Oriental Medicine Practitioners


Exploring this Job

Study Oriental history and philosophy to help you learn to understand Oriental medicine's approach to healing. Watch videos, read, or take courses in t'ai qi, kung fu, or other forms of qigong. These ancient methods for achieving control of the mind and body will be part of your studies in Oriental medicine. Health food stores have books on acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and perhaps Oriental bodywork.

Talk with people who have experienced acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, or Oriental bodywork therapy. Ask them what it was like and if they were happy with the results of the alternative treatment. You may even want to make an appointment to see an Oriental medicine practitioner. By experiencing acupuncture or massage therapy firsthand, you can better determine if you would like to practice it yourself.

Visit colleges of Oriental medicine or massage schools and ask an admissions counselor if you could sit in on a class. Try to talk to the students after class and ask what they like or dislike about their school, class schedule, or choice in career.

Investigate the national and state professional associations. Many of them have excellent Web sites. Some associations offer student memberships. See if you can attend a meeting to learn about the current issues in OM and introduce yourself to some of the members. Networking with experienced practitioners can help you learn more about Oriental medicine, find a school, and perhaps even find a job.

The Job

Oriental medicine practitioners usually specialize in one or more of the healing modalities that make up Oriental medicine. In the United States, the educational career paths for OM practitioners are currently organized around acupuncture, Oriental medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbology), and Oriental bodywork. Not all disciplines are licensed or recognized in every state. However, each specialty is based on the fundamental OM principle of diagnosing and seeking to balance disturbances of qi.

Oriental medicine practitioners begin a new relationship with a client by taking a careful history. Next, they use the traditional Chinese approach called the "four examinations" for evaluation and diagnosis. These include asking questions, looking, listening/smelling, and touching. OM practitioners use the four examinations to identify signs and symptoms. They synthesize all they learn about the individual into a vivid profile of the whole person, which includes the mind, body, and spirit. The first appointment generally requires an hour or more.

While examining a patient, the practitioner looks for any sign of disharmony. The results of the evaluation and diagnosis determine the course of therapy. Depending on a practitioner's training and on the needs of the individual client, the OM practitioner may recommend one or more of the major modalities: acupuncture, Chinese herbology, Oriental bodywork, exercise, or dietary therapy.

In the West, acupuncture is the best-known form of traditional Oriental medicine, and it is sometimes considered synonymous with Oriental medicine. Acupuncture is a complete medical system that encourages the body to improve functioning and promote natural healing. Acupuncturists help clients maintain good health and also treat symptoms and disorders. They insert very thin needles into precise points on the skin that stimulate the area and work to balance the circulation of energy. 

In the United States, most of the modalities of traditional Chinese medicine are now frequently considered under the more general term of Oriental medicine. However, even practitioners from Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries still consider Chinese herbology to be uniquely Chinese. Chinese herbology (also known as the Chinese herbal sciences) studies the properties of herbs, their energetics, and their therapeutic qualities. It has a 2,000-year history as a distinct body of knowledge, independent of acupuncture. Chinese herbalists practice herbal science according to the principles of Oriental medicine. After performing a careful evaluation and diagnosis, they determine which herbs can be used to help restore the balance of a patient's qi. Chinese herbalists develop formulas based on the unique combination of the individual's characteristics, symptoms, and primary complaints.

Tuina, or Tui Na (both pronounced twee nah), is a form of Oriental bodywork or massage that has been used in China for 2,000 years. It is sometimes referred to as Oriental physical therapy. Tuina practitioners seek to establish a more harmonious flow of qi through the channels (meridians) of the body. They accomplish this through a variety of different systems: massage, acupressure (similar to acupuncture, but using pressure from fingers and hands instead of needles), energy generation exercises, and manipulation. The tuina practitioner evaluates the individual's specific problems and develops a treatment plan that emphasizes acupressure points and energy meridians as well as pain sites, muscles, and joints. Unlike traditional Western types of massage that involve a more generalized treatment, tuina focuses on specific problem areas. Treatments usually last half an hour to an hour. The number of sessions depends on the needs of the client. Some Oriental bodywork practitioners use Chinese herbs to assist the healing process.

Qigong, also spelled Qi Gong or Chi Kung (all pronounced chee goong), is a Chinese system of exercise, philosophy, and health care. It is a healing art that combines movement and meditation. The Chinese character qi means life force; the character gong means to cultivate or engage. Hence, qigong literally means to cultivate one's life force or vital energy. Qigong has five major traditions: Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, martial arts, and medical. It has more than 1,000 forms. Kung fu is an example of a martial arts qigong. T'ai qi (t'ai chi) has Taoist, martial arts, and self-healing forms. Medical qigong combines meditation with breathing exercises. Through the regular practice of qigong, the circulation of the qi is stimulated. Qigong can help body functions return to normal for those who are sick and can increase the sense of well-being for those who are already healthy.

Oriental dietary therapy helps to restore harmony to the qi through balancing what the individual eats. When the diet becomes unbalanced, it can trigger disharmony. The Oriental medicine practitioner recommends adjustments in the diet that will restore balance. The therapeutic basis for dietary therapy is the same as for Chinese herbology. The practitioner considers the energetics and therapeutic qualities of each kind of food in order to select precisely the right foods to restore balance to the individual's qi.

In addition to working to help their clients achieve a more balanced state, Oriental medicine practitioners usually have many other duties. Most are self-employed, so they have all of the obligations of running their own businesses. They must keep records of their clients' histories and progress and manage billing and receiving payments. If services are covered by insurance, OM practitioners bill the client's insurance company. Practitioners also must work hard to build their clientele. A career in Oriental medicine requires lifelong learning, and practitioners continually study and increase their knowledge of their field.