The Alliance of Chinese Medicine and Holistic Nursing – Good for Nurses, Great for Acupuncturists
By Jack Miller, Chairman of the Board
This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 edition of the AIM Newspaper. Read the full paper for free.
It has always been part of Pacific College of Health and Science’s mission to spread the benefits of Chinese medicine to practitioners in other healthcare professions. At this time of formidable progress towards the acceptance of an integrative approach to healthcare, none is more important than our recent efforts in the nursing field. The benefits of our medicine to nurses, who are often under considerable stress and strain, are obvious. Today, however, I’d like to focus on the benefits for acupuncturists of this alliance with the nursing profession.
Spreading the Benefits of Chinese Medicine to Other Healthcare Professions
Sometimes, where we’re going is best understood when viewed from where we came. Circa 1990, Pacific College took what was then the bold step of increasing its biomedical department courses, adding hours to basic sciences, anatomy, physiology, pathology, and clinical counseling. In addition, recognizing the immediate clinical needs of acupuncturists, it added a series of orthopedic and neurological evaluation courses, as well as more hours in Chinese herbal medicine and clinical training. We made these changes because they were important to acupuncturists’ success and our goal of enabling acupuncturists to participate in multi-disciplinary settings. This was years before the acupuncture board and the accreditation commission made most of these requirements standard in the field. The profession has since described this appreciation of biomedicine combined with Chinese medicine as integrative medicine.
What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine is an approach to medical care that recognizes the benefit of combining conventional (standard) therapies, such as pharmaceutical drugs and surgery, with complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and yoga, that have been shown to be safe and effective. Integrative medicine seeks to address the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental factors that can affect a person’s health and well-being.
We all know that what acupuncturists do individually already fits the broader definition of integrative medicine. The larger question is to what extent – and how – the Chinese medicine profession is integrated with others in healthcare, particularly with medical doctors and nurses, i.e., those who provide healthcare to the vast majority of the population.
Holistic Nursing: An Important Step Towards Mainstream Integration
As we sought to address the challenge of becoming even more integrated, we discovered kindred spirits in the field of nursing. Thanks to the dedication of nurses like Pacific’s former dean of nursing, Carla Mariano, the profession of nursing has a well-developed, recognized specialty and certificate in holistic nursing (AHNA.org) as well as an ACEN accredited RN-to-BSN holistic nursing completion program; both programs are endorsed by the American Holistic Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC). Most recently, a master’s in nursing program with specialties in education and nurse coaching was also added. The vision is that Every Nurse Is a Holistic Nurse.
Nursing is an art and science emanating from a caring-healing framework.
Holistic nursing focuses on healing the whole person, recognizing the interrelationship of the biological, psychosocial, cultural, spiritual, energetic, and environmental dimensions of the person. It emphasizes protecting and promoting mental, spiritual, and emotional health and wellness and supporting people to find meaning, peace, and harmony. As you can readily see, acupuncturists and nurses are brothers and sisters, both spiritually and demographically (87.7% of all registered nurses are women, while 12.3% are men).
Holistic Trojan Horses
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nurses comprise the largest component of the healthcare workforce. They are the primary providers of hospital patient care and deliver most of the nation’s long-term care.
With more than three times as many RNs in the United States as physicians, nursing delivers an extended array of healthcare services, including primary and preventive care by nurse practitioners with specialized education in such areas as pediatrics, family health, women’s health, and gerontological care. Nursing’s scope also includes services by certified nurse-midwives and nurse anesthetists, as well as care in cardiac, oncology, neonatal, neurological, and obstetric/gynecological nursing, and other advanced clinical specialties.
Most people would assume that doctors are the ones who spend the most time with patients in the hospital. However, this is not always the case. Nurses may spend more time with patients than doctors do. This is because nurses are often responsible for tasks such as taking vital signs, administering medications, and providing patient education. They may also provide emotional support to patients and their families.
In 2020, according to the National Nursing Workforce survey, there were 4.2 million RNs and 950,000 LPNs/LVNs in the United States. Most impressive, for 20-years running, nursing was rated as the most trusted profession once again in 2021, according to a Gallup poll.
So, I think you can see where I am heading. The more nurses are aware of what acupuncturists and massage therapists do, the more they will spread that awareness to the tens of millions of patients they contact each year. In addition to their status as the most trusted profession, they are intimately involved in patient healthcare education. Who better to introduce a patient to Chinese medicine?
Expanding the Reach of Holistic and Integrative Healthcare
At this time, Pacific College is planning another big step to advance the alliance of Chinese medicine and the nursing profession. It is in the process of designing and applying for approval for a pre-licensure nursing program, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, in New York, eventually to be followed in San Diego and Chicago.
This unique curriculum is designed to educate a new generation of nurses by emphasizing a relationship-centered approach including self-care, wellness promotion, disease prevention, research and evidence informed practice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, advocacy, and authentic humanistic leadership in the profession and beyond. We are looking forward to sharing more information with you as it becomes available.
Graduates of PCHS’s nursing programs are transformational leaders, capable of helping to shift the focus of healthcare paradigm from illness and disease to health promotion, wellness, and wellbeing for all. Particularly relevant is the nurses’ familiarity with and appreciation for the principles of Chinese medicine.
Real-Life Holistic Nurses Testimonials
Let’s hear from a couple nurses who are already part of our alliance.
Maryam Wooten worked as an ER nurse until she needed a break. She applied for a leave of absence and went to India. She practiced meditation and self-healing, and learned reiki. After nine months she felt ready to study and practice energy medicine. She entered Pacific College in 2010. Maryam also returned to the ER. Doing both proved to be quite a challenge. After three years, she stopped working to devote herself 100% to studying herbs and to enter the college’s holistic nursing program.
In Carla Mariano’s holistic nursing classes, she met many other nurses who were burned out from the medical system and were looking for a refuge. They shared their stories and the ways in which they were applying holistic nursing as best they could, depending on their individual circumstances. Maryam said she learned that being a holistic practitioner is about presence, whether you’re a nurse or an acupuncturist. It is about being in the moment, connecting to someone heart to heart, listening, and offering space to someone to experience what they are going through fully, without judgment.
With newfound hope and wisdom, she started working in the ER again, this time in the Bronx, with a team of doctors and nurses who were most supportive and open to her acupuncture practice. One of them started getting treatments at Pacific. She presented acupuncture to the staff and dedicated a day of doing treatments for them. She also developed a research proposal to introduce acupuncture in the ER.
In a new hospital upstate, still working in the ER, she talked to the director of nursing and proposed adding acupuncture to the services of the hospital. They were developing a program for cancer patients, and she joined their integrative department alongside massage therapists, a nutritionist, and yoga and taiji practitioners.
Maryam has been a nurse for sixteen years, and for the last twelve years she’s studied and practiced Chinese medicine. She says that the two practices have become more integrated as the biomedical community has become more open and accepting of energy medicine. This is not surprising given her activities and influence. She is treating more and more nurses, doctors, and surgeons in her acupuncture practice, and she’s getting more referrals from them. She says that, when they have firsthand experience of acupuncture, their doubts vanish.
Sara Choi has been a registered nurse for nearly 20 years in hospitals and community settings throughout the United States. Here’s her story in her own words:
“I have found that the majority of people who present as patients generally have the same needs: to feel seen, heard, valued, understood, and cared for. These essential needs, unfortunately, often fall through the cracks of other competing demands in healthcare, such as managing time of seeing patients, prioritizing diagnoses, documenting in electronic medical records, managing equipment and supplies, providing efficient treatment, discharging patient instructions, insurance, billing, and seeing the next patient ‘in time’.
Succumbing to these demands often morphs the humanization of healthcare into a tedious checking of scripted boxes of procedures and protocols, leading to increased moral injury, burn out, and compassion fatigue amongst care providers.
After eleven years of nursing in the Emergency Department this very common experience amongst care providers happened to me. I felt disconnected from myself and my definition of a caring nurse. I felt no one outside of healthcare understood my experience and no one in healthcare could or would stop the on-going trauma that was occurring in the system.
In 2017 I enrolled in the post-baccalaureate Holistic Nursing Certification program at the Pacific College of Health and Science, where I was introduced to integrative tools of healing and reconnected with my sense of compassion, acceptance, empathy, and care for myself, firstly, to then, in turn, effectively care for others.
Continuing my education in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Pacific College has been a boundless gift to me personally and professionally as a nurse, health coach, and integrative practitioner.
As a registered nurse in the emergency department, I incorporated mindfulness practices for self-care prior to starting my shift and often shared integrative modalities with patients, their loved ones, and fellow healthcare team members.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, holistic care was often not viewed as a necessary factor to a patient’s healing, but as an accommodation. A significant portion of time as an integrative practitioner was spent teaching and advocating for integrative collaborative care.
With the multi-faceted effects of COVID on thousands of patients, their loved ones, and healthcare providers, the need for a more integrative approach to healing, health and wellness became undeniable.
During the height of the COVID pandemic and present-day, I created a safe space within the hospital for healthcare providers to de-stress, share, and receive. Modalities incorporated have been guided meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness stress reduction techniques, breathwork, reiki, healing touch, M-technique, tui na, Thai yoga bodywork, aromatherapy, taiji, qigong, jin shin jyutsu, emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping, sound baths, ear seed auriculotherapy, coaching, therapeutic art, and healing presence. After a session, a resident medical doctor who had been caring for numerous patients who were critically ill said: “This is the first time I have been able to take a deep breath in a long time. I feel less stressed. We need more of this.”
One particular patient I was consulted to see in the intensive care unit was hypertensive and intubated, secondary to a recent cerebral vascular accident. His blood pressure was 185/105 with an increased heart rate of 121, while resisting the endotracheal tube (ETT) and ventilator assisting his breathing. The care team had tried different medications to address his vital signs and agitation, with no avail. I introduced myself and what I do to the patient and his family. With their verbal consent, I palpated his pulses, and observed his mouth and the color of his tongue. While I spoke to him, I used acupressure points to decrease his heart rate and blood pressure, while promoting a sense of calm. I played relaxing meditative music, while doing reiki and healing touch for approximately ten minutes. His vital signs decreased to blood pressure 156/88 and heart rate 89, while tolerating the ETT and ventilator. I then taught the nurse and family members a couple of acupressure points to help promote a sense of calm for the patient and themselves. The family and care team expressed their surprise and appreciation for the positive effect the holistic modalities provided.
This example is one of thousands of experiences I have been honored to be a part of in my role as a holistic nurse, health coach, and integrative practitioner within the hospital and the community.
We live in an exciting time within healthcare in which patients and their loved ones are seeking answers to manage the root cause of their experience with disease. Many are no longer satisfied with bandage attempts to calm their symptoms.”
It is my hope as the chair of the board of Pacific College to multiply stories like this exponentially. The increased acceptance of Chinese and holistic medicine is inevitable as graduates of our nursing programs enter the mainstream medical facilities with knowledge of and confidence in the healing effects of Chinese medicine.
As Sara Choi said above, we do indeed live in an exciting time for healthcare. Acupuncture graduates report receiving referrals from other healthcare providers more and more, and with holistic nursing, we can expect that to increase even more. It is our vision that our acupuncture and nursing graduates will continue to have an enduring positive effect on creating true integrative medicine.