ACAOM's Doctoral Proposal Needs Support -- and Further Discussion
By M.A. Najmi
I read with interest the exchange in the February 2003 issue of Acupuncture Today concerning the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's (ACAOM) proposal for a doctoral degree as the entry requirement for practice in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
The American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM) promptly came out in support of the proposal, whereas the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has raised serious questions and has used this forum to request ACAOM (a) withdraw its survey and (b) seek dialog with the Council. In the same issue of the paper, American Global University, located in Cheyenne, Wyo., announced its offering of a PhD degree in Oriental medicine through its distance-learning program.
The field is abuzz with action from various organizations claiming to represent some part of the "turf" of alternative medicine. Here, we have three alternatives: a reasonably standard master's degree program; a proposal for a doctorate in Oriental medicine; and a PhD in Oriental medicine approved by a state department of education. Putting aside for a moment the PhD program offered by American Global, I find the disjunction between the Accreditation Commission and the Council of Colleges rather disturbing. It is difficult for me to imagine the ACAOM, AAOM and CCAOM as representing three different, divergent constituencies. What we have is an accrediting agency; a professional organization; and an association of colleges, each with its own perspective on how Oriental medicine should be organized. It is this divergence that concerns me.
Each side has a valid argument. A dialog between the parties seems to be called for. After all, a doctoral program without CCAOM's active support and participation would be operating in a vacuum - without students, teachers and academic loci. Granting the proposal a prima facie value, as it is indeed worth considering, there is the need for a public statement of what is to be achieved by its implementation, and at what cost to the various constituencies.
On its face, the objective seems to be to fashion the Oriental medicine doctorate on the MD and JD models, in the belief that something approximating the advantages, professionalism, prestige and public image of these older professions would "rub off" on our profession. This is only likely if the project is pursued through a solid partnership between the AAOM, CCAOM and ACAOM.
There is an interesting difference between this proposal and that of Global University. The Oriental medicine doctorate nomenclature seeks sisterhood with the established professions, whereas Wyoming's goal is to solicit academic standing. The latter is on shaky ground, as it is joining the fledgling movement of distance education to attain respectability. The mushrooming growth of these schools on every street corner bodes poorly for its future. I say this without completely denying any point to distance learning; it does have its place.
As a new administrator in an AOM school after many years in mainstream academic settings, I am quite intrigued and excited by ACAOM's proposal. It is a truism to state that there is a seminal tie between the accrediting agencies and the schools. This community of purpose, if maintained, would serve us well. From my vantage point, strong curricula, competent faculty, and colleges with solid professional and academic integrity and financial standing, are absolutely essential in the above quest.
AAOM's ready sponsorship of the proposal is encouraging, but we cannot ignore the questions raised by the Council of Colleges, which is asking for patient and increased collaboration. This is a quite reasonable demand. Perhaps seeking broader input from all interested parties would be a step in the right direction. However, the brief ACAOM questionnaire now circulating seems an insufficient instrument for this complex and worthy endeavor.
The master's of science in Oriental medicine program has so far been the backbone of the profession. A doctoral program should be pursued so as to do no harm to what is already available while we look to advance the cause of the profession. I have submitted this to ACAOM in lieu of a questionnaire, and I also am seeking a larger audience for the issues raised here.