Welcome back! A few posts ago I promised I’d talk about my experience studying acupuncture research abroad in England. This is part of my series of posts dedicated to all the amazing places around the world that acupuncture can take you. I really believe that anywhere you want to travel, there’s a way that acupuncture can get you there. So far we’ve talked about Peru and China. Today, let’s go to England!
There are four big reasons I’m excited to share this acupuncture research experience in England with you guys:
1) The general entertainment of stalking other people’s travel photos.
Ever get onto Facebook, start clicking around, and eventually realize you’re looking at the tropical vacation pictures of your best friend’s sister’s cousin’s friend? Of course you have. But who cares? I love looking through the travel pics of strangers! I’m looking at your last vacation right now.
2) To let people know that this incredible acupuncture research program in England exists, and plant the idea in your mind that it could be a possibility for you.
Combine that with the fact that an acupuncturist, Dr. Hugh MacPherson, is the director of the Complementary Medicine Evaluation Group in the Health Services Research Department, and what do you get? Some pretty amazing, high-quality, well-funded acupuncture research.
I have to add that Dr. Hugh MacPherson is the author of the only textbook written about acupuncture research, appropriately called Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Establishing an Evidence Base. He also founded the Northern School of Acupuncture in York, England.
You want to study there, with him, and contribute to the body of knowledge that is acupuncture research? You can.
3) The city of York is crazy beautiful and full of history – it was founded in 71 AD! I am obsessed with England, particularly York, and I want to share it with you.
I love it. LOVE it. Am I creepy yet? I want to marry England and have it’s … never mind. And I took an absurd number of pictures while I was there, studying/not studying. I really want to share these pictures with you, internet friends.
4) Christmas is coming and I have SO MANY pictures of the city of York dressed up for the holidays.
And trust me, nobody does adorable, snow-globe-worthy Christmas better than England. They bring their A-game. And then some.
Ready or not, here comes England!
I’m going to embrace my true, inner dork and tell you the story of my acupuncture research journey as a narrative mixed in with pictures. There’s a twist at the end, friends!
In my second year of acupuncture school, I had two revelations:
One, that I needed to travel the world. I wasn’t content to start a practice immediately after graduating. I was young and without responsibilities. I’d better travel the world now, or regret it later. (This is perhaps not true, but it’s how I felt at the time.)
And two, that once I graduated with my acupuncture degree, my skills would be useful literally anywhere and everywhere. I felt like the world was opening up around me, unfurling. I realized that I could somehow make use of acupuncture, in some capacity, to take me around the globe.
I had studied abroad in England once already in undergrad. I spent a semester at Leicester University, getting a minor in English literature and zipping around Europe on the Eurorail. It was bliss, but in retrospect I felt like I had spent too much time traveling outside of England, and missed my chance to get to know England itself. I always knew I would go back, and I decided this was my chance.
At first I had no idea what school I should go to. The only English schools I was familiar with were Oxford, Cambridge, and Leicester. I spoke to one of my acupuncture professors at length about my goals to study acupuncture research in England.
At first, I thought people would just shoot me down. I thought for sure they would say, “You’re planning to finish one Masters degree, and leap right into another? What about starting an acupuncture practice? What about your student loans?” And a few people did. But this professor in particular was incredibly supportive.
He told me about a university program and a professor he was acquainted with at the University of York, England, where they did acupuncture research. At first, I wasn’t sold. Where the heck was York? Whoever heard of that school? The professor encouraged me to look into the school, and the city it was in. He seemed confident that a quick search would change my mind, so I went home and looked it up.
I was immediately smitten. Seriously. After five minutes, I knew York would be my second home. Despite being only 51 years old, the University of York is consistently ranked as a Top 10 University in the UK. In 2008 University of York was ranked 8th out of over 150 UK universities for its outstanding research contributions in multiple fields. In 2010, it was awarded University of the Year (!) by the Times Higher Education Awards.
On top of that, the city of York is amazing. The history, the architecture, the medieval cobblestone streets! The adorable, postcard-perfect shops, and the towering, powerful silhouette of the York Minster Cathedral!
After a little digging, I came across Dr. MacPherson’s profile, the scholar that my acupuncture professor had suggested I try to study with. As I said earlier, Dr. MacPherson is a prominent author of acupuncture research. He literally wrote the book on acupuncture research. In addition, he helped found the Northern School of Acupuncture, also located in York.
Needless to say, I was psyched to work with him, be a part of this Top Ten UK University, and live in the gorgeous medieval city of York. I decided to apply immediately.
It took a year of planning and re-planning. I applied to York’s PhD program in Health Services Research, got rejected, felt depressed, then got accepted to the Masters program in Health Services Research instead. Sprinkle in having to figure out financial aid for international study – all while finishing my final year of acupuncture school.
I graduated from Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine with a Masters of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (MSAOM) in August and left for England just after my 25th birthday, in early October. My first semester at University of York began in the second week of October.
The Masters program in Health Services Research, like most UK masters degrees, is one year long. (This degree is now actually called the MSc in Applied Health Research, if you’re looking for it on the University of York website.)
It’s set up in three semesters, or terms: a fall term, a spring term, and a summer term. The first two terms focus on classes relating to research, and the third term is dedicated to completing a dissertation on a specific research project. Planning for the dissertation starts almost immediately in the first term.
Soon after arriving, I remembered that the system of study in England is different than in the US, and I tried to adapt quickly. There are not usually regular assignments or quizzes. There’s not even a midterm. You get one final project or exam at the end of each term to show what you learned that semester, and that’s it. That’s your chance.
That Fall term, I took the following classes:
While studying, I also worked in the Complementary Medicine Evaluation department, helping organize data from an acupuncture study that had been recently completed. I categorized the points they used, outcomes, and more into an Excel spreadsheet so another researcher could run statistics on the data later on. It was a great gig! I definitely felt privileged to work in the department and help in this way.
In that fall term, I was also asked to choose a research project for my dissertation. Since Dr. MacPherson knew my goal was to study acupuncture, he recommended I consider working on a study on acupuncture and depression that had been previously carried out.
My role would be to conduct research from a truly fascinating angle:
How the acupuncturists who participated in the study (treating the depressed patients) were impacted by participating in a randomized controlled trial. Did they feel that the RCT guidelines allowed for realistic treatment of patients? How did treating an increased volume of patients with depression affect them, especially those who did not traditionally work with large percentages of depressed patients?
I dove into my studies and looked forward to my research. When I wasn’t in classes, I usually studied in the huge library on campus, or in my single dorm room. In both my undergraduate and graduate study in England, it was my experience that most student dorms consisted of single rooms – roommates were rare. At York, I lived in Catherine House, a large brick building just off the edge of campus.
Catherine House was filled to brimming with international graduate students. Talk about an interesting place to live! In Catherine House, I met most of my friends – Sujung from Korea, Anocha from Thailiand, and Kathleen, another US student. Our good friend, Polly, from China, lived in another housing unit but spent plenty of time with us in Catherine House.
We would regularly have dinners where each person made something from their home country, and we ate family-style in the common room. We also watched plenty of British romantic comedies on Fridays, hosted a huge American-style Thanksgiving dinner, and started a 20-person snowball fight. For students from warmer climates, it was their first snowball fight ever – at 30 years old!
When not studying, my new friends and I walked to the city center and explored the city of York. Lunch at Betty’s Tea Rooms, frequent trips to the stationary store Paperchase (perhaps my favorite store of all time!) and of course, visits to the York Minster, which was free for students.
This time in England, I focused on studying and getting to know York with my fellow international students, as opposed to my time in England in undergrad, when I occasionally skipped class to take long weekends in Wales or Ireland, or weeks in Europe. I was a much more serious student this time!
But after about two months, I began to have doubts. (Cue the startled music!)
As you may be able to tell from this post so far, I was enchanted by York, and I loved living there. Truly, it’s the only city I’ve ever enjoyed living in. I loved wandering the winding, cobblestone streets by myself, taking pictures and sipping on my favorite Costa coffee.
But I began to wonder about my studies. There were several things that occurred to me:
- I felt a little drained by being in school again, especially learning to adapt to the British system of learning. An acupuncture Masters degree is already three years long, and here I was, after three years of nonstop study, studying again.
- Even though I was enjoying my classes, I began to wonder if I would really use this Masters degree once I completed it. I simply couldn’t imagine myself working part-time at a research university near my home, sitting in an office crunching numbers. My other option would be to teach classes on research at a community college (where a masters degree is enough to teach) or at an acupuncture school. Was the extra debt and another whole year of studying worth teaching one class a semester? I weighed my options in my mind.
- I missed treating patients and felt, in comparison to my acupuncture classmates who had already opened their practices, that I was falling behind. Initially starting a practice had been on the back burner. But I began to feel like I was missing out… I had always intended on starting a practice, and I began to feel like that’s really what I should be doing. I worried I might lose my acupuncture skills if I let them go without regular practice for a whole year.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved acupuncture research.
I still love it and feel utterly fascinated by it. But I was realizing that my passion was more for discussing research, analyzing it, thinking about whether it was carried out properly or not. So basically, I liked the theoretical, almost philosophical aspects of acupuncture research, but could not picture myself in the researcher role as a career, even part time. I began to realize I probably had an important decision to make…
York was getting dressed up for the holidays and I spent more time than ever with my flatmates, cooking food and watching classic British Christmas movies while I feverishly completed my final papers for classes. The end of Fall term was fast approaching and I had to make a choice.
- Should I finish up my final papers, cut my losses, withdraw from the MSc program, go home, and start an acupuncture practice?
- Or should I stick it out and feel confident that what I learned from this second Masters degree would indeed be useful in the future, making the time away from acupuncture practice worth it?
I loved living in England. It was a dream. Exploring the streets of York, alone or with my friends, filled me with excitement every single day.
If I stayed, I could continue to live in this beautiful, enchanting city with my new friends. If I went home, I could finally fulfill my dream of become an entrepreneur, start my practice, and hone my needling and diagnostic skills.
What should I do?
To Be Continued…
Stay tuned! Find out what I decided in next week’s post, Acupuncture Research at the University of York, England – Part 2!
And, I did promise you pictures of York dressed up for the holidays. Those glorious, festive photos will be in the next post too!
Have you studied acupuncture or other complementary medicine research? Tell us about it! What was your research focus? Where did you study? What made you pursue research?