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Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald’s Advice for Graduates: Be the Medicine

Effectively taking care of others requires passion and curiosity.

Courtesy of SnvvSnvvSnvv / Shutterstock
Courtesy of SnvvSnvvSnvv / Shutterstock

I recently had the honor of returning to my alma mater Emperor’s College of Traditional Oriental Medicine to deliver a speech to the graduates. Below is a transcript of the speech.

Good afternoon, Dr. Kim, members of the faculty, administration and staff of Emperor’s College; family, friends, and especially the graduating class of 2019!

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and honor you the DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine)  and MTOM (Master’s of Traditional Oriental Medicine) graduates. You are here today because of your dedication, hard work, steadfastness, and commitment to being a beneficial presence on the planet.

As a proud alumna, Emperor’s College has continuously remained near and dear to my heart since I first entered its doors in 1989, and on this sacred day I have the honor of celebrating you — the graduates — who have responded to the call to allow yourselves to be vessels to radiate this phenomenal medicine — Traditional Chinese Medicine. Although TCM has been in continuous use for thousands of years, we know the best is yet to come, as you — Emperor’s College graduating class of 2019 — will carry this medicine forth in ways that haven’t been seen before!

Today we officially welcome you, the master’s graduates, into a community of healthcare providers offering a remarkable medicine that, on one hand, comes to us with a phenomenal history, and yet, as we observe the more recent explosion of popularity, interest, and successful application all over the world, Traditional Chinese Medicine is “really just getting started” — it’s a new era — as its need has skyrocketed in these interesting times we are living in.

And we enthusiastically salute you the doctoral graduates who’ve made the wise decision to complete the best DAOM program ever — and dive deeper into this remarkable medicine which will allow you to expand the breadth and depth of how you beautifully serve your patients as well as the community. I look forward to calling you doctor, as I know first hand the unwavering dedication that has brought you to this day.

I often think of those who have contributed to the development of the medicine over the thousands of years with sincere gratitude and reverence:

When I am in my office and a new patient remarks with relief, “Wow, that didn’t hurt at all; who would think being stuck with twenty needles all over my body could be such a relaxing and blissful  experience” — I am reminded of how fortunate we are to have hair-thin needles readily available as opposed to the sharpened stones and bone materials believed to be used for acupuncture that have been found as far back 6000 BC. As my patients are lying on a comfortable table with soft music playing and a heat lamp warming their feet, I often think about those patients who must have experienced significant discomfort as the medicine developed.

When I order my herbs from various high-quality suppliers, I don’t take for granted that I have easy access to many amazing formulas and bring to mind those who have gone before me: some foraged, hoping to find herbs for their patients; they dealt with weather and situations related to growing and procuring the herbs that we can only read about. One click of the button and the perfectly designed formula is on its way to our office…often by the next day.

We will forever be grateful to our very own Dr. Bong Dal Kim, the founder of Emperor’s College, visionary and pioneer who worked to legalize the profession in California in the 1970s and help create the first professional standards in Oriental Medicine.  

Yes, I often take pause with gratitude of those who came before us to pave the way for us to practice this profound medicine in  these fascinating times. It is also my absolute joy to be surrounded with those about to carry the medicine to the next level. Chinese medicine students never cease to amaze me with their fresh perspectives in the practice and application of the medicine….

Although I completed the Master’s program in 1992, I remember sitting in those chairs like it was yesterday. Years later, I returned to Emperor’s to complete my doctorate (which I hope all of you Master students are applying for) mostly because I felt my inner voice, that voice inside that has always led me in the right direction telling me it was the right decision. I enthusiastically enrolled knowing I would learn a lot, however in addition to deepening my knowledge, practice, and love for the medicine, I was truly invigorated as, even as a seasoned clinician, I found I was so inspired from the perspective and insights of recent graduates of the Master’s program who came right into the DAOM program. It deepened my love for the fact that we are not simply individual acupuncturists with our private practices, we are part of a greater community. We continue learn so much from each other.

Graduates, I know that you all have what it takes to have a successful practice with your excellent education at Emperor’s and the wonderful spirit of the Emperor’s community infused in your experience.

It truly makes my heart sing for acupuncturists to know the joy of a truly successful practice.

I remember falling in love with Chinese medicine when I first came to Emperor’s and smelled the herbs and the moxibustion and learned about the basic principles. Something felt so right, deeply right. And I felt it in my heart. Chinese medicine has definitely been kind of a soulmate to me and I can gratefully say I am in love with it even more after twenty five years of practice. At the Santa Monica Wellness Center, we have had the honor of have many students from Emperor’s serve on our administrative staff over the years, and it has been a joy to watch them blossom and share their love for the medicine.

As I was contemplating the best way to share words of encouragement, insights, and inspiration for what makes a practice successful both inside and out, drawing on my own experience as well as those of my colleagues, three significant points came to mind:

Be the medicine, share the medicine, and stay passionately curious!

1. Be The Medicine

We often hear how hindsight is 20/20. I know that’s often the case for me; sometimes if I am stuck in a dilemma, I notice if I focus on the dilemma, that doesn’t really get my very far. I often look back at all of the undercover angels that have blessed my life in ways that I often appreciate down the road on the journey of life.

An example I remember very clearly to this day: It was my first day of treating patients at Emperor’s clinic. I was 1990 and I was nervous, mostly at the idea of inserting needles in a total stranger. A senior intern said to me, “Your intention is the most important thing.” Something in my soul shifted and I received that wisdom and had a great first day in the clinic. To this day, I come back to that awareness and I often check in to make sure my intention is coming from a place of love, sincerity, and integrity. Having a clear and focused intention has guided me to deliver beneficial treatments to tens of thousands of patients over these past few decades.

I have come to observe that a truly successful acupuncture practice is the outer manifestation of a practitioner whose inner practice cultivates the three treasures of qi, jing, shen — radiating qualities such as joy, love, presence and enthusiasm. Your treasure is continuously cultivated by your steadfast unconditional love for the medicine, yourself, and your patients.

There is a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi we may have heard many times, and I believe it has a specific application for our graduates today: Be the change you wish to see in the world; in other words, cultivate the qualities within you wish to experience — don’t wait for outer circumstances to change. Gandhi didn’t wait for peace in the outer world before he realized peace within; he cultivated & radiated peace as his very presence which was the catalyst for profound transformation and his way of being has inspired us to this day.

If we reflect on  the mission of Emperor’s College which is to cultivate brilliant healers, teachers, and leaders in Oriental medicine who create the future of health care by word, deed, and through partnerships, we are reminded of the importance of cultivation. That concept is often overlooked in modern society. We are often trying to get rid of things, kill this bacteria, remove a wart, etc.

Chinese medicine invites us to consider the abundance of the universe and unlimited availability of qi in every treatment plan. When a patient tells me they are having difficulty getting rid of anger, I will ask them what are they doing to cultivate kindness or forgiveness. When they share that they are constantly worrying, I teach them about spleen qi and the importance of relearning to trust themselves.

As we often compare the health of the body to a garden, using metaphors such as planting seeds, feeding and watering the soil, clearing the weeds, and being patient that the seeds will produce an abundant harvest, and of course making sure that the five elements are in balance. Graduates, as you are navigating the adventures of your Chinese medicine practice, I invite you to consider your practice as your garden. As no two gardens look alike, each practice will have a unique signature.

Should you ever worry about your patients or your practice too much, I invite you to tonify your spleen, guide your thoughts to thought of truth — remember there are 7 billion people on the planet, many of whom need your services — recalibrate with a reality check, engage in meditation and qigong, cultivate Trust.

Rather than wondering “How can I get patients,” I invite you to ask, “How can I be of service,” – the answer will show up as patients who are the perfect match for you.

Should you ever feel frustrated about your patients progress or any aspects of your practice, I invite you to check in with your liver qi to make sure it is flowing smoothly, so you can be a clear channel of healing; perhaps through hugging a tree, wearing green, releasing old resentments, …cultivating the virtue of Kindness and allow more flow in your life.

Should you ever catch yourself feeling fearful about your future I invite your to tap on kidneys, make sure you are breathing properly and nourishing the dan tien, perhaps the healing sound of “CHUI” to dissolve fear and allow Wisdom to be realized — and to remember that you have infinite intelligence within you with more wisdom than anything you could ever google.

Should you ever feel anxious or overly excited and feel that your energy is scattered, I invite you to put your hand on your heart, tune inward, and allow yourself to find order amidst the seeming chaos,  letting love lead the way.

Should you ever feel sad or depressed, I invite you to check in with your breath, to honor your feelings and your humanity…and get the support you need so the sadness can be transformed not suppressed and you can step into your next level of greatness with integrity.

Embodying Chinese medicine truly invites us to cultivate authentic humility, the profound opportunity to allow ourselves to be a clear channel for this sacred medicine to come through us to the people we are called to serve.

Graduates, please remember that each one of you has unique gifts, each one of you is infinitely creative; so while it is wonderful to draw inspiration and support from each other via social media, I encourage you to refrain from the “compare and despair” black hole; please remember that nobody else can do you –the way you can do you. Please do you, boldly, proudly, and unapologetically!

2. Share the Medicine

Sayings such as “You only get to keep what you give away”  & “The love we give is the only love we keep” remind us that we are part of a larger community; it is natural to share – not hoard – your treasure — sharing the medicine keeps the qi flowing and keeps the adventure interesting!

There are so many ways to share this remarkable medicine — you may decide to write a book, a blog post, teach a course at Emperor’s, volunteer with veterans, hold a Chinese nutrition class or a qigong class for your patients or the local community, get involved politically with the state and/or national organizations, get creative with social media, cultivate relationships with your Western medicine colleagues, write healing music for your patients…there are infinite possibilities….

When I think of sharing the medicine, I am reminded of the ancient times when I was in the master’s program  – There was no internet -A couple of students had pagers..

We wrote every. Thing. Down. Students didn’t have laptops. There may have been a few computers in the admin offices. I know there were some typewriters. And calculators.

And still we spread the medicine. Far and wide.

As many of you know, acupuncture was relatively unknown in the United States until 1971 until when James Reston, a journalist with the New York Times who was involved with President Nixon’s trip to China, experienced the benefits of acupuncture, and wrote an article that opened the doors for acupuncture awareness in this country.

In more recent times Chinese Medicine is making itself known to new audiences in fascinating and innovative ways:

Ricky Williams, our next speaker, has been spreading the word about acupuncture and Chinese medicine in amazing ways, one example being when he appeared earlier this year on CBS’ Celebrity Big Brother.

And most recently Dr. Kara MoraMarco’s love cupping and acupuncture was featured in Katy Perry’s new music video – the video has only been out a week and it’s up to 37 millions views last I checked!

Even though I know I just highlighted some high profile ways of sharing the medicine, however you feel called to share as long as it is authentic to you is what is most important. I have had very enlightening conversations about Chinese medicine at the grocery store!

Sharing the medicine goes beyond sharing information…there is a saying that we are drowning in information and starving for wisdom – As you practice the medicine and embody the medicine – your presence will be sharing the wisdom that is Traditional Chinese Medicine.

3 Stay Passionately Curious

One of my favorite quotes is a saying by Albert Einstein:

“I have no special talents — I am only passionately curious”

While I certainly applaud the amazing advances in Western medicine, I sometimes get overwhelmed knowing there are 68,000 ICD-10 codes. For the non-medical people in the audience that means there are 68,000 possible diagnoses or descriptions of conditions! While sometimes patients can get fixated on the holy grail of a diagnosis, it gives me great peace to remember the principles of Chinese medicine let us remember that there are infinite applications to awaken the wisdom and intelligence of the body for self healing…. far more than 68,000!

We have the honor and privilege of reminding our patients of this truth every day. A great part of my day at the clinic is supporting patients in remembering the power within and guiding them to practical ways to realize that truth. Sometimes they are offered so many pills, potions, and procedures they sometimes forgotten the unlimited self healing power of the body, mind, and spirit.

As we stay passionately curious and discover innovative ways to be the medicine and share the medicine we are agents of transformation to our patients as well as to the global community.

As much as I appreciate the integrative nature of my practice, often using lab testing and collaborating with Western medical doctors, it is the fundamentals of TCM that I always find the most helpful as they unlock the code for the body’s capacity to heal in practical, applicable, and often poetic ways.

I still find that the four pillars of assessment: Looking, listening, touching, and asking are the tools which never fail to guide me to solve even the most difficult cases. As we remain passionately curious continuously on how to deepen our aptitude in these areas, we will be guided to the most amazing revelations.

There are countless examples of how passionate curiosity and incorporating the assessment tools of Chinese medicine have assisted me in solving some of the most challenging cases.

I will share a recent example; a patient came into the Santa Monica Wellness Center for help with a chronic digestive concern. He had been to four specialists and brought in a pile of lab test results.  He said to me — his words not mine — “I find it strange that I don’t feel like any of the doctors really listened to me and none of them even touched me. ” He shared his frustration that he felt rushed at those appointments, and how it seemed like more time was spent entering his responses into the computer than looking into his eyes. As we progressed through his treatment plan, it turned out that what helped the most to get to the root of the issue was deep listening, palpation, and passionate curiosity which led to the asking of more questions. As he followed through with the treatment plan, his digestive issues resolved.

Graduates, I invite you to cultivate a passionate curiosity, leaning on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine which will always lead you in magnificent ways to be of service to your patients in ways you never imagined.

In closing,

My prayer for you:

May you know the joy of service to your patients and experience abundance.

May you radiate peace and navigate the ever changing waters of your practice.

May you cultivate wisdom that comes with experience yet maintain the enthusiasm of beginning again in each moment.

May you allow the Eternal Tao and the fundamental principles of TCM  to inform your consciousness to practice from a place of oneness; and as you embody the medicine, share the medicine and stay passionately curious, may you and your patients realize wholeness, vitality and the joy of being.

May you be an illuminating presence to all who seek your care.

Congratulations Emperor’s College Class of 2019. You are the ones we’ve been waiting for — to shine your lights brightly as only you can!

Originally published on The Musings of Patricia Fitzgerald.

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