Being brought up in a Western society, I was taught that health care was about finding a cure to a problem. If I had a headache, I took an aspirin to rid the pain. It wasn’t until I actually experienced a period of recurrent colds, that I also realized the importance of preventing disease. I began to seek out Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); treating the root cause of illness, not only symptoms, made sense to me. That is not to say finding an effective treatment method to disease is not also important, but if we can find ways to enhance wellbeing, then we have the best of both worlds.
In the mid 90’s, after graduating college, I was working in San Francisco, as a Graphic Designer. During the height of the Dot-Com industry, I was doing well, learning about print and web design, but my heart was not in it. I found myself constantly researching TCM. The philosophy and practice were intriguing and I wanted to learn more. After only a few treatments with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, I began to see results. My immune system was stronger, I slept better, and received benefits in other areas that I wasn’t even directly addressing, like digestion and pre-menstrual symptoms. This is because TCM views the body as an integrated whole; organ systems work together to keep the body functioning well.
Being able to personally validate the effectiveness of acupuncture and herbs made me want to introduce others to the true genius of this medicine. To become a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you must complete a four-year Master’s program. I was already out of college for 6 years, working in ‘the real world’, and therefore, reluctant to make such a commitment. However, when the “Dot-Com boom” went bust, I decided to take the plunge and study this newfound passion.
The curriculum was intense; 3,131 hours to complete! From the very beginning of the four-year program, we received hands-on clinical training. The school I attended, American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, has a community-oriented teaching clinic. In the fourth year, we started treating patients under the direct supervision of clinical faculty. I also had the opportunity to do clinical rotations at California Pacific Medical Center stroke recovery unit, as well as intern with a renowned infertility doctor, Dr. Lifang Liang. Both experiences helped deepen my compassion for others. These were real people with real struggles, and I got to interact with them and treat them.
Although there were a lot of sacrifices along the way, and I’m still paying back students loans (and will be for a long time!), I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect career. My practice continues to grow after 10 years and I am honored that others trust me with their wellbeing. My dad (may he rest in peace) always said, ‘Medicine is not a fad, there will always be a need’. My goal is to integrate the best of both worlds: Eastern and Western medicine. Both treatments have their merits and complement one another resulting in safer and effective care.
Andrea Cohen, M.S., L.Ac.