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Midwest College of Oriental Medicine

Pointing the Way Toward the Future of Integrative Medicine

Within the last decade, acupuncture has steadily moved toward the mainstream. As the danger of addictive narcotic pain relievers becomes a frequent headline, more people are seeking non-pharmacological approaches for relieving pain and discomfort.

Natural Awakenings caught up with Dr. William Dunbar, Ph.D. and president of Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM), to learn how acupuncture can be a solution to today’s opioid crisis, and how the school is poised to prepare students for the integration of acupuncture into Western medicine.

How has acupuncture been used for pain management, and what is its role going forward as we deal with today’s opioid crisis?

For most of my professional career of 37 years, my specialty was acute and chronic pain management. As a staff acupuncturist, I was part of a multi-specialty team addressing patients’ needs at Cook County Hospital, in Chicago, and part of a rehabilitation team at Columbus Hospital, also in Chicago. Because many patients could not take opiates due to prior medical conditions, alternative strategies were successfully employed to control and eliminate post-surgical and chronic pain. The team developed a solution, which was a combination of acupuncture, physical therapy and massage, with acupuncture as the main component. What I’m seeing across the country is that, finally, the medical field has identified that opioids are a huge problem in our society, and acupuncturists are positioned incredibly well to deal with chronic and post-surgical pain.

The body has internal mechanisms—endorphins—that we produce to control pain as part of our normal physiology. These neurochemicals are increased by stimulating acupuncture points, so this modality not only controls the pain, it decreases inflammation and breaks the inflammatory cycle.

How is MCOM preparing its students for the integration of acupuncture into pain management?

We’re one of the few colleges of acupuncture that actually has a curriculum element specifically created for post-surgical pain and chronic pain management. Using the treatment concepts developed over many years in these integrated settings, our graduates enter practice with all the necessary tools to treat a wide variety of conditions presented by patients.

What we did as a college was to recognize early on that there would be a place for acupuncture in typical medical centers. While we train people to be independent practitioners, we also give them the necessary skills to work in a conventional medical setting. That dovetails with this opioid crisis. In order to deal with it, graduates can’t be sole practitioners; they have to integrate their practice with the medical doctors that are treating these patients with chronic and post-surgical pain. Acupuncture is going to be one of the biggest therapies to serve as an adjunct to conventional medicine once practitioners realize that there is an opportunity to lower the dosages—or even completely eliminate opioids—with a non-pharmaceutical solution.

How is MCOM integrating technology to prepare graduates for this integration?

The College offers a component of the program through distance education, though obviously students can’t learn acupuncture needle insertion online. The purpose of distance education is to offer our basic sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, that are taught weekday evenings without requiring the student to drive to the campus during the week. For the distance courses, a faculty member presents a live lecture and takes questions, using multi-media tools that support this type of education.

Since 2014, I have participated in programs at the Harvard-Macy Institute at Harvard Medical School which are designed to promote the use of technology in medical education. I joined other medical professionals in learning how to use Twitter and various online platforms, and how to integrate all widgets and tools into lectures. As a student in the Design Learningand Technology graduate program, I have been able to bring these cutting-edge course design concepts to MCOM.

The College offers two innovative programs, which contain distance education and newly re-designed course elements: the 36-month combined Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine; and the 27-month Acupuncture Therapist Certificate program. Graduates of both programs are eligible for licensure in 46 states after passing components of a national board examination.

How does MCOM serve the community?

At our training clinic, we charge either $20 (Racine) or $25 (Evanston) per visit, making it affordable for patients on fixed incomes and pensions to come in twice a month because of our discounted fees. We also offer a $5 anti-stress treatment at both campuses, treating stress points that affect the nervous system, thus providing relaxation. My goal has always been to keep treatment fees as low as possible to give students the widest variety of experiences.

Annually, our clinic gives about 15,000 treatments. I also do free talks and community outreach. It’s very important that we’re a resource for the health of the community.

Midwest College of Oriental Medicine is located at 6232 Bankers Rd., Racine, and 1601 Sherman Ave., 3rd Flr., Evanston, Illinois. For more information, call 262-554-2010 or visit Acupuncture.edu.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.

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