Welcome to our second acupuncture student interview! Today we’re talking with Danielle, third-year acupuncture student at Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (FLSAOM). She graduates in eight months, so we had the chance to talk about her exciting upcoming plans for her acupuncture practice, as well as her trip to China with her classmates, her most fascinating clinic case so far, and much more.
She’s also provided some fantastic pictures from her recent trip to China with FLSAOM. Thanks for sharing, Danielle!
Additionally, Danielle is the author behind Acupuncture Flow, a blog that chronicles her journey as an acupuncture student. So if you want to learn even more about what it’s like to be in acupuncture school, be sure to check it out!
Before we dive in, a little reminder: Why do I think acupuncture student interviews are important?
A) For those thinking of studying acupuncture, these interviews are a great peek into what it’s really like to be a student. Hopefully you’ll feel inspired!
B) As a community, we acupuncturists have so much to share and learn from each other – and this includes acupuncture students, of course. We’re not alone in any part of this journey, as students or as practitioners. As always, I encourage learning from the collective experience and knowledge of our colleagues.
Okay, let’s chat with Danielle!
1) What was your first exposure to acupuncture?
My twin sister has struggled with illness from the early age of fourteen. She’s been plagued by many health problems, however, her most challenging area is with gastroenterology. After careful consideration from dozens of doctors, she was deemed a medical mystery with the chief complaint of constant abdominal pain and nausea. How can a person be in pain and nauseous all the time?
Possible diagnoses from the doctors included Celiac Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers. Some even thought she was nuts or “faking it.”
Each doctor had a slew of different tests to administer – urinalysis, blood work, CT scans, ultrasounds of her uterus and stomach, pancreas and gall bladder function tests, glucose drinking test, colonoscopy, laparoscopy, endoscopy (basically every “-scopy” imaginable). They even had her eat radioactive scrambled eggs and drink barium.
How ridiculous is it that all these tests came back normal? There were instructions to make awful changes in her diet: no fat, no sugar, no gum, and no gluten. From December 2006 to February 2007, we watched as she dropped 35 pounds. After suffering incessantly for years, she Googled herbal remedies for stomach pain and came across peppermint. (Thanks Google!)
She took it further and decided to try acupuncture, which changed her life for the better. In fact, she felt instant relief after just one acupuncture treatment – huge progress after being in pain for almost four years. Acupuncture made a world of difference for her. I knew I had to help people. I had to make a difference – and so I explored how to become an acupuncturist!
2) What made you decide to pursue acupuncture as a career?
See story above! Also – I’ve always been a little different and outside the box. I’ve never liked biomedical interventions and have never enjoyed taking trips to the doctor. I always thought there was a better way.
3) Where did you go to undergrad and what was your major? Did you know in undergrad that you wanted to be an acupuncturist?
I went to Plattsburgh State University and later transferred to The University at Buffalo – State University of New York. (What a mouthful!) I studied Exercise Science in undergraduate with a plan of becoming a physical therapist.
Luckily, I shadowed a PT while home on summer break and quickly found out – I absolutely hated it! In my undergraduate program, they include a 480-hour full time, 12-week internship as the last semester. I was happy to learn that I could shadow and study under whatever medical professional I wanted.
I reached out to an acupuncture practice and landed an internship at a holistic health center. It was absolutely amazing. Not only was I able to take a boatload of yoga classes (they had a yoga studio), but also I was also able to shadow, help, and assist a fantastic acupuncturist. He even taught me few cool tricks and techniques.
It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life! This further solidified that coming to acupuncture school was exactly where I needed to be.
4) Why did you choose Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (FLSAOM)?
I didn’t really choose FLSAOM – it chose me. (Sounds corny, I know.) I already had other schools lined up to visit. I was going to Pacific College in NY and New England School of Acupuncture in Boston, but my first stop was FLSAOM for an open house.
I knew by the end of that day that FLSAOM of NYCC was where I wanted to be. Everyone was so friendly and nice. They all genuinely wanted to be there. I felt like it was a good fit for me – especially coming from a school of 30,000 students where only one of my professors even knew me by name!
5) What trimester are you now?
I am currently in 8th trimester [third year] with only this trimester and one more to go! I can’t believe I graduate in August – it has gone by so fast!
6) How would you describe the workload for the acupuncture and herbal program?
This particular program is really not for someone who is unsure of whether they wish to be an acupuncturist. It’s quite rigorous and demanding – needing a LOT of study time, devotion, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s all worth it though – helping people makes it feel like it’s all for something special. Sometimes I’m not always able to see “that something special” but I know it still exists.
7) What has been your favorite class so far?
I love learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Theory. I think that this medicine is a beautiful art and there is so much to learn. I also truly have loved my herbal classes because they are so rich in theory. Although the workload for herbs is so ridiculous, and I sometimes wish to yank all the hair out of my head in one swooping motion, I think it’s going to be worth every tear and every moment where I couldn’t fathom studying for a single second longer. Funny thing is, when I first came to school, I wasn’t even sure if I would take the Herbal Program. HA!
8) What are your duties in clinic?
In clinic, I pretend that I am a licensed acupuncturist. I do everything that an acupuncturist does – except I am overseen and always consulting with an actual licensed professional. I do intakes, diagnose, needle, perform adjunctive techniques such as gua sha, tui na, cupping, moxa, and bleeding. I write herbal formulas – both internal and external preparations. I speak with patients about prognosis and future care. I am actually (FINALLY!) starting to feel comfortable about where I’m at in this stage of the game. I was terrified at first.
9) What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far from clinic?
I have learned that sometimes patients are tied to their story, their pain, and their suffering. It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my patient’s lives. I care deeply for them and wish the best for them; furthermore, I have to understand that not everyone is willing to do the work in order to take a path of healing. I’ve learned not to beat myself up, especially if my patient isn’t getting better as quickly as I hoped they would. I have learned it is not my sole responsibility to heal my patients – they must be willing to help themselves too.
10) What’s the most interesting or amazing case you’ve had so far in clinic?
In my first internship, I treated a woman who was considering surgery for a cervical and lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord). With the help of acupuncture, herbs, dietary, and lifestyle changes, this woman became nearly pain free within a few months. To me, this seemed like a rare case because she had measurable physical pathology. However, it seemed that by working hard (on her end and ours) her pain was quickly controlled.
At the end of my internship, she told me she was no longer considering surgery. This particular case brought tears to my eyes because of the way she was so grateful for the help she was given at the clinic. It was rewarding to me as a new practitioner and I’ll never forget that particular case.
11) What kind of practice do you envision after graduation?
I see a small office for myself to start. I may rent space from another practitioner or look for a place of my own. I want to start by seeing 20-25 patients per week and grow from there. I see a very zen place with two treatment rooms, a small office, and a front desk space. I am also hoping there is a small retail space, since I enjoy making my own organic body products and would love to offer them to my future patients.
12) Where do you plan to practice and why?
I plan on practicing in my hometown of Plattsburgh, NY. It is located the furthest north you can travel in New York State without hitting Canada or Vermont. Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains with lots of room for growth, Plattsburgh appears to be a very desirable place to practice. There are only there other practitioners practicing there. In addition, my roots are in Plattsburgh and I have a huge family with many connections.
13) What are you doing before graduation to prepare for your practice?
Studying, writing a business plan, and talking to the small business association (SBA) in Plattsburgh. There is a lot to do between now and graduation, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time. Studying and passing my boards is my next order to business this trimester.
14) Do you plan to prescribe herbs frequently in practice?
I do plan to prescribe herbs frequently. I am unsure as to how I will stock herbs to start. I may just have herbal patent medicines plus the raw constituents I would need in order to mix up a formula for acute conditions – such as a cold. I haven’t ironed out all the details, but I’m absolutely sure that herbs will eventually become an integral part of my practice.
15) What do you think your biggest challenge will be in starting your practice?
I am by no means a businessperson. I am a clinician at heart and it would be a much easier road for me to go try to get hired by another business; however, I am looking forward to the personal growth that will ensue by trying to pave the way for myself. I will figure out how to become an entrepreneur, hopefully growing a business that I can be proud of.
16) Do you plan to find a mentor after graduation, someone you can bounce ideas of off for diagnosis, practice management, etc.?
Absolutely – this is important, especially if patients are not progressing in a way that is expected. I think I will find a group of classmates as well as professors to help guide me in certain instances. It’s important to have self-awareness as well as people to help when cases are either difficult or challenging. This is also true for challenging practice management situations.
17) Tell us about your trip to China with the Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture. What were the big concepts you learned?
I went to China and it was an amazing and highly recommended experience! The most important concept I learned was that Chinese medicine in China is slightly different from the Chinese medicine in the US. I think here in the US, we try to make Chinese medicine very elusive and ethereal – almost mystical. Like acupuncturists are all wizards who cure disease… the truth is, in China, the medicine is linear and logical. There is nothing mystical about it.
During this trip, I also got the chance to observe Chinese culture, which helped me understand the medicine in a deeper, more meaningful way. My favorite part of the trip was getting the opportunity to shadow real doctors in the integrated (TCM and Western medicine) hospital. I also really enjoyed the cultural experience – the food, people, scenery, architecture, etc.
I am so glad I was able to go with classmates and professors because, as expected, there was a serious language barrier and many cultural differences. Having guidance in this situation was key in order to have a smooth experience. I hope to go back soon – possibly next year!
18) What advice would you give to acupuncture students in the year behind you?
I would tell them to remember the big picture. It’s easy to get wrapped up in academia and getting perfect grades. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you help people and if you don’t have all the answers, making sure that you know how to acquire the answers in order to do the best you can for your patients. I try to remember that this process and career is not about me – it’s about helping others.
19) What advice would you give to people who are thinking of choosing acupuncture as a career? How would they know it’s right for them?
I would tell those people to read up on acupuncture and Oriental medicine, shadow a practitioner, talk to people, and explore their interests. I would also say to have faith and an open mind – try not to force anything. That said, acupuncture school is a huge undertaking and it’s important to do your homework on schools and career opportunities before jumping all in. Try to make an informed decision.
20) Anything else you want to add about acupuncture school, acupuncture itself, your future practice, how acupuncture school has changed you, etc.?
I think the practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine is truly promising for the future. I am so happy to be able to wake up everyday and love my work and my life. It’s rewarding to be able to help people everyday!
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your fantastic photos with us, Danielle!
Are you in acupuncture school as well? How’s it going? Pros and cons?
Has anyone else visited Asia? Did you get to experience the medical system there? Were you visiting or studying? Share with us!