In 1971, President Richard Nixon and James Reston, a journalist for the New York Times, visited China when Reston came down with a severe case of appendicitis. It required emergency surgery and Reston was treated at the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking. The surgery was routine and successful. However, the following day after surgery, Reston was in considerable pain and a doctor came into his hospital room to administer acupuncture. James Reston was so impressed with the results acupuncture gave him for pain relief that when he returned to the states he wrote an article in the New York Times titled, “Now, About My Operation in Peking” about his experience with acupuncture in China.
This was the first major introduction of acupuncture to the United States, and boy, did the medicine take off after that! You might ask, “Why did it take so long for Chinese medicine to get here to the U.S.?” Well, there was a little law called the Democratic Chinese Exclusion Bill, in effect from 1882 until 1943, which disallowed Chinese immigrants from legally working or living in the U.S. This bill was a huge reason why Chinese medicine was never introduced here until the ‘70s. Also, when there was an influx of Japanese immigrants coming to the U.S. pre-World War II, many families faced serious indictment for the use of traditional medicines such as cupping, as many Americans thought the cupping marks on the backs of Japanese children were from their parents abusing them!
(Cupping is a form of manual muscle therapy that often leaves dark red/black circles on the body.) So, you could say Asian medicine was not popular here for quite some time. Most of us involved in Chinese medicine here in the U.S. consider 1971 the ‘birth’ year of Chinese medicine in the United States. With that date set, you can see that we are quite a young medicine! And it is quite difficult to regulate, pass laws and enforce a governing body for a profession.
Ever wonder why acupuncture isn’t covered by Medicare? Well, when our friend James Reston wrote his New York Times article about acupuncture, he wrote about the acupuncture portion (needles), but failed to mention traditional Chinese medicine. So, our birth here in the U.S. in 1971 was really of the therapy acupuncture, not of Chinese Medicine as a whole, which includes diet, lifestyle and exercises such as Tai Qi and Qi Gong, bodywork and manual therapy called Tui Na. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics require every profession to have a Standard Occupational Classification Code that defines and specifies their scope of practice (what they can and cannot do). The problem is that acupuncture is not a ‘profession.’ Acupuncture is therapy with the use of a tool. It does not specify a type of medicine. And in 2012, an application was sent to the U.S. Department of Labor and was denied for our own code, again, because acupuncture is the use of a medical device (a needle), not a job description. In 2014, another application was sent to Congress. However, it takes an average two million dollars and six years to even get it there! The other major problem in the acupuncture and Chinese medicine field is research. Most trained acupuncturists struggle day to day just to keep their own practice up. In the four-year graduate level master’s degree program for acupuncture, we take zero—let me say that again: ZERO—classes on research. With really no entry-level, trained acupuncturists that know about research, that leaves the medical doctors to do our work for us in order to prove to congress that we are a legitimate ‘profession.’ So medical doctors and researchers with no training or knowledge in acupuncture are often the ones designing these research studies, which often draw comparisons to pharmaceutical drugs.
They will also ‘double-blind’ these studies, in that they will tell a doctor to insert a needle into a certain area. These doctors have no training in acupuncture, so they cannot skew the results. Well, someone with no knowledge of how to insert a needle, find an acupuncture point, or insert the needle at the correct depth might have a hard time getting it right. This is of no fault to the doctors and researchers doing these studies. It is the fault of the acupuncturists who haven't stepped up to get more involved in research and design studies that utilize the medicine correctly. The real problem is that there are literally zero—yep, I said it again: ZERO—paid jobs for acupuncturists to do research. Even though there are plenty of problems in the acupuncture field, the good news is that we are a very young field with plenty of time to grow. We have hundreds of people working tirelessly to improve our field. Luckily, my doctoral program focused heavily on issues like this and aims to produce acupuncturists that can make big changes in the field, and we are trained extensively in research. Once some of these vital steps that can boost up our field occur, the whole profession will explode and the medicine will be readily available through Medicare, Medicaid and other health insurance companies. Until then, we just have to keep working at it another day. Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. - William Jennings Bryan