FIRST ENCOUNTERS WITH ACUPUNCTURE
I was a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Delaware in 1977. I was a young nurse and I had moved into psychiatric nursing, which gave me more satisfaction at the time. I was very lucky to just fall into acupuncture at a very young age, 23.
I went on a trip to Mexico and I got very, very sick with high fevers. I came back and I was losing all this weight, and I was just very ill. I asked my friends who were infectious disease specialists but my illness didn't even make sense. Someone in the group knew this acupuncturist in Philadelphia, Dr. Peter Rubin, who was an MD and had learned it as a medic in Vietnam. That's how he had brought it back. He became a force of acupuncturists in the city.
He helped us a lot in our group. Dr. Peter Rubin and his wife ended up studying with me for a while. I explained what was happening and I don't know what's going on. And he said something about the fire element. All my three heaters were just all off and I wasn't digesting food properly. He said we're just gonna do this and correct this and correct this.
And I was just floored. I mean, I was amazed. I started working on all kinds of other stuff. I felt really good and I kept going and going. And then one day I just sheepishly said to him, how do you learn this stuff? He said, oh, well, there's no school. You have to go to England and you're probably too young and all that kind of stuff. And before I knew it, I was on a plane to England. There were no schools in America.
BRINGING ACUPUNCTURE TO PHILEDELPHIA
I studied directly with Dr. Worsley, who's a leader of five-element acupuncture. I was very lucky. That's where I met Jan. I didn't know Jan at the time, although we were both from Philadelphia. We knew it was gonna be trouble practicing, but we ignored that. Now, this was so unheard of. I mean, I had a really good nursing position. They thought I was crazy. I studied, I loved it, loved it, loved it, and came back and found out that we were illegal.
And I was especially illegal because I was a nurse. So it would've been considered a felony because it was considered the practice of medicine. And so I would've been practicing medicine without a license. At the time we thought we could kind of slide in, but it didn't work out that way. So we consulted a lot of people. First I went through unions, I had some connections there. Philadelphia was a big union town and we were being denied the right to work. We had all the training and the MDs that practice could only take like a weekend course and practice. But we had 1500 hours at the time. Now it's about 3000 hours for students, but we weren't allowed to practice.
I could insert an opiate or a huge hypodermic needle legally, but I couldn't insert this little tiny needle. It was very frustrating. So Janice and I had to start commuting to practice to the neighboring state Delaware, which had no regulation. We wouldn't have been arrested in Pennsylvania. So we had to commute about an hour to practice. One of my patients had an incredible experience with the few treatments and we became very connected. And so she wrote a letter to the Senate, the majority leader in Pennsylvania, and said, why do I have to leave the state to get acupuncture treatments?
He took the letter to heart and he called me. She was about to get a pacemaker. It healed my heart. It saved thousands of dollars. And so we quickly formed. We were all naive. We were all just floundering. We didn't know what to do. And there was no guidance. Jersey was trying to work on the law. Maryland was working on law. They had some high-up connections. We didn't have any, so we formed the Pennsylvania acupuncture association. I graduated in February of 1982 and got my licensure degree from England at the time. He said he wanted to meet. So I went out, and we formed the Pennsylvania acupuncture association to give us a little more clout.
PENNSYLAVANIA ACUPUNCTURE ASSOCIATION ACCREDIDATION
I was the president, Janice was the secretary and someone else was the treasurer. So we'd been practicing for about a year and a half in Delaware. Two things happened serendipitously out of nowhere. There was this letter that my friend, my patient, wrote that I didn't even know about until after she wrote it. And then the second thing was I had a good high school friend who ran a news program on a big popular news channel called News Probe in Philadelphia. And she had me on and they made two episodes of the show. I went on as the president of Pennsylvania and talked about acupuncture. We gave my number, which was my home number at the time.
I answered the phone with every person, every person's ailment that ever wanted to know about it. And then we started asking for money and donations. We started doing all this educational campaign. So it was all kind of happening simultaneously, but this real serendipitous moment came out of nowhere to meet with the Senate majority leader, which was the big head honcho of the Senate. I went to this meeting expecting to meet him. There were about 10 people there, and they sat around this big conference table. I explained the situation that we were in. And I said, it wasn't fair. We wanted to work, and we wanted to provide healthcare in Pennsylvania safely. The NCCA simultaneously had started doing exams.
I was one of the first ones to pass the exam in 1986. So we did have a national exam, and Maryland and Jersey were about to go. So that was in our favor because Pennsylvania was a neighboring state. So states were losing money if we went to another state. It was a commerce issue. It kind of hooked me into a lot of things at the same time. It was very serendipitous. People say, how did you get a law passed? I mean, out of nowhere. And then I said, so I said, in the meeting, I don't think it's fair and we need help with this. And they said you're right. We don't think it's fair either. And you should get help with this.
And they all helped me. I was so impressed with the political process at the time. I don't know if I am anymore, but back then, they listened, took action, and guided me. I could call this one of a couple of the aids, anytime I want day or night. They were calling me, step by step, going through so many hoops and committees. And we kept having to fundraise and get money. I kept traveling to Harrisburg. We were doing all these educational events and still commuting to Delaware to practice. So each committee, there would be something they would call up and say, oh, we need this yesterday, and we'd create some document for some committee meeting about safety, efficacy and our training.
It was the day that my first son was born. December 9th, 1985. It went through the last committee, the last hoop, and then it was enacted into law. In February of 1986, we went out and had the big signing. We were supposed to be on TV, but Bush invaded Libya that day, so we weren't on TV. But it was big news. Now we didn't get complete freedom at the time, we had to compromise and negotiate on lots of issues. The main one being that we weren't allowed to set up our state board because that would've taken years more of committees and money and stuff that we didn't have.
And again, we were a very small grassroots group. We had a lot of supporters, mostly patients that wanted this to happen, but it still was a very small group. So we were put under the state board of medicine. There were a lot of requirements to get a patient and get a doctor's referral. And then there were lots of things about certain conditions, how many times you could treat and all that kind of stuff. We still got in the door and the door opened. We started practicing, and I practiced for about 35 years.
It was just wonderful. At a certain point, I sort of stepped back. I had a private practice forever since then, but then I stepped back and other people took over and the Pennsylvania acupuncture association became the acupuncture society of Pennsylvania and included MDs and non-MDs. So see, our law was just considered pioneer law to establish the right for non-physicians to practice. Now of course we're called physicians, but back then we weren't with herbs and everything. We're doctors of acupuncture, but in Pennsylvania, doctors of Oriental medicine, I should say the DOMs is a designation. Other people took over, including someone who became the acupuncture chair. I just had a private practice and raised my family. And then in early 2005, a Korean group, Won Buddhist.
We set up a school and even then things had changed a lot. The acupuncture society worked a lot and passed a lot of hoops. We did get rid of the doctor referral. The Won Buddhisthad contacted me while I was doing accreditation. I worked at the Eastern school of acupuncture in North Jersey, and I became an accreditor for ACAOM. And I started traveling to different schools around the country and accrediting schools. So from that expertise they wanted, I was asked to come to a meeting at the Won Buddhist and one thing led to another, I became the clinic director. Then the acupuncture chair then eventually the academic Dean of all the programs, the Buddhist studies and the applied meditation studies programs. So they've become very prosperous. Now. They just bought a new building. I went for my doctorate and then stepped down about 2013, although I'm very connected. I was like the ACAOM liaison for a long time. Anyway, the person who took over the acupuncture chair position is called Ben Griffith.
And you can reach him as an acupuncture chair at Won Institute. He became a political liaison. We had more money than the acupuncture society to become very involved with the legislators and keep on top of everything. I mean, everything from golf games to banquets, that whole political thing just to keep the acupuncture's name alive. So now it's grown huge. So now there's a huge constituency of acupuncture in Pennsylvania. A lot of support comes from local senators and representatives, because they had a lot of people get great treatment. Philadelphia is a huge conservative medical place, but now acupuncture is firmly rooted. It was the Korean school that helped. They had the money. People asked me and Janice, why didn't you start your school when you could have? We said we didn't have a million dollars to start our school, which is about what you need to start to go through the hoops. Especially with accreditation, hoops are tremendous.
TREATING PATIENTS WITH ACUPUNCTURE
Even my good friends who are doctors still practicing say they don't know what they’re doing. They admit it. They don't know what they're doing all the time. They don't know what some of these medications are doing to the person's whole psyche and body. The whole body-mind-spirit thing is just so hard to translate into accreditation. Jjust the very premise that you have these Meridian pathways that aren't real, but then the nerves aren't real either. And we're really nothing. And there's such a mystery to healing and certain students would be great healers and certain students who were brilliant and smart were just too rigid.
The ones who look good on paper weren't necessarily the great acupuncturists. I used to say there was such magic in medicine when we were first practicing. I used to try to tell my students, and it was very hard to explain. Any time someone found their way to one of us back in the early eighties and even the nineties, it was magic. Every point was like magic because there were no expectations. It often was the last resort, but you're gonna try this. And if it worked, it worked. It always kind of worked, but in different ways. And then you spent two hours with a new patient, the history and all the factors. Accreditation is one of the reasons I just finally went a different route. It's like the magic was gone for me at a certain point. It became so technical. You have neck pain, you put this point in. And even in the national exams, they wanted very specific standardization.
That is so different for every person and every neck pain is so different. So it was very hard to fit all that together. People and patients would come in. They'd say I've had this pain for 36 years. I read in Newsweek that in three treatments you could cure this. You're like, well, not always, not really. Acupuncture doesn't just work on everything. And can't you just stick a few needles in me and let me go on my way. The process became very medical, very westernized.
People would come and they would really try to be exploring why they were having neck pain. Nothing showed up on an x-ray. The consumer became more and more like I want you just to put some needles and cure me.
My physician friends were so aggravated. They wanted to explore with people what was going on. And they would just say, just gimme a prescription, just gimme a pill. It became just like that. It became very disheartening for me over the years, although I always loved it. It was my life's work. Women's spirituality was also always in there with it. I didn't feel like getting my doctorate in Oriental medicine after practicing for 35 years was gonna teach me anything new. That's why I went the crazy route.
It was something that, to me, seemed so real, but something that we don't pay any attention to in Western medicine. I was a highly trained Western medicine nurse, bachelor of science in nursing, working in a big center city teaching hospital with all residents. So even this infectious disease specialist of the hospital was a good friend of mine. And all he did was draw blood. There was never any talk about what this high fever had done to my system and had thrown everything off and therefore everything else wasn't working. I was just fascinated and still fascinated when I think about it, when I talk about it, because it was all kinds of things like that. I was a psychiatric nurse. I started studying, it just came to me very easily and it just made so much sense. I could just find the Meridian so easily. I just had a real affinity for it. It was a blessing in my life. Cause I can't imagine if I just stayed straight. It gave me a very exciting life and a lot of freedom and independence to have my own practice.
I raised my kids with acupuncture and just pushing points. If you have a headache, we'll put an ice cube here, large tester four. Or you just rub that if you have a headache or just rub this. It was more teaching them. I would do different pressure points more than the needles occasionally. They sometimes would be in the treatment room with me. There was just sometimes a childcare situation. They'd be crawling under the table and I'd have to deal with it. When they got vaccines, my pediatrician would always say your kids are the only ones not afraid of needles. And I would say because they think needles are healing. They've already been exposed to needles as a healer. They don't think of them as bad things. I also gave them a lot of homeopathies. It's a homeopathic remedy for bruising and swelling. It gave me a great life.
Dr. Mitchell, RN (PA), LAc (PA), CA (NJ), Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM), is Professor Emerita of the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (UK). She received her PhD at the California Institute of Integral Studies in Philosophy and Religion (CIIS), and holds a BSN from the University of Delaware. She has been integral in licensing acupuncturists in Pennsylvania and the United States.