Reflections of an Intern in the Free Clinic at Middle Way Acupuncture Institute
By Robert Perks
Middle Way Acupuncture Institute's Veterans' and Community Clinic began in 2008 as a weekly smoking cessation clinic and was expanded to a general purpose clinic the following year in order to serve a wider patient base.
The Community Clinic is free and open to everyone, and is dedicated in honor of our veterans.
For two hours on Tuesday mornings, the clinic opens its doors and treats on a "first-come, first-served" basis. "Although our doors open at 9am, the sign-up sheet is made available at least a half-hour before, and typically all available seats are filled before the doors are even open," said Community Clinic supervisor Linda Munson. "It is heartwarming to witness the patients' enthusiasm and excitement in anticipation of their treatments. It's fun and it's healing — I love it, and they do, too!"
The treatments take place in a room large enough to accommodate eight patients, who are seated in reclining chairs under soft light with relaxing background music. It is a serene environment. Treatments last approximately 45 minutes to ensure 30 minutes of needle time. Auricular acupuncture, coupled with the insertion of selected body needles, is the standard form of treatment. According to Jamie Jaegel, the clinic office manager, "Free acupuncture; it's rare to find anything with this much value for no cost. It's a real blessing to witness people in need receiving care and attention from warm, caring interns and supervisors. Tuesday mornings are always a time of gratitude and appreciation."
Since 2012, Middle Way has also voluntarily participated in the twice-yearly Burlington American Legion's Veteran's Stand-Down, where interns provide supervised auricular therapy to veterans throughout the daylong event. This opportunity initially arose because one of the graduates, who in addition to practicing acupuncture and currently teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, acted as a liaison between the veterans and the Institute while still a student. Outreach participation such as the Stand-Down has increased awareness of our service to the general community, as has our location on the third floor of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, a thriving anchor of the downtown business district in Mount Vernon, Washington.
Middle Way's Veterans and Community Clinic has provided immeasurable benefit to the community at large. The open invitation to free treatment supported by positive results and a welcoming environment has led to a high level of patient confidence and comfort. It has also helped to establish the school's place in the community. Over the past ten years, we have found that people visit our free clinic for a variety of reasons. Many visit after having researched acupuncture, but having never tried it to address an illness, whereas some visit as a matter of last resort, having exhausted all other treatment modalities without success. For many in our community, and particularly the elder population, access to health care is expensive and sometimes very challenging to manage. Some are discouraged by or are unable to afford their co-pays, while some are discouraged by the lack of coverage afforded by their required insurance plans. After visiting the free clinic, and encouraged by the results, many people also optimize their healing by scheduling individual appointments in our Student Clinic for more in-depth private treatment, which results in patients receiving very affordable twice-weekly treatments.
J. C., a longtime patient who initially came seeking care for an ankle injury said, "I came in 'tongue in cheek' after a fall from my motor home. I was pleasantly surprised at how much it helped with the pain. I would go to Middle Way's Community Clinic before seeing a doctor. I sure don't feel this good when I leave the doctor's office." G.E., another patient said, "Amazing clinic. It has helped me as well all the friends I've brought in. The interns are very supportive of the community. They have good hearts. I recommend it to all."
The most important details and strongest attachments for me regarding my experience in the free clinic revolve around the patients. The community they formed while in clinic brings me hope. It encourages me. As the group grew over the course of the year, I could feel my confidence as an intern increase. This did not come from repetition alone — it came primarily through patient, colleague, and supervisor feedback and interaction, as well as visible improvements in patient conditions.
Because of the Free Veterans and Community Clinic, the acupuncture group or open-community settings in the local area are of increasing interest to me and some of my colleagues. "For me, the efficacy of MAI's Free Veterans and Community Clinic proved so useful that I'm considering using the open community model in my own practice," said Sheila Harris, recent Middle Way graduate.
I take real pleasure in knowing that I will soon be the practitioner of a healing art form that highly values the person as well as the "patient." Given all my intern experiences in the different clinics, I definitely plan on incorporating some form of a community clinic to address the needs of all those in my future practice.
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