An Interview with Christine Hasinger, Doctor of Oriental Medicine

An Interview with Christine Hasinger, Doctor of Oriental Medicine

Straight out of high school, Christine Hasinger followed her parents' advice and entered nursing school. She initially earned a three-year diploma, became a registered nurse, and later returned to school to receive a bachelor's degree.

Her nursing experience included hospital care such as orthopedics, medical/surgery and transplants; home healthcare; and rehabilitation. Along the way, she slowly became aware of her dissatisfaction of the ability of Western Medicine to truly put people on the path to wellness.

Then, when taking classes for oncology nursing certification, she was shocked to find out the side-effects of chemotherapy included recurrence of cancer in 10 years. "I packed up my stuff and left the class, transferred to hospice that week, and started looking for another area of healthcare to work in," she remembers.

She entered a four-year Oriental medical degree program, and graduated in 2002. Dr. Hasinger is board certified and is a member of state and national professional groups, including the Florida State Oriental Medical Association (FSOMA), the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCOM) and the American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM).

Dr. Hasinger launched her own practice in Florida four years ago, and says her only regret is not shifting healthcare fields earlier. "This is the oldest form of medicine, it's tried and true."

You & Your Career

Tell us about your career shift from registered nurse to Doctor of Oriental Medicine (acupuncturist). What factors in your nursing career drove you to return to school to pursue healthcare opportunities outside of traditional Western medicine?

I had been working in home health care, and there were changes in the payment structure, mileage compensation and reimbursement for pagers; essentially, over a four-year-period, my pay was cut in half.

Along with that, I had started to take classes to get certified as an oncology nurse. The second semester detailed the side-effects, and we were told the main side-effect is recurrence of cancer in 10 years. My mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with second cancer in 10 years. I packed up my stuff and left the class, and started looking into other things to do, including becoming a chiropractor or a nurse practitioner. I knew I didn't want to become an MD and perpetuate the same issues. So I looked into the naturopathic field. At that time, they were only licensed in four states.

How did you build on your career in nursing to allow you to advance to where you are today?

I've always worked in healthcare. I like working with people. Having the background gives me a better perspective on things; I talk to too many people who want to throw out the good stuff with the bad; there are some aspects of Western medicine that are second-to-none.

Could you explain some of the basics of the Oriental medicine patient treatment?

On TV, they always show the needles in the face. Basically, it's placing needles where the patient needs them. The needles are inserted where the meridians, or the channels, come to the surface. The goal is to move chi or energy, blood or to rectify deficiencies someone has. You know what to treat by taking someone's patient intake, it's a lengthy questionnaire. If someone comes in with pain, we have to make sure we are treating appropriately.

What types of patients seek Oriental medicine care?

About 44% come for pain or muscle spasms. A lot of them have tried everything else before they walk into the door, and I usually get results within weeks. Sometimes I need to see a patient once or twice before there is any improvement, for those who are young or have a recent problem; sometimes they get pain relief after one treatment. It depends on what the problem actually is, some things don't take a long time to see results, sometimes it takes longer, especially if it's been a long-standing health problem and I'm a last resort. Sometimes we have to get patients to make lifestyle changes along with the treatment.

What unique challenges come from working with your patients in an independent Oriental medicine care setting?

With Oriental medicine, the challenge is that most people come in expecting you to cure them immediately. You have to turn around and teach them that all healing comes from within; a lot of my practice is based on teaching on how acupuncture can help patients, advising them on areas including diet and stress reduction.

Describe a typical day of work for you. What are your key responsibilities? On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?

I'm a sole practitioner and I have no employees, so I do everything. I handle the phones, data entry, make sure that charting is done, accounting. Besides my skills as a naturopathic practitioner, I had to learn accounting and marketing, which didn't come naturally. In a typical day, I see clients in the morning, and between noon and 1:30, I do marketing and networking including activities for a number of local networking organizations. Then more patients from 2 to 6 p.m.

What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?

My needles! They are very tiny. For a traditional shot, the needle is 16 or 18 gauge with a hole. Mine don't have holes, and they range from 36-38-40 gauge; the handle that I hold is much bigger than the needle. They are still needles, it may hurt a bit going in, but it doesn't usually hurt when the needles are in place.

What do you enjoy most about your new role in patient care?

I like the one-on-one contact, and I think it is such a high when you really help people get well.

What are some common myths about the Oriental medicine profession?

There are a couple of myths. Most people think it's like magic, and it's not. Another myth is that Oriental medicine is new age; its not new age, it's been around for longer than 5,000 years. What we do is based on observation and practice.

You are a member of several professional groups. How do such groups support your career goals?

I get my malpractice insurance through the groups, they also provide liability for my premises, and they represent us to the government in lobbying for needed changes, which is very important to us right now. They also put together conferences where we can earn the required continuing education units.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

My goals are to continue to grow my business, and to eventually get my PhD.

What is your biggest inspiration in your practice of Oriental medicine?

My inspiration is that this is the oldest form of medicine, it's tried and true. It's not just putting in a needle. A lot of our education is on herbs, at least half. As a patient gets more acupuncture, as they start feeling better, the herbs take over from the acupuncture treatment. I had a patient with arthritis who did a lot of acupuncture combined with herbs, eight months later, she went for a check up with her regular doctor, and her x-rays showed that her arthritis had started to reverse.

Best patient care tip for a novice?

I truly believe the healing starts at home. You can make changes that impact your health one at a time, which is what I try to teach my clients. One of the best ways to impact your health is changing the diet. It's really hard…we usually start with one thing at a time, change from ‘fake' foods to real foods, like butter vs. margarine, olive oil instead of shortening. Those are some easy things people can shift.

Any interesting patient care anecdotes that you can share?

Acupuncture increases blood flow, which affects the whole body. The guys almost always tell me that acupuncture treatment has improved their sex life.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about Oriental medicine in order to be successful as a naturopathic physician? Do you think that it's important to truly enjoy the field in order to be happy in life?

You could be successful, but it makes life so much easier if you are passionate about what you do, to be successful in helping people get well.

What contributions do you feel Oriental medicine has made in society?

More recently, as people become more aware of it, they are aware that they need to do more things to be healthy. As patients get older, they often change their thinking about their care of themselves. For some of our patients, to be healthy as a long-term goal, and just as often we get people who come as a last ditch effort.

Education Information & Advice

How did you choose an Oriental medicine school?

It took a while to convince my spouse and family to do this with me. There were no Oriental medical schools where we lived so had to move, get new jobs, new schools for the kids, a new house and so on. I did research on the Internet, and looked for schools that were rated. I picked five schools in five cities, and since my husband and family were moving with me, I let my husband pick the city.

Tell us about your education in Oriental medicine.

I earned a Masters of Science degree in Oriental medicines from the International Institute of Chinese Medicine, in Albuquerque, N.M., which has since closed. It was the same as getting a medical degree, very intensive. I went through the four-year program as a full time student and worked 20-40 hours a week as well, plus I had two and half years of internships, which I did some of concurrently with school. I had to see 750 patients over the time period and have a clinical supervisor sign off.

We had a student clinic connected with the school, with lots of supervisors. Students spend several semesters observing before we did our internships, where we followed practitioners. I initially interned at the student clinic, I spent time at a rehabilitation center and at a ‘traditional' hospital in Santa Fe.

What did you like and dislike about your naturopathic education? How did it build on your previous educational experiences in the field of nursing? How did it differ?

All of the Western medicine courses were the same or similar to my nursing classes, so that made it easier for me. The Oriental medicine looks at the organ system as everything the Western system plus other things. Oriental medicine looks at things differently than Western medicine. For instance, the digestive system is considered the spleen/stomach/pancreas, and that's in charge of our muscles, so if you have week muscles, we look at digestive function, which also includes walls of blood vessels.

In retrospect, what do you know now, that you wish you knew before you pursued your healthcare education and career

I went into nursing right out of high school, so I didn't know any better. It was kind of what my parents directed. As far as Oriental medicine, I wish I had done it a long time ago.

How can prospective Oriental medicine students assess their skill and aptitude?

School is hard. Most states do not require a bachelor degree prior to enrolling. One of the things I noticed is that people with bachelor degrees had an easier time of it compared to those with associate degrees, who sometimes really struggled. As far as your skill, ask yourself if you are you willing to study that much. Going to graduate school takes over your life. When I was in school, the family would go on road trips to explore New Mexico; my husband would drive for four hours, and I'd spend the whole time studying.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?

If they want to practice in certain states, like California and New Mexico, the school and the site have to be accredited; each particular site has to be approved for them to go into practice in those states that require more. Also, they should make sure their school prepares them to take the national boards.

Based on what you hear as a healthcare professional, what are some of the most respected and prestigious Oriental medicine schools, departments or programs?

The best schools are the ones that are developing PhDs programs, connecting with the universities, which you'll see in New Mexico, Oregon and California, particularly. Most acupuncturists work for themselves or another acupuncturist, so the school attended doesn't make that much of a difference in landing a job. But if you want to get a job at the government VA, you need to be board certified in Oriental medicine, that's what they call a diplomat.

What types of majors can one pursue at traditional colleges and universities that can lead to a naturopathic career?

I think that having a major in a science degree helps.

How do you feel that the Oriental medicine educational system could be changed to better serve society?

Schools might want to include more information on how to instruct people on what you do. It's taken me forever to learn how to tell people what I do and how I do it.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the field of Oriental medicine?

It's hard study, but nobody dies from it. Like any other field, if you go out on your own, it will take three to five years to make a decent income as you build your practice and patient base.

Industry Trends, Information & Advice

How can the reality of nursing as a career differ from typical expectations? How does the field of Oriental medicine differ?

I remember when I started in nursing, I was floored that I had to work different shifts and all the holidays. I had no idea, of course then I was really young. They should really let students know about the amount of available time that is spent working.

Most naturopaths don't make much money, because they don't know how to market themselves. People think that they are going to get out there and open a practice, and people will flock to them.

What are some of the trends that you see in naturopathic care which could help students plan for the future?

One trend is that eventually the government will approve acupuncture and naturopathic care as something covered under Medicare, which will expand insured treatment and which also means that we'll probably be much more regulated. Some plans, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, have healthy options coverage, which offers discounts; some of insurance policies cover treatment. If the government approves us, we'll be considered physicians, and all healthcare plans will have to cover our treatments, with all of the ins-and-outs of co-pays, out-pocket, etc. That will increase our paperwork, and is likely to increase what we charge for a visit, because we'll have to pay people to do all of that paperwork.

What topics are emerging as hot issues in the overall healthcare field that will impact the naturopathic profession?

Most people think of it acupuncture for pain relief. The hot thing is for infertility, which is something I work on. A recent study shows acupuncture increases chances of in vitro fertilization success, from a 26% to 45% success rate. People pay big bucks -- $5,000 to $25,000 -- for in vitro. Both partners are getting treated; women as well as the guys will come in. Men with low sperm counts need to get into borderline normal for the best results with in vitro, and with a couple of treatments plus herbals, will take it into the normal range.

What are considered the hottest naturopathic specialties developing over the next decade?

You don't really need to specialize in this field; we look at it differently than Western medicine. If you say you can treat everything, people think you are OK, though many do focus on areas such as pain relief, asthma, a couples' fertility, GI problems.

Has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?

It does affect it. You are listed on the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCOM) site. People can locate you on the Internet with the locating acupuncturist lists.

How available are internships or other hands-on learning experiences?

It depends on the school, some will provide you with opportunities for you internships, other schools will have you find on your own, which I think is much harder. At school, we had supervisors with 20 to 40 years experience, so that was a benefit.

How is the job market now in the naturopathic field? How do you think it will develop over the next five years?

To actually find a job with someone else is few and far between. Some opportunities include Veterans Administration hospitals; sometimes a medical group wants to include an acupuncturist.

What are the best ways to land a job in the field of naturopathic care?

Most people go into solo practice, but many people go into work as an associate with an established acupuncturist who has been in practice for 10-20 years, it's a good way to build a practice. Someone I know organized an asthma walk for the respiratory society for acupuncturists. As a result of her work there, she landed a job with a practice with a 20- year physician in the field. Also, get involved with your organizations, state-run or national.

What is the average salary/compensation package for your field? What can recent naturopathic school graduates expect as a salary range starting out? Once they get to the top of the profession?

This is awful, the average acupuncturist sees four clients a week, it's really sad, they don't teach you how to market yourself. Some don't make it. After three years, I average 20 to 24 patients a week. The range is broad. I know some people who see hundreds of clients a week, who make a quarter million a year.

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