was this fear that there would be burglars and things like that, just because of the crime rate. People would come in and, and the clinic was right next to the garage, so patients would walk and see our cars on the right and the clinic on the left. I don't recall how many rooms there were, maybe three or four is my guess. At the time, my dad had a couple of assistants or nurses, and my mom worked in the front of the clinic. It was a really busy practice.

 

A benefit of having the house in the back is that there was no driving required. As soon as the clinic closed they were right at home ready for dinner. In terms of crime, I think just for myself I never wanted new shoes because once someone wears new shoes, somebody else will want them or want to step on them to get them dirty, which I think was part of the culture. But I remember one time, these kids approached my brothers and me and they said “You know you have nice shoes, I want them.” And I don't recall how old I was, I must have been six or seven. I just remember all three of us running for our lives. So you have these types of minor issues, you have pickpockets. My understanding of something that happened in the clinic once, and I don't know if this is true or not, is that I saw a lot of police cars in our cul de sac.

 

Apparently, there was either a robber or somebody who jumped over the fence into the cul de sac and went into the clinic and was holding one of the patients hostage while the police were trying to negotiate in front. I don't know how true that was because a lot of times when things like that happened, we kids got shooed away and no one talked about it because I think around the age of nine or eight is when we get scared about these things like safety issues. The carjacking was the thing that broke the straw though. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

There might have been a window; I can't recall now. But I do recall when my dad moved to Brazil, he was almost penniless. He did really well in Taiwan as a pharmacist, and my mom did really well as a finance person. But at the time they were worried about communism, and they were worried about the kids’ lifestyle there, because in Taiwan, actually to this day, it's rough being in school. The kids are studying 24/7, and they have to take tests for college and beyond. My parents didn't want that kind of lifestyle.

 

But when they moved to Brazil, savings quickly depleted. I remember my dad built a lot of furniture and things himself from old wood from the garage when he bought the house. I also remember him doing a lot of on-site clinics, not just the clinic in our house, but he did a lot of community-type ones where he would go into a community and treat patients there. The clinic was attached on the left side of the house, and I would say it was maybe about 1500 square feet large.

Patient Demographics in San Paulo, Brazil

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

A lot of the patients were not Asians. They were Brazilians and I don't recall meeting that many Brazilians who were acupuncturists at the time. I think the acupuncturists were all Asians, but I don't know if they were Japanese. It's probably not acceptable now, but people used to just call us Japanese, you know, they would walk down the street, and they would just say “hey, Japanese come over here.'' It sounds discriminating now, and it probably was at the time, but it was just not anything that people thought about. Because of the large Japanese population, Brazilians just assumed everybody was Japanese. So it was almost like a nickname.

 

Based on stories that my parents told me, my uncle lived on a ranch at the time, we would visit them maybe once a year or so, and he would have cows, chickens, and things like that. We were city people, so we were not used to farmland and ranch. My brothers went to this rural town, and all these Brazilians came out because they had never seen Asians before. They were trying to figure out what these people are, and it's the first time that they actually met Asians, so it was quite a unique experience. Looking back I had fond memories of Brazil. Even though there were some minor incidents, and as with kids, I think we all experienced some level of discomfort at some point in time, but I think kids are just not as sensitive and aware of things, so it goes through.

 

Life in Houston 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

The humidity was awful. We walked out of the airplane, and I will never forget the thickness of the air; it was also really hot. But it was a great experience overall. My aunt lived in a really good neighborhood, in the Memorial area. And her elementary school was right behind her backyard. So we would actually go through a little gate in her fence and sneak from the back fence and go to elementary school, and then come back the same way. It was nice; we didn't have to drive anywhere. But anytime you go into a new country, it is a little more difficult. We took English classes in the beginning, but nothing prepares for you to be here. Luckily, we felt that there was a great support system with the teachers here. I think people were very understanding but it did take a little bit of time to get used to it and to get acclimated to the whole culture.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

You definitely have a disadvantage in making friends because you have a language issue. So it's not as easy to make friends. And when you're going to junior high, I think you're in a vulnerable state where you're seeking a lot of friendships and you don't have that. So I think it was probably worse for my brothers than me, maybe because I was still in elementary school, so I had a little bit more time. But when you're going through junior high, I think those three years are probably one of the hardest for any kid going through; you're going through puberty, and then you're going through all this self-doubting and things like that. I think it's one of those things where you kind of have to sink or swim because my parents also didn't have the time to help us with school.

 

They were moving to two countries in their lifetimes. It's almost like you save up and then you use it in Brazil, and then you save up, and then you use all your savings again in the US. So they were more focused on putting food on the table. For us, it was trying to survive through the coursework. I remember when I was in Brazil in third grade, I used to get awful grades primarily because I was lazy; I didn't even open the book. At the end of the year, I just went to class, I listened to what the teacher said, and then I went to take the test without reading anything.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

You took a lot of things, and surprisingly the Brazil math that I took was a grade more advanced than here. We were doing multiplication in Brazil, and when I moved here, they were still doing addition and subtraction. So in that respect, it was easier for me to adjust to that because I already took a lot of the things. In Brazil, school started in January, and ended in December, whereas here academic year is from September to May, so I had to go back half a year. I was going through maybe the beginning of fourth grade for half a year and then I had to restart fourth grade. When I moved here, I started realizing that if I don't read, without language here, I’m not gonna do well and I don't have the parental support system that I did in Brazil, because they're more focused on putting food on the table. And so I relied more on my brothers and I actually had to open the books and work. So that's how my grades improved from there; it's almost like a necessity.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I moved back in 1998. So I graduated from Cornell in 1997, and then I worked at Andersen Consulting for about a year, which I think was a great experience. It's just that with consulting there's so much flying. You never know from week to week, what city you're going to be in. I'm a homebody and things like waking up in Cleveland and trying to figure out where I was, because we will go to Sacramento then fly to Cleveland, and every weekend, it was something different. There were periods where I'd wake up and I'd be like, what city am I in right now and then trying to figure it out. It wasn't something for me. If you like traveling, and things like that, I think it would have been great. But being a homebody, it just didn't fit me very well. That's one reason why I decided to quit that job. Being in front of the computer as well did not fit me, even though nowadays you can argue that I'm in front of the computer just as long as I am back then, but at least there's some human interaction between people.

 

NCCAOM Clinic Founding

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

My dad founded the college in 1991, and I graduated high school in '93. I think I was a sophomore back then. I do remember the first three years or so it was tough on them. They would come back home late. It was basically our startup. I think they misjudged how much work and how much regulation was required. I think a lot of it was based on their experience in Brazil, but they didn't realize how difficult it was at the time. As they started building this thing, it was one accreditation after another and it was not that simple. The problem with education is that once you get in, it's hard to get out.

 

I think if we had to redo it again, we wouldn't go into this thing. The amount of work and the amount of dedication required is unbelievable. Especially those first 10 years, it was a sacrifice. Education is definitely something that you don't get into because of the money. It's not lucrative; I think if you want to go to lucrative businesses, you probably want to go into finance or technology or something like that. But, education is not something that you want to do if you are striving to make a lot of money. But it was something that they knew; they only knew acupuncture, and they were good teachers. That's one reason why they did it. And you know, and if they're able to kind of make ends meet, but, you know, it was a bonus.

 

One other reason, and I have the same fear with what I'm doing now, but as a lone practitioner, if you are the breadwinner for the family, you are one sickness away from poverty, right? If I only had a clinic, and I'm treating patients, regardless of how successful this clinic is, if I catch COVID, and end up in the hospital, my whole family's done. So I think that's one of the considerations that my dad had as well; he had three teenage boys, a wife, and grandparents. In the house, all rely on you to make money. Even though he had a successful practice, there was always the worry of what would happen if my dad had a health issue. He was in his 40s at the time, I'm in my 40s now and I didn't understand that worry until now. Now that I have my own kids, they're all dependent on me to bring in the money.

 

You always worry. Especially with COVID, I think, what do I do if this happens? I think that's one motivation for having something else on the side. That way you have some backup plan, just in case. It's just that when he got into this education, it was very difficult to get out. Probably the first five years or so you're putting more money in than you're taking out. Luckily, knock on wood, his health for the first 15 years or so has been very stable and he didn't need that income coming in, so he's never had to take any money out. It's almost like this has become like a nonprofit foundation where he's never taken a salary and never had the need to.

 

Going in they had a completely different goal, which was to have a backup plan, to be able to do something that he was good at, in teaching. But in the end, when you look back, it's like this has become almost like a nonprofit foundation that you've been doing and that's what ended up.  

JOHN PAUL LIANG

Education is a thankless job. You go in to teach, but you don't always get that gratitude returned. I think he enjoyed it. He had to do a lot of things like being almost like an activist. Because when he got here, he realized there were no laws related to acupuncture. It's not like Brazil, where you can just set up shop and you can start seeing patients and no one's gonna bother you; all of a sudden, he started realizing it's much more regulated here. You could end up in jail if you start practicing without a license or any laws. So for a lot of the things, you kind of learn as you go and then you get forced into things like being an activist because you have to. I think he served on the medical board. A lot of it is just because there was no one else being the activist; he was one of the few people that were passionate enough to go in and be that activist initially because, at the time, acupuncture was still considered as a voodoo medicine.

 

Even in the 1990s and early 2000s, when I went to health fairs, some people would give me this look like I'm a weird Voodoo medicine person and make jokes about it. It wasn't until the early 2000s, when the NIH (National Institutes of Health) started funding acupuncture research, that it took off from there. I think in this industry, what grew was not from the supply side, but it grew from the patient side. The patients started demanding it, and that's when it exponentially took off. The supply side I think helped a little bit but I think by far it was the patients driving their market up.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

By far, I wouldn't say he was the only one who was willing to organize a nationwide community of acupuncturists. He had a great support system, especially here in Houston, in that there were a lot of acupuncturists that felt the same way he did and felt like there needed to be laws and things like that. They found the Texas Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine; I've been president of that association before, and that group of people, I would say is one of the most supportive acupuncturists, individuals that you could find in terms of spearheading a lot of the legislative agenda and things like that, and getting the legal stuff in Texas, getting the licensure. I would say my dad was the mouthpiece, and he has some ideas, but he relied a lot on this association, this group of people that had a lot of different ideas as well.

 

They wrote a lot of letters as well. Because it's not just trying to meet different politicians, one by one, I think it required this group of acupuncturists to constantly be writing letters to be present when the legislative session was there. I wouldn't say it was just one person; I would say this group of people, there were probably 50 of them from the entire state, joined together and did a lot of that work. Everyone did their part, everyone joined in, and if it was necessary, I remember there were a group of people that whenever there's a legislative session, they would all drive as a group to Austin. There were a lot of people involved to get this licensure in place. 

 

Licensing in the US

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I think I was probably too young to know a lot of the details of this. My perception of what it was, and reality could be completely different, but my understanding at the time, was that acupuncture had no laws, there was no scope of practice, there was nothing in place. And then what happened, based on stories, I think a few acupuncturists went to jail, because they were practicing acupuncture, and there were no laws about it. That motivated that group of acupuncturists to start an association and start getting some legislation in place and figuring out how to do that. There was an Acupuncture Board established under the Medical Board. A lot of the regulations that apply to physicians apply to acupuncturists as well.

 

Even today, for example, in California, the Acupuncture Board is separate, and they make their own regulations and can pass those regulations, whereas, in Texas, it's a double approval. You have the Acupuncture approve something and then the Medical Board has to approve it as well. I think overall, it makes things a lot safer; I think it's nice that it's set up like that because it gives people the confidence that every single regulation that goes up has been reviewed by the medical board too. So with anything, there are positives and negatives.

 

I saw this relationship as being positive because it brought everybody to see things the same way: it had to, or else things wouldn't get approved. So you have a more conservative approach to acupuncture, and that's probably how acupuncture developed in Texas, it was more conservatively. But I think when you're more conservative, you have a more stable foundation, and I think you're growing on more solid ground.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

In Texas, you have to take the NCCAOM exam, but you don't necessarily have to be certified by them afterward. So you take an NCCAOM exam, and then you apply for licensure. As long as you have a Texas licensure, you can practice, but some people will go beyond that to continue their education, to do extra training and things like that, to get that extra credential from NCCAOM. So the list that you saw, where individuals are certified, they elected to do the extra education and credentialing. But it doesn't mean that if you don't have that, you cannot practice. As long as you have a Texas license, you can practice.

 

Personal Experiences with Acupuncture

JOHN PAUL LIANG

In order for us to handle needling, we had to be in our second or third year, so I didn't handle that in the beginning. But prior to my first semester, I always received acupuncture. I remember when I was in elementary school, junior high, and even high school, I always got the perfect attendance award. But I hated that because kids who got sick got to stay home. I always got perfect attendance because as soon as I got sick, my dad would give me a treatment that night. Then I will feel well enough the next morning, and my parents would send me back to school. So I had acupuncture throughout my life as a patient. But the first time that I started treating patients was in school. And my first time treating patients I was just as worried as the next person in the beginning. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I tell stories of my early experiences with practicing acupuncture to the new interns all the time, especially about my first patient ever where I went into the clinic for the first time with only didactic knowledge. The first time you start looking at a patient, and they're looking back at you being dependent on your care, something that you will never forget. I think that’s when you realize, oh my goodness this person is actually paying for my services. I got so anxious that first time. This person was coming in for smoking cessation, which is normally one of the easiest conditions that we would treat.

 

Because I was so nervous, the first question I asked was about this patient's bowel movement; I'll never forget that. And he looked at me all confused, probably thinking something like, I'm coming in for smoking cessation, why are you asking about my bowel movement? And the real answer is, I blanked out and was so nervous when I realized that this person was depending on me to help him with his care and paying for it. But it turned out okay at the end; he got better, but that first patient interaction when you're looking at somebody and experiencing that kind of practitioner-patient relationship for the first time was a learning experience. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

My decision to move through ACAOM and then take a leadership role was largely based on need because as the school progressed, there were so many accreditations and so many documentations. For my parents, English is their third language, so this was something they had a hard time with. Writing is probably one of the major difficulties for them; they can get by with conversations, but when you start asking them to write long essays and reports, it was a struggle. Because I had the English skills and could write reports, it automatically fell on me to help out. Little did I know at the time in higher education, accreditation is the livelihood. Whoever has that knowledge automatically comes in front and center because every decision that an institution has to do with how accreditation is impacted. I started being in all the meetings and because I wrote all those accreditation reports from the beginning, I started learning what the expectations were, what is acceptable, what's not acceptable, etc. Then I started communicating with the accrediting agencies and so I automatically became that individual.

 

One of the accreditors was the one who told me to go back to school and get my doctorate in leadership in higher education; he said that's just a natural progression, and I needed this. Leadership positions at the end require that kind of degree, so I went ahead and I did it. So that's kind of how I progressed; it wasn't something that I really love to do, but it was something where there was nobody else and I kind of had to step up. If I didn't, I felt like this project was gonna go really badly. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

When the building was bought, it almost made sense to design it that way because that building had a lot of individual rooms already in place where the clinics are right now. So we only had to build some other walls here and there. It just made sense for us from a functional standpoint to put all the administrative individuals in one area because there was so much collaboration and communication that was required between administration staff. Then the academics had to be all in one place as well so we decided to put all the academics in one half. It was economical as well. When the clinic is down, you can shut everything down and save money on the utilities.

 

In the 1990s, electricity was not as cheap as it is these days, and I think in the 1990s, it was quite expensive. It was very easy to have a $6,000 per month electric bill. Just to give you an idea of how much of a difference it is, it's about $1500 right now. It's a big drop, and for an institution that size as a startup, it was a heavy cost. So it made sense to put everything in one section so that when classes are not in session, we shut that whole half down and just have the clinic operational and vice versa. So we have different units that could be allocated for different activities.

ACAOM Student Journey

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

What I've noticed is that people usually become interested in acupuncture when they or somebody they know, have experienced acupuncture. That by far has been our number one, “recruiter” because those are the individuals who know what benefits they've seen and/or experienced themselves. Unlike South Korea, China, or Taiwan where acupuncture and Chinese medicine are completely ingrained in the whole culture, I think in the United States, it came about a lot later.

 

There’s still that learning curve for a lot of people. So when you first think about acupuncture, people are always worried about what you do afterward and can you get a job right afterward? You have to be confident that you can open your own practice and start treating patients from there. I think that the newness of the field is one of the challenges that we've experienced since you have to do a lot more education and communication on what this field is about. We're also seeing a lot of people who are in their 40swho are looking for a second career. They've done 20 years of their first job and they want something different, they have enough money, they want to do something that they love, now they want to go into wellness and health. I think we're very typical for higher education where we do see our fair share of individuals who go in and drop out after their first year, and I think our statistics are probably pretty consistent with four-year universities.

 

It's not an easy program; you go through four years of year-round schooling, including summers. A lot of it is dictated by the accrediting agency but it's also due to the fact that you're dealing with people's lives. You're not working on computers. If you accidentally break a computer, it's okay since you can fix it. If you break a human being it could be permanently broken. So it's something that requires that kind of dedication and seriousness, and I think that's one of the reasons why the education is that long. But I think it's definitely something that is fulfilling. When I graduated, I did not realize that most of the patients that I would be seeing are individuals who have nowhere else to turn to; they've gone to see physicians, physical therapists, massage therapists, counselors, psychologists, etc. We're their last hope because people don't usually think about acupuncture first. They go around, do everything else, and then finally, somebody they know says "you know what, if nothing is working, why don't you go try acupuncture?"

 

I think a lot of acupuncturists will feel that pressure that you're getting all these difficult cases, but for the most part, these individuals are getting better. So that's fulfilling, but, easy cases are in the minority; a lot of times we see difficult cases that no one else can treat. I think that makes them more fulfilling when they get better. But times are changing; for example, MD Anderson has acupuncture in one of their departments. Acupuncture is inside all of Methodist. Because the times are changing, we are slowly starting to see people who come to us as their first priority, rather than the last resort. 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I think the TMC deserves a lot of credit for allowing us to form partnerships because, especially in the early 2000s, you had to have a champion in the organization who was willing to trust us to go in. Whether it was Memorial Hermann’s now closed Wellness Center or Methodist Hospital, there were individuals in that organization who trusted in acupuncture and then trusted us to go in. But I had my fair share of people who were not in favor of acupuncture, especially in the early 2000s. Now, I've never been in a situation where people were unfriendly; everybody was cordial and respectful no matter what period of time it was, be it the late 1990s, early 2000s, or now. But you could tell there was skepticism, especially in the early 2000s.

 

One way we had to approach things differently was based on the fact that people would only trust research, so we had to bring in evidence-based things into our presentations so that people would be open to it because we knew that there would be some skepticism going in. We even had to tone down on things that were in the ancient textbooks. In the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Transmission of Acupuncture, an acupuncture textbook, the author not only talked about the anatomical and physical aspects of the medicine, but he also talked about the spiritual aspect. And in the early 2000s, once you start talking about qi, and once you get into the spiritual type of things, it will shut people off, especially, people who place more importance on evidence.

 

Even when we went into Memorial Hermann and Methodist, we became much more conservative in bringing in things that people would accept. So we brought in a lot of more evidence-based structures, evidence-based treatments, and protocols. They helped us change as well, so we learned from each other. But we definitely had to make some adjustments as well. 

 

Shifts in Terminology and Bridging Cultures

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

In the end, there's just different terminology. I've noticed, when you start talking about electromagnetic resistance and conductivity of the body, people are much more accepting, but when you say that's qi, all of a sudden people feel like it's not right. So I think a lot of it is in translation. Because acupuncture has been around for so long, about 5000 years, And it has worked so effectively that acupuncturists never had to update their language into modern terminologies. The old terminologies are based on nature and observation of nature, but nature overall never changes. So, the old terminologies include words like wind conditions and dampness conditions. This is nature-based but according to some modern scientific standards, it doesn’t seem scientific. The same applies for not calling the disease edema, or its “official” name, many people think it doesn't sound scientific, so these are some of the communication challenges that acupuncturists have.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

I think one of the things that I've noticed is that both medicines are moving towards the middle. When we went into Methodist originally, we saw a lot of individuals who just wanted to try acupuncture because it was a new thing. It was a new yoga, they were excited, they just wanted to do it. And then around 2010, we started seeing physicians referring patients to acupuncture, and then in 2015, we started seeing physicians coming in themselves. At the same time, you look at the acupuncturists from back in the 1990s, and they're talking about the mind and body and the spiritual aspect. Now you're seeing the acupuncturist actually start referring people and saying things like “ why don't you go get your MRI? Well, let's look at your blood work. Go see your physician and do these tests because we want to see what your numbers look like, so that we can complement whatever your physician's doing to ours.”

 

So you're seeing this fully integrative medicine, which I think was the original end goal, in that both sides will move closer to the middle. We’re also starting to hear about functional medicine, and acupuncture focuses so much on functional issues. Then on the acupuncture side, you start seeing people talking more about nutrition, what type of exercise patients engage in, what type of medical tests should patients have, what patients should see physicians for so that these can help with acupuncturists’ point selections and things like that.  

Addressing COVID 19 at ACAOM

 

JOHN PAUL LIANG

As a first step, we had to move everything online. The accrediting agencies also approved a certain amount of online coursework, even for the clinic aspect. There's always a balancing act between trying to get enough hands-on experience and safety. We've historically had such a diverse student and faculty population that we have a lot of different viewpoints in terms of vaccinations. There's the entire spectrum: we have individuals who want to be the first ones to be vaccinated, and then we have individuals who are worried about the vaccination. Because of these two extremes and everything in between in viewpoints, we have decided not to require individuals to be vaccinated.

 

We're a graduate program, so everybody can make their own decisions based on their own family and individual situations. That also creates an extra level of concern in terms of bringing coursework back on the ground because not everybody is fully vaccinated. So we had to have masks, gloves, and all these safety protocols in the clinic; for example, the classes that need to be on-site for labs can only have one person per table. That way we’re more spread out. Like I said before, there has been a challenge in terms of trying to balance between hands-on experience with safety. But at the same time, I don't think COVID will go away that quickly. My guess is probably that the COVID epidemic is going to last a couple of more years, at least, because you're starting to see different variants of the virus coming out.

 

I think the medical community hasn't quite figured out how to be one step ahead yet and is still one step behind, both in terms of the technology with combatting COVID and in terms of trying to adequately convince enough people to get the vaccination. However, I wouldn't say that the 50% who are not getting vaccinated are wrong, I think they have their own reasons for it. I believe it's just that as a society, we have not figured out how to convert that 50% to 75%, for example. However, herd immunity is now I believe, 70%, and I think we just have to figure out how to communicate and how to motivate this other 50 % of people to get that vaccination.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

The big focus for me is partnerships, similar to the ones that we've engaged with inside Methodist Hospital. We're also doing more things with Rice, and I think we've done research with the University of Houston. I think it's important to maintain these types of relationships and to expand into other healthcare collaborations with other partners because that's how we get the name out; with these partnerships, we definitely see an increase in interest level, especially on the patients’ side.

 

There are challenges with actually going in as a practitioner because of the time commitment that is required. It's almost like a medical school; you're doing four years of year-round education on top of your bachelor's so it's something that people will need to think twice about before committing. So that's always more challenging compared to somebody who just wants to try acupuncture out and get treatment here and there and see how it works.

JOHN PAUL LIANG

It's really nice that you guys (the interviewers) are interested in this field; we had a conference at the beginning of 2020 where we brought in somebody who was an expert in Ayurveda. I personally don't know anything about Ayurveda, but I am interested in it because I like different modalities, and I value anything that makes people feel better. In the end, my feeling is that medicine is just going to be an integrative set of different modalities. I've noticed that there are things that acupuncture is not effective for that I think Western medicine is much more effective at, and vice versa. So I think at the end, it will be the patients that will provide and dictate where all the medicines will move towards, and it's going to be a joint modality of integrative medicine.