In 1986, the only Oriental medicine college in San Diego, California Acupuncture College (CAC) closed its doors, leaving many students and faculty without an academic institution in which to practice their medicine. In order to ensure that Oriental medicine would continue to be taught in San Diego, four faculty members from the defunct college took action. Together, Joe Lazarro, Alex Tiberi, Rick Gold, and Ana de Vedia created a new school called Pacific College of Oriental Medicine to provide a place where CAC’s San Diego students could finish their studies.
In those early years, the school functioned in a 3,000 square foot house on Fifth Avenue and Brooks in Hillcrest. The space was small, and had to function as both an administrative space during the day, and a classroom at night.
“When Pacific College first started there were 49 students,” said Elaine Gates-Miliner, Pacific College’s San Diego Campus Chief Operating Officer. “It was a night school with no financial aid, and the median age of the students was 35 years old. Students who came to this school wanting to become an acupuncturist were typically going into their 2nd or 3rd career.”
After nearly a year of operating in cramped quarters, with Pacific College continuing to expand, a change of location was needed in order to run the college effectively. The College relocated to a 7,000 square-foot building on Washington Street that included three classrooms, two administrative offices, a student lounge, a library and a clinic.
In April 1988, the school’s founders began looking for an individual to help run and expand the college. Jack Miller, a graduate of California Acupuncture College, was selected, as Miller possessed the business skills necessary to help the school gain accreditation and to provide a practitioner’s perspective to management. This was the turning point for Pacific College, as Miller has proceeded to help the school evolve into what it is today.
In order to accommodate future growth, Pacific moved to Mission Valley in the Fall of 1992.. The Mission Valley location proved to be an ideal setting. The original space was 11,000 square feet, and was built to suit the needs of the school at the time, which included six classrooms, a student lounge, a library, and a 14-room professional clinic.
The Creation of Pacific Symposium
In addition to building the student population and leading the school through the degree-granting process, Miller was the motivating factor behind the development of the Pacific Symposium. In 1989, Lazzaro and de Vedia went to New Mexico to hear Ted Kaptchuck speak about his recently published book, The Web That Has No Weaver. The workshop left a lasting impression upon both of the founders, as they prepared to invite Kaptchuck to speak in San Diego. However, what was to be a simple speaking engagement grew into a large Oriental medicine conference for practitioners in the field, as Miller encouraged other renowned speakers to join Kaptchuck for this special opportunity.
Today, the Symposium going into its 18th year has since become an international success, attracting well known speakers including Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Kiiko Matsumoto, Giovanni Maciocia, Steven Halpern, Ravi Shankar, Dr. Shudo Denmei, and many others who have brought their knowledge to share with students, practitioners, faculty, and alumni, through this four-day event each November.
The New York Campus
In 1992 New York State passed a law allowing people to practice acupuncture after graduating from an approved program. Before the creation of this law, only licensed medical doctors or acupuncturists who had practiced in another state for at least ten years were allowed to practice acupuncture. With the guidelines of the new legislature in place, the board members decided to pioneer a branch campus of Pacific College in New York City.
The New York Board of Regents approved the application for Pacific Institute of Oriental Medicine in New York City, early in 1993. Classes began at the end of March at the new campus, offering a Diploma of Acupuncture and a Diploma of Traditional Oriental Medicine.
Accreditation for Pacific Institute through the National Accreditation Commission for Schools and College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine occurred in May 1993. That Fall, Pacific Institute, after spending its first trimester in temporary quarters at the Ohashi Institute, moved into its permanent facility, occupying the entire third floor of the 915 Broadway building in Manhattan’s Flatiron district.
In 2004, the New York campus expanded at the same location, allowing Pacific College to accommodate its growing student body by providing a new modern facility with 11 classrooms, a 1600 square foot library, and a remodeled community clinic.
As both the San Diego and New York campus continued to thrive in the late 90’s, the Pacific College board turned its attention to the Midwest. Similar to the situation in New York earlier in the decade, Illinois had recently passed a law allowing the practice of acupuncture.
On August 24, 1999, the Illinois Board of Higher Education approved Pacific College as the first graduate program in Oriental medicine in the state. The new branch campus officially opened at its new location of N. Broadway between Addison and Waveland in 2000. The Chicago campus occupies the second floor of this building and encompasses 15,000 square feet, which includes 7 classrooms, 6 administrative offices, library, and a student lounge and common area. The facility also houses a large professional acupuncture clinic with 9 treatment rooms and an herbal pharmacy for student training.
Perhaps the most exciting recent activity for the college came in 2002, when the Accreditation Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) approved the San Diego campus to offer the Doctoral Program in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM), making it the first school in California offering this advanced degree.
This program dedicated to help students become the leaders of this profession, was created to be an intensive experience to broaden and deepen the practitioner’s knowledge and skills in patient care. To accomplish this and its specific educational objectives, Pacific College assembled an expert faculty to present an inspiring curriculum based on the integration of biomedicine with the modern and Classical application of Chinese Medicine. These topics are supported by Chinese medical language studies, research, and advanced clinical training.
Throughout the last 20 years, Pacific College has strived to not only advance in the field of Oriental medicine, but also create and maintain community involvement. Perhaps the most rewarding of these activities has been the creation of Pacific’s off-site clinics.
These clinics have not only provided the opportunity for students to receive hands on experience in a wide variety of multi-disciplinary environments, but have also enabled patients access to our medicine, many for the first time.
In San Diego with the help of founder Ana de Vedia, and several devoted faculty and alumni, eight externship sites have been developed and a community presence has been continually maintained for the past several years.
With students practicing at the Senior Clinic at First Lutheran Church, Pacific Beach United Methodist Church, First Lutheran Church, San Diego Hospice, UCSD Rimac, Pacific Center of Health, Acusport Health Center, and Children’s Hospital, members of the local community have been provided with easily accessible and low cost alternative healthcare.
“Outreach in the community of San Diego has grown markedly,” said Gina Rubbo Baxley, Director of Admissions for Pacific College. I really believe that this community is aware of who we are because of extensive outreach activities.”
In New York the externships at both the Initiative for Women with Disabilities, Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Grand Meridian Community Clinic are both fast paced and challenging. These outreach programs introduce acupuncture and herbs to a diverse range of patients. Additional NY externship sites include The Fortune Society, St. John’s Riverside Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital – H.I.V. Center and St. Vincent’s Hospital -Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In the Chicago community, students work at the Laboure Medical Center/Lakeview Clinic as well as St. Joseph’s Hospital. Through these clinics, students are able to interact with Western physicians for both patient evaluations and diagnoses. For the Chicago campus, these externships are a vital connection with the general public, as the Midwest population experiences the benefits of Oriental medicine.
Pacific College, Then & Now
As many members of Pacific College’s faculty and staff have seen the college grow throughout the last several years, each has a their own reflections on how PCOM has evolved.
Gina Rubbo Baxley, Director of Admissions
“When I reflect on the changes in the growth and development of PCOM over the last 10 years I have a sense of pride,” said Baxley. “The curriculum has gone through amazing growth which makes it very easy to promote to prospective students looking to get the best education they can get. We have a wider reputation, more patients, and more of our local community know who we are. People are much more aware of our medicine. We also have developed a doctoral program, an award winning library, a stronger alumni, a bigger presence in this country in producing qualified, knowledgeable practitioners.”
Rick Gold, Founder, Board Member, and San Diego Faculty
“Pacific College today is larger, more sophisticated and better organized.” said Gold. “It has a more complete curriculum, a diverse faculty, but is still very student oriented. The medicine in the last 20 years has evolved dramatically. There is more acceptance of the medicine, and more integration into the general community. However, there is still much to accomplish.”
Elaine Gates –Miliner, Chief Operating Officer, San Diego Campus
“Looking at the growth of the college, the medicine has just continued to grow and become much more mainstream, becoming a bigger part of American medicine,” said Gates-Miliner. “Practitioners are becoming more eclectic and bringing in more modalities to complement the medicine, such as Japanese bodywork and spiritual healing.
Today, we have two additional campuses, with almost a 1200 combined student population. We are primarily a day school, though we still offer night classes at all three campuses, , and students are coming to us as their first career choice. The increase in younger students shows the expansion of the medicine.”
Jack Miller – President, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
It has been a joy to work with the board, faculty, students, and staff of Pacific College over these last 20 years. We share a common sense of purpose and a delight in creating a new profession in the United States. Just ten years ago, I’d call hospitals to see if they were interested in having acupuncture interns at their facilities. They wouldn’t even call me back. Today, hospitals call me first. Twenty years ago, graduates of our programs were earning vocational certificates; today we are graduating doctors. This summer, while on vacation, I was offering my opinion about symptoms that a fellow tourist was experiencing. She asked if I was a doctor. I said, “No, I’m an acupuncturist.” She said, “Oh, that’s even better!” I think that describes how far we’ve come in 20 years.”