Making Research Practical: New Services in the Works
By G. Warner Seem, MS, LAc
Over the past five years as director of research at the Tri-State College of Acupuncture (TSCA), I have worked, along with the academic leadership, to integrate the spirit of research into every aspect of the college's curriculum.
When I taught the first course in research methods in 1999, I was not yet an acupuncturist. With a background in biomedical research, my educational objectives were clear and obvious: provide an efficient overview of the "most important" research paradigm, the randomized, controlled trial, and teach students to access and critically assess the ever-growing acupuncture research literature. I was sure that practitioners of acupuncture would benefit greatly from such skills. Naively, I was surprised and distraught that my course was met with a combination of ambivalence, skepticism and, in some cases, even hostility. I failed to recognize that the extraordinary knowledge and wisdom of AOM is not based on Western biomedical research, but on a foreign and ancient inheritance. I was rapidly informed and subsequently grew to appreciate through my own acupuncture education that this energetic medicine lends itself easily to study by Western standards.
Since that time, I, along with the entire acupuncture research community, have been forced to struggle with these provocative issues. As a result, myriad articles have been published debating and delineating the many variables that researchers must consider, and how acupuncture research designs might be transformed to more appropriately suit this medicine. Happily, because of such ongoing, open-minded discussion among researchers and practitioners, the quality of the research being done today has improved, and will continue to improve dramatically.
So, What Does This Mean for Practitioners?
To quote the late Donald Schon, Ford Professor Emeritus at MIT and author of The Reflective Practitioner, "In many professions ... there is a disturbing tendency for research and practice to follow divergent paths. Practitioners and researchers tend increasingly to live in different worlds, pursue different enterprises, and have little to say to one another." In our very young profession, this does not need to be the case.
Over the last few years, in looking for an "angle," if you will, to inspire TSCA students to explore and utilize the research in our field, it finally dawned on me to make it practical. At TSCA, the process of training students to integrate research into a comprehensive marketing plan continues to evolve. Simply stated, it is our view that acupuncture research should be a powerful and compelling part of how practitioners communicate with and educate other health care professionals, as well as the public, and can play a significant and integral part in helping practitioners effectively build referral networks.
Practitioners Need Help
Several years ago, a graduate called me in a panic asking for my opinion on the now "famous" German study on acupuncture and IVF. With a great interest in women's health, this graduate had (very astutely) been trying to develop professional relationships with OB/GYN practitioners in her community. However, during her very first meeting, a physician immediately asked for her analysis of this recently published study. Unfortunately, she was not familiar with the work and found she was ill-equipped to make a critical assessment. She ended up not getting referrals from this physician.
Because the vast majority of AOM practitioners are not formally trained in research, in combination with the overwhelming amount of information available on the Web - good, bad and ugly - it is clear that our community could use some help.
Exciting New Initiatives
Therefore, over the next year, TSCA's nonprofit research arm - CAER (the Center for Acupuncture and Educational Research) - will be working closely with the Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR), the national AOM research organization, to move forward with several exciting initiatives, all aimed at joining with AOM colleges to help support the AOM profession to better communicate with the greater medical community.
First, we will sponsor seminars for college representatives to help all colleges come up to speed with their research curricula. The first such seminar is scheduled for October 1, 2004, at the SAR conference in San Francisco. Taught by renowned researchers and educators Richard Hammerschlag, PhD, and Hugh MacPherson, the aim of the four-hour seminar (offered for free) is to provide an overview to generally accepted guidelines for critically assessing AOM research literature. Going forward, the ability to access and critically evaluate research literature will be of paramount importance to our students and graduates.
In addition, we are working to develop a new project to provide readily usable online researchers including a bibliography of quality research, organized by condition/disease. (These materials will be reviewed by a committee utilizing the CONSORT and STRICTA guidelines, as well as another established set of assessment criteria.) With such materials and additional seminars, students and graduates will be empowered to develop research/marketing "packets" that may be distributed to specialist health care professionals and the public, and/or used as resource materials for effective lectures and demonstrations.
Finally, in accordance with CAER's mission, we will continue to host innovative reflective practicums to facilitate ongoing dialogue among master practitioners, researchers and educators of acupuncture in North America, raising crucial issues related to all aspects of acupuncture practice that may serve to inspire future research, impact acupuncture educational methodologies, and most importantly, improve patient care.
Hopes and Expectations
It is our hope and expectation that by developing such services, we may help bridge the communication gap that currently exists among AOM researchers and practitioners; inspire interaction, dialogue and collaboration among researchers and practitioners; help AOM practitioners build increasingly successful practices; and, most importantly, facilitate the public's understanding and awareness of our medicine.