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Practicing Medicine with Compassion and Gratitude

Milwaukee-based acupuncturist, herbalist, and yoga instructor, Susan Johnston believes compassion is the way to bring genuine healing to patients.

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Susan Johnston, L.Ac, RYT, feels that expressing gratitude and lending an ear can change the way patients and practitioners connect with one another. When healthcare workers begin to bring positive energy to those around them, it can provide a new understanding within the world of medicine.

Thank you so much for your time! I know you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what early experiences brought you to choosing a career in the medical profession?

I have always been fascinated by human beings. Even as a young child I was very curious about how people worked both physically and mentally. As I grew older, this interest also grew, and led me to study psychology, and then biology, as I sought answers to the how and why of human behavior and health.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career as a doctor?

During acupuncture school, I had the opportunity to work with disabled Veterans. On one occasion, I was treating a man who was experiencing phantom leg pain; pain in a limb which is no longer there. I was advised by a teacher to place acupuncture needles in the table at the locations where the man was experiencing pain. Almost instantly, his pain went away. It was then that I learned the power of Chinese medicine and the reality of our energy bodies.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out on your career? What lesson did you learn from that?

Early on as an acupuncturist, I treated a man whose skin was turning orange. He had been to Western doctors who were unable to find any underlying physical reason as to why it was happening. I was perplexed but determined to fix his problem. For weeks, I scoured my textbooks looking for anything that mentioned skin turning orange.  Eventually the man came in and started talking to me about his diet. I learned he was eating an extraordinary amount of carrots each day. This, of course, was the source of his problem. My mistake was not first doing a thorough intake. What I learned was that listening is the most important skill a practitioner can possess. Additionally, I learned that patients will constantly surprise you!

To #DareToCare means to survive and thrive in today’s medical world. How do you take care of yourself? What’s the routine you must do to thrive every day?

I take care of myself with regular exercise, meditation, acupuncture, getting outdoors, laughing often, and giving myself breaks when needed. In order to thrive each day, I take 15 minutes in the morning to relax with my cup of coffee, just enjoying the view out my window, checking in with myself, and allowing myself to become present in the moment. In the evening before bed, I take a moment to sit quietly and listen to the sound of my singing bowl, letting the stressors of the day wash away.

I write a series of letters to my God-daughter in my latest book. In that same vein, what are 5 things you would tell your younger self? 

You are unique, and that is a great thing. Your idea of success may not match that of the rest of the world. Meet each person as an individual; leave all preconceived notions at the door. Enjoy this moment. Life is all about practice, not perfection.

How can medical professionals reclaim heart-based healing amid pandemic, political, and other pressures?

Practicing from a place of compassion is paramount in re-claiming Heart-based healing during the current pandemic and political unrest. If practitioners can practice medicine with an open, compassion filled heart, real healing will always be able to be achieved, no matter what the state of the world around us.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your work as a healthcare professional? Can you explain?

In high school, I was lucky enough to see Oliver Sacks give a talk on neurology and the soul. This led me to read his books and learn more about his life and work. His approach to medicine inspired me to not only gain as much knowledge as I could about medicine, but also, to always stay open and creative in my work. I learned from his example to look at each person as an individual complete with his or her own unique body, mind and spirit.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence in the healthcare community. If you could inspire other doctors and nurses to bring change to affect the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Said another way, what difference do you see needs to be made for our collective future?

Healthcare is a journey for both practitioner and patient. Sometimes it will be filled with challenges and other times it will fill you with unbelievable gratitude. I believe as healthcare practitioners, we need to remind each other what an enormous gift it is when patients give us their deep trust. We have to remember to reciprocate with equally deep compassion and understanding. Only then, will healthcare become humanized again which is better for patients and those who serve them.

How can people connect with you?

I can be found at www.milwaukeecommunityacupuncture.org

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