Dawna Ara, L.Ac.

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Why I Don't Expect MDs To Understand Alternative Medicine

I hear it all the time from my patients. It’s a very predictable story. A patient goes in to see their MD because they have this annoying ailment that won’t go away. Their MD prescribes medication and tells them to come back in a month. For whatever reason, the patient doesn’t want to take the medication; they prefer to try a more natural approach to healing their ailment.

They’ve always wanted to try acupuncture so curiously they come in and see me. I give them acupuncture, and maybe some dietary recommendations and their ailment goes away. They report back to their MD that they feel much better now, that they never took the medication but instead tried acupuncture. The MD tells them that it must be just a coincidence. There is no way it could be due to the acupuncture; the ailment must have disappeared on its own or was never there in the first place. The MD goes on to say that there is no “scientific proof” that acupuncture works.

Now don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t upset me that some MDs don’t understand how and why acupuncture works. In fact, I don’t expect them to know. How could they? They work long hours seeing many patients taking notes, diagnosing, referring out, and prescribing medication. They use the tools they learned in medical school to treat the people coming in to see them.

Just because your MD said your symptoms couldn’t have gone away with alternative medicine, doesn’t mean that they didn’t go away because of alternative medicine. It also doesn’t mean that your MD is uneducated or not good at what they do; they may, in fact, be amazing healers in their chosen specialty.

We all know that medical doctors go to school for many years. They study anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, ethics, and laws governing medicine. They learn to take patient intake and histories and learn how to make a diagnosis. At the end of nearly four years of medical school, they are ready to start residency in a specialty of their choosing. As a medical doctor, they are eager to treat their patients with medicine.

But maybe what you don’t know is that acupuncturists spend just as much time in school as medical doctors do. We too study anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, ethics, and laws governing medicine. We also learn how to take patient intake and histories and learn how to make a diagnosis.The basic study between the two professions isn’t that much different. What is different is how we will treat the patient and their condition. As acupuncturists, we treat the patient with acupuncture, dietary recommendations, nutritional supplements, and herbal remedies.

Now, like I mentioned earlier, it takes many years of study to become a medical doctor. It also takes many years of study to become an acupuncturist. Acupuncturists don’t just take a six month weekend course and get a fancy certificate in the end. Because of all the time it takes to accumulate the knowledge and experience, I can’t expect an MD to understand it without sitting down and actually taking the time to learn it.

But due to their demanding careers, most MDs don’t have an extra 4 years to learn Oriental medicine theory, the 12 primary meridians, all the 360 plus acupuncture points, their functions, contraindications, and needle insertion techniques and depths, and I definitely can’t expect them to learn hundreds and hundreds of herbs and how to make a proper Chinese herbal formula. It’s just not a realistic expectation. They are busy diagnosing and treating you with the knowledge they learned in medical school.

The truth is, there are many routes to healing what ails you

You, the patient have many options to choose from. There is not just one road to recovery. If you go to an acupuncturist to treat your knee pain, you are going to get treated with acupuncture. Because after all, an acupuncturist didn’t study surgery, we studied acupuncture. If you go to your family doc, they may give you prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication, because how and what medication to prescribe is what they studied. If you go to an orthopedic surgeon you may be told you need surgery, because how to cut and stitch you back up is their specialty. If you go to an herbalist, they will give you an herbal remedy. If you go to a massage therapist, they will use massage therapy. If you go to a chiropractor, they will give you an adjustment.

Do you see the trend here? Whatever health care practitioner you choose to go to, they will use their tools to treat you. You can’t expect an MD to understand what the acupuncturist is doing, the two respected doctors spent many years of their lives studying two very different medical models and philosophies, and have two very different perspectives on how to treat you.

All these methods can be equally successful at treating your knee pain

There is not only one correct way to heal your ailment. They all work. It’s up to you as a patient to decide what methods and theories mesh best with your belief system. If you like medication, then take medication. If you prefer an adjustment, then go to a chiropractor. If you prefer acupuncture, then go to an acupuncturist. If you prefer to chant and pray then do that. Maybe you prefer to do nothing and hope it goes away on its own. That is perfectly acceptable too!

So don’t worry if your MD doesn’t know how your knee pain went away with only one acupuncture needle in your elbow. All that matters is that you are feeling better and able to go on living your life without that annoying ailment bugging you.

About Dawna Ara
Dawna is an acupuncturist, herbalist, functional medicine practitioner, a mom, wife, writer, nature lover, chef and whole foods advocate. She teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle through her website Eat Play Work Sleep.