Xiaohong Zhao, 48, relieves patients’ pain with acupuncture. She also creates herbal medicine formulas. Zhao earned a master program in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in 2012 and has practiced TCM in New York for five years. She worked as an administrator at Fudan University, China before moving to the U.S. with her husband in 2004.
(The interview was conducted in Chinese)
The husband of one of my friends happened to be a TCM practitioner and I always visited their home. My grandparents are also TCM practitioners, so I know a thing or two about it. At first, I studied ultrasound and x-ray here in the US, but then my friend’s husband asked me “Why don’t you study TCM? You have some grounding in it.” And I said yes.
DID YOU HAVE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH TCM BEFORE YOUR STUDIES?
I had migraine myself. Back in China, I fell off the stairs because of it, very serious. I was rushed to the hospital. One of my eyes couldn’t see and I was really sensitive to light and noise. But after a series of examinations at the hospital the doctor told me everything was fine. I was at Fudan University at the time, and there were a number of retired military doctors who practiced acupuncture. I tried it for a while and now I am free of migraine for at least twenty years.
WHAT CONDITIONS DO YOU TREAT WITH ACUPUNCTURE?
Mainly pain relief, including migraine. … I treat back muscle degeneration, shoulder pain, neck pain and knee pain. I also use acupuncture to regulate organ functions—functions of your liver, heart, all of them.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING AN ACUPUNCTURIST IN NEW YORK?
It is a good job, but the competition is also fierce. Many acupuncturists graduate every year, and your treatment has to be effective. Some patients feel better the first time they try acupuncture. Some don’t, and they will think acupuncture is no good. I always tell them to allow three acupuncture sessions and experience the treatment before making a decision.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ACUPUNCTURE AMONG CHINESE?
Chinese assign a lot less importance to acupuncture than Japanese and Koreans. I have more Japanese and Korean than Chinese patients, and when I ask them whether they have tried acupuncture in their countries, they always say they have.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF YOUR JOB?
Sometimes I want to help patients as much as I can, but there is nothing I could do. I had this bone cancer patient two years ago. She couldn’t move and asked me to go to her home. When I got there I really couldn’t do much. She took a lot of painkillers and they destroyed her stomach, and she was basically skin and bones. So I had to use acupuncture needles that are meant for kids.
ANY OTHER INTERESTING PATIENTS?
I had a patient who was brought here on a stretcher. He had lumbar disc herniation. Now he comes for leg pain or shoulder pain, but no back pain, so he has a lot of faith in TCM. He always asks me “I want to take TCM classes too. I am over 50 years old now, so by 60 I can open my own clinic. Do you think that would work?” And I said, “If you take the classes, you can, after you retire.”
(Header photo by Josh Liba via Flickr)