Pacific College: Building the Future of Oriental Medicine
Acupuncture Today Interviews President Jack Miller, LAc, Part One
By Editorial Staff
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine is one of the nation's leaders in the field of Oriental medicine education. Since its inception, the college has been at the forefront of educating students and working with legislators and health care providers to advance the profession's standards.
Graduates of Pacific have become some of the most successful and popular practitioners in the field, and the school continues to set educational standards, as it recently became one of the first colleges of traditional Chinese medicine in the country to receive approval to award a doctoral degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
Jack Miller, LAc, has been Pacific's president since 1988. In that time, he has guided the college through an expansion process to include branch campuses in New York and Illinois, and has seen PCOM grow to become one of the largest Oriental medicine schools in the country. Recently, Acupuncture Today's managing editor, Michael Devitt, spoke with Dr. Miller to discuss his role with the college, PCOM's role in the acupuncture community, and some of the important educational and political issues facing the profession.
Acupuncture Today(AT): Good afternoon, Dr. Miller. Could you give us a brief background of the college?
Jack Miller (JM): Pacific College was started in late 1986. We brought our first class in in January 1987. Like the Santa Barbara College of Oriental Medicine, we rose from the ashes of the California Acupuncture College, which had three campuses in California in the 1980s, in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. When they encountered financial difficulties and went out of business, four of the main teachers from CAC started Pacific College to give about 60 students that were at CAC in San Diego a place to graduate. From then on, they decided to continue the college. We then expanded to New York in 1993 and Chicago in 2000, and we've seen the campus's total enrollment grow from 60 or 70 students to almost 1,000 at this point.
AT: How long have you been with the college?
JM: I've been with Pacific since early 1988. I've been the president since then.
AT: So you've seen the college grow significantly in that time.
JM: Yes. When I started, there were 80 students.
AT: What types of challenges do you see as president? What types of challenges does the school face?
JM: I think probably the biggest challenge that a school faces, and that's any school in this profession right now, is meeting the demands of the regulatory agencies. Sometimes we agree with the standards; sometimes we don't. It's particularly difficult to deal with those regulations when we don't agree with them, but fortunately for Pacific College, we've always exceeded the standards set by the state and the accreditation agency.
Backtracking, I would say in some sense that the biggest challenge right now is dealing with the contentious issues within our profession - differing visions for the schools and for licensed acupuncturists. A lot of that revolves around politics and regulations.
AT: Do you (and does PCOM) get involved much in the politics of the profession?
JM: Unfortunately, yes. We feel like we need to be involved. Like I said, Pacific is in a particularly interesting position in that we've always exceeded the standards that have been set by the state and the accreditation agency, but on the other hand, we have supported other schools' rights to offer curricula with fewer hours of training, because we feel like the current standards meet the requirements the state should be involved in: that is, they're training safe practitioners. Pacific has always had very high standards, both in terms of quality and quantity, but we recognize the rights of other schools to have a different vision. As long as they're training people that are safe practitioners, I think they should have that right.
AT: What's a typical day like for you?
JM: (laughs). That's pretty funny. I had that question here in front of me, and I had no idea how to answer that. (laughs again)
AT: Let me put it another way: Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
JM: In general, the common thing about my day is that I am constantly thinking about how to make the school more responsive to the needs of students and patients. Sometimes that means doing extremely menial things; other times, it means dealing with large, national and international issues. The actual daily activities can really be varied. Sometimes it means talking to the maintenance man, and sometimes it means talking to a state senator.
As the president of a college, you're kind of like a symphony director. You're always trying to keep people working at their optimum and in harmony.
AT: What is Pacific's relationship with the local community? How involved is it with the civic activities in San Diego, and does it extend beyond acupuncture?
JM: We're very involved with community outreach. Certainly, most of the ways we interact with the community are in some way related to acupuncture and Oriental medicine. We have a number of off-site training facilities - San Diego Hospice, UCSD Sports Training Facility, a free seniors clinic, a free homeless clinic, and a few others - but clearly those are brining acupuncture to the community.
Also, our students volunteer at the Special Olympics in San Diego, and do massage on the participants. We participate in the Great American Smokeout and things like that. I'm trying to think if there's any way that we interact with the community that wouldn't involve Oriental medicine.
All those off-site training facilities I just mentioned have an integrated aspect to them. At the San Diego Hospice, the acupuncture interns are an integral part of the medical team. They're as integral to the treatment of the patients there as the psychologists, the psychiatrists and the nurses. They're involved in all of the medical team meetings regarding the patients. Similarly, at UCSD, the interns interact with sports trainers and orthopedic surgeons when necessary. At the homeless clinic, it's a cooperative effort between the UCSD medical students and our students. Patients are seen by both types of practitioners. Pacific's always been known for trying to integrate the practice of Eastern and Western medicine.
AT: You mentioned seeing how the college has grown and changed over time. How has the community's view of Oriental medicine changed? Are they more willing to embrace or consider it?
JM: Yes - there's no question about it. Places that I used to call five or six years ago to try to put interns into, wouldn't even return my calls. Now they call me first. For instance, we're at the final stage in coming to an agreement with Children's Hospital and their pain rehabilitation department; they initiated that agreement. Similarly, Sharp Hospital and their cardiac rehab department - these are institutions that several years ago would have thought I was crazy for calling them - now they're really interested in what we have to offer. I think we're seeing this at a grassroots level, too, with more and more patients accessing our services in the clinic and the services of our alumni.
AT: What do you think are the reasons behind why more people have this heightened awareness acupuncture, and why they are embracing it?
JM: Well, it works! It works for you, and then you tell somebody else, and they tell somebody else. There's certainly a big grassroots movement toward the acceptance of acupuncture. Additionally, the media brings us a lot more visibility. It seems like most of the press we get is very positive. I think the NIH Consensus Statement that recognized the validity of acupuncture and the need for more research in the field five years ago gave us a lot of visibility. That was a really big turning point in the volume of patients that we were seeing in our clinic, and similarly in the private clinics.
AT: Since we've talked about PCOM's clinic and student education a little, I'd like to talk about the school's doctoral program. What was involved in getting the program up and running?
JM: It was a very interesting process, and a rewarding one for the college and the administrators that were involved. I think we were really excited by the fact that we were creating a program that was going to be a voluntary program, where people who are already licensed were coming back to school because they wanted to learn more and become leaders in the field - that they weren't doing it just to get a license and go into a new career. That was really exciting.
We asked the best and the smartest people in our profession what they thought we needed for advanced training. We talked to people, we sent out surveys or had discussions with Ted Kaptchuk, Bob Flaws, Subhuti Darmananda, Giovanni Maciocia and others, and got their sense of what they thought we needed in the field. We took all that feedback, and the feedback of our faculty, our alumni, our current students and administrators, and designed what we think is a pretty interesting curriculum.
AT: What's the course of study for the program? JM: There will be five "tracks" within the doctoral program. There's an integrative medicine track; a Chinese classics track; a Chinese language track; a research track; and an advanced clinical training track. Students will take courses in all five of those tracks. The integrative medicine subjects our students will choose to specialize in, in the latter part of their training, will be neuromuscular medicine, which will be a combination of orthopedics and neurology; geriatrics; or mental health. These are areas that we've seen have a tremendous promise for acupuncturists and increasing its use in the culture, and also areas where Pacific has expert faculty and good clinical resources.
AT: Is the program open to everyone, or just Pacific graduates?
JM: It'll be open to anybody who meets our prerequisites. Certainly, people who didn't attend Pacific College will need to complete what we've identified as the core courses from our master's degree program, and because our master's degree program has been so comprehensive, there may be some classes that outside graduates might have to take, but that remains to be seen.
Editor's note: Part two of Acupuncture Today's interview with Jack Miller will appear in the August issue.