Spotlight on the National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance: An Interview With Dr. Michael McCoy
By Editorial Staff
In 2004, Dr. Michael McCoy succeeded Tierney Tully as the new executive director of the National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance. Not only did the Alliance acquire a person with more than two decades of management and educational experience when Dr.
McCoy was hired, they added to their ranks something of a Renaissance man - a published author and lecturer; a person fluent in German, French and Latin; a popular morning radio host; and a former college professor, all rolled into one.
As executive director, Dr. McCoy has raised awareness of the Alliance to new levels, and has helped to make it one of the nation's leading acupuncture and Oriental medicine member organizations. In this exclusive two-part interview with Acupuncture Today, Dr. McCoy discusses the advances both the Alliance and the AOM profession have made in the past few years, along with his beliefs on the important challenges and issues facing the AOM profession in the years to come.
Acupuncture Today (AT): You've been the executive director of the Alliance for almost two years now. How has the Alliance changed since that time, and how has the acupuncture profession changed since that time?
Michael McCoy (MM): First, let me say thank you very much for the chance to do this interview. I really appreciate it. I have enjoyed my work with the Alliance, and I'm glad to talk about it a little bit.
The Alliance has changed a good deal in some respects since I came on board. I'd like to think I had a small hand in that, but many of the changes were going to happen anyway. The biggest and most important change is probably a change of focus or direction. That has to do with understanding the Alliance not so much as simply a professional organization, but as an organization to advocate for acupuncture and Oriental medicine. That meant, for us, that we have begun to take more seriously our role to help our practitioners by interceding with other folks as well, particularly consumers. We think that we can advance the profession more effectively by painting with a broad brush and working with the whole community. That was the original idea of the Alliance. I think they had moved away from it, but we've come back to that.
As for the profession itself and how it has changed since that time, we've seen over the last couple of years some dramatic advances in the acceptance of acupuncture and Oriental medicine within our society. These pose challenges and opportunities for us, but I think that we are seeing the unfurling of a trend that had already begun, but that is really picking up pace. You can see that in the newspapers; you can see that in state capitals across the land.
AT: What types of challenges and opportunities do you see?
MM: I think with any profession that is moving from the margins of acceptance in society to a more central role, you see a lot of effort to define carefully what you're doing, to understand it carefully, and perhaps to claim different ways of approaching that. Certainly, when you get something that was from its inception as amorphous as the AOM community, you've got a lot of folks trying to figure out where we fit into the culture, now that it's finally beginning to notice and accept us. I think that those are the discussions that are going on in the profession. There are challenges because we have to figure out what to do about it, but there are opportunities, because we have the possibility of carving out a niche that we will enjoy as a profession for many years to come.
AT: One advance that we've seen over the past few years is in the area of education. There are now more than 50 schools in the U.S. that are either accredited by ACAOM or are candidates for accreditation. Is this a good thing? Is this possibly too much of a good thing?
MM: I have to look at that from my peculiar vantage point. My big secret is that I'm not an acupuncturist, and I've never been to acupuncture school. What I am is a manager, and as a manager, my inclination is to see a question like that in light of supply and demand.
Right now, many practitioners complain that they're struggling to find ways to establish a practice that will enable them to make a good living. Many of these practitioners complain that the problem is an oversaturation of graduates from acupuncture school. I don't think that's really the problem. I think the problem is that we haven't seen the final results - although we're beginning to see them - of acceptance of this medicine by the American public. So, I think the problem isn't whether there are too many acupuncture schools or too many acupuncturists. I think the problem is that we need to build the patient base. That's one of the missions the Alliance is working hard to do - to educate consumers so that they will know that they have a place to turn to manage their own health care, and that would be to their friendly AOM practitioner.
AT: Since we're talking about schools, doctoral programs are a big issue. A handful of schools have begun offering doctoral programs in acupuncture and Oriental medicine; others are developing those programs. What is the Alliance's stance on the doctorate and the idea of making it the first-professional degree?
MM: That's a great question, but I need to make a distinction here. In some things that I say, I will try to speak for the Alliance or describe the Alliance's position. In other cases, I'll try to make it clear that what I'm giving you is my own opinion. I think that's a separation that anyone would expect.
The Alliance's position about the doctorate is very clear. It has endorsed the process that ACAOM has been pursuing with its Doctoral Task Force. We had representation on that task force. We've embraced what they're doing; we think it's very important work. The Alliance has concerns, and those concerns have to do with its longstanding commitment to the diversity of practice.
That leads me to switch gears and speak a little bit about my own personal observations and opinions. It seems to me that if you look at this profession at its current moment in history, we stand at a point where there's a great divide of opinion about what's going to happen. There is a large segment of our community which strongly believes that increasing acceptance for AOM means coming to participate in the prevailing medical system in our country. Those folks, because they expect that to be the process of the future, want and need the first professional doctorate. I think they should be supported in that task.
Then there's another whole group of the profession that is convinced that the American health care system itself is in crisis, and the result of that is going to be a dramatic change in the way health care is done in this country. There are a lot of reasons for thinking that, too, and these folks tend to believe that our task is not to join a failing system, but to be ready to stand up and offer a credible, useful and helpful alternative. These folks are not as interested in the first professional doctorate, because they don't necessarily want to look like the rest of the health care profession.
The Alliance, in my opinion, has always been about trying to help AOM and all of its people. So, we have some sympathy for both sides of this debate. Personally, I think that we're going to see some dramatic transformations. I'm not sure I expect as radical a transformation as some folks do, but I think there will be a change, and I think that practitioners of acupuncture or the other modalities of AOM will find a happier place.
I think the doctorate is a fine idea, but I think we need to leave room for folks who don't want to go that way. The one danger in the first professional doctorate would be if we were to decide that one size fits all. The idea of the first professional doctorate is fine, but it needs to reflect the variety and diversity of our community and of the traditional medicine that we represent.
AT: Could you see a situation where a doctoral program is set up so that a practitioner could specialize in a certain area of traditional Chinese medicine, sort of the way medical doctors can specialize in internal medicine or pediatrics?
MM: Absolutely. I think that probably is the view of most people on the board of the Alliance, and it certainly is my view. I think we need folks in AOM whose specialty involves integration with the Western medical system. It's not going away. So, one of the doctoral specialties ought to be in integrative medicine, or whatever codeword one wants to use. It's a component that ought to include a lot of the aspects of Western medicine as well as AOM so that our folks can make that connection. I think there's also plenty of room for an advanced first professional doctorate with a profound focus on herbal medicine - not pharmaceuticals, but traditional Chinese herbal medicine. We need much more emphasis on that to be available at many places throughout the country. I think you could do the same thing with acupuncture of various kinds and traditions. I think that one also could find room for a number of other possibilities for doctoral focus. What I hope the first professional doctorate will become is a really strong AOM degree, with one of these other specialties added in as well, so that our folks are prepared to make significant contributions.