Are you a doctor?

Are you a Doctor?
An open letter the medical community by Stephen Thompsen, LAc

Throughout my career, I have been asked over 500 times if I was a medical doctor. And, for many years, I proudly said, ‘no, I am an Acupuncturist; how can I help you [eyebrow raised]?’ As though I was some kind of super doctor; a stronger, better, faster version of a medical practitioner. Over time, though, I started to change my answer as I began to understand the significance of what they were asking me. Those potential patients weren’t asking me if I was necessarily an allopathic medical doctor, but was I a practitioner of health qualified to practice within the medical field. Did you have to go to medical school? Do you have to have a degree before going into TCM school? Are you licensed or governed by professional board? All of these questions and many more are/were asked of me almost on a daily basis by people unfamiliar with TCM which number in the hundreds every week. Yet, these questions are not asked of a Doctor of chiropractic, physical therapy, dentistry, or pharmacy, though our scope of practice is larger, our treatment of disease more refined and inclusive.

So, I started changing my response to the question of if I was a doctor. According to the dictionary, the word doctor comes from Middle English and means learned person, a trusted advisor, and a qualified practitioner of medicine. Therefore, when asked the question, am I a doctor, I reflexively ask them in return: Did I go to medical school? Yes. Do I treat pathology? Yes. Do I educate patients on health and wellness through dietary, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations? Yes. Do I triage and treat acute illness and stabilize complex chronic syndromes with a host of modalities including physical and chemical means? Yes. Do I advocate for my patients well-being to first do no harm and second to improve the quality of their lives? Yes. Do I understand how a complex interweaving of psycho-spiritual, physical, emotional, phenomenological, and environmental factors knock us out of our homeostatic balance and promote disease? Yes. But am I a doctor? No, not really, technically I am only an “Acupuncturist.” I am technically a simple modality practiced by several other disciplines including Chiropractors, physical therapist, and MDs after completing in some cases as few as 200 hour training courses. Often I hear, “Oh, I’ve had acupuncture before by my physical therapist for X,Y,Z.” Yet, when pressed about what was being treated, the answer is overwhelmingly trigger points for pain, stiffness, and tension.

Am I a Doctor? I’ll tell you what I’m not. What I am not is just a practitioner that has to cut something out of the body because I lost the battle with disease. I am not just a practitioner who treats disease symptoms individually as they present in-front of me. I am not just a practitioner that prescribes synthetic or toxic chemicals that carry as much harm as they do health. I am not just a practitioner that uses a narrow scope of treatment or modality to treat disease. Why doesn’t the surgeon have the title of Licensed Surgeon, or a GP or Internist the title of Licensed Pharmacist? Is this not the singular modality with which they purport to treat disease? I once got into a heated discussion with an internist that commented that I must have a great belief system to practice acupuncture, to which I retorted, as must you to practice Allopathic medicine. I continued, ‘take away your script pad and your scalpel and how exactly do you treat disease?’ At which point, he fell silent and walk away. Projection maybe?

acupuncture needles

What is interesting to me is that our profession once held the distinction of an Oriental Medical Doctor or OMD. How did our noble profession get reduced from the status of Doctor to a simple modality within a complex medical practice? Where is the justice in proper advocacy for patients/consumers of health in our communities in helping to understand the difference in palliative care and actual and proper disease treatment? My argument is not a blanket statement on Western medicine as I have met many MDs throughout my career that understand the significance of TCM and advocate for its inclusion and efficacy within the established conventional medical community. I simply want to challenge status quo belief that TCM is in any way inferior to Allopathic medicine in the management and treatment of disease, and the advocacy for health and wellness of our patients. Am I a doctor? Yes, I am (though technically not for litigious and political reasons)!

posted on FB by Stephen Thompson LAc 
(shared with permission)