Brief History of Acupuncture in New Mexico by Dr. John Scott, DOM

by | Sep 15, 2021 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

Shared at the FUN August 28, 2021 40th Celebration Fun-Raiser & Community Outreach

Please forgive me in advance. This history is based on my experience and recollections. I have decided not to name the individuals who may be well known or not known. They may be heroes or villains and sometimes both in the same person. I am focusing on particular milestones and our triumphs and tribulations.

I do want to express my most sincere gratitude to all of the DOMs and other people who worked to achieve our legal status and build the best scope of practice for our profession in New Mexico. Their efforts over the last 40 plus years made such a significant positive difference in our worlds. Thank you all for what you have built!

New Mexico has been a haven for indigenous healing traditions. Our cultural traditions being indigenous Americans, Spanish and others medical perspectives have been at home and welcome in our state.  Curanderos Traditional Healers from Mexico make annual trips to the University of New Mexico to share their wisdom. Acupuncture and traditional Asian medicines were readily embraced by New Mexicans.

The Kototama Institute was founded in Santa Fe in February 1978. Sensei Nakazono and his sons taught their Japanese style of acupuncture. Students came from far and wide to study with Sensei Nakazono. It was called Natural Life Therapy.

There was also the Santa Fe College of Natural Medicine. The programs offered there included, iridology, western nutrition, massage, western herbology with Michael Moore, and starting in 1980 acupuncture and Chinese medicine. The Chinese medicine program evolved into the Institute of Traditional Medicine and then Southwest Acupuncture College.

With SWAC closing completely August 31, 2023, there will be no educational institutions in our state offering acupuncture and herbal training in New Mexico. This is truly a sad development for our profession here in New Mexico!

During the 1981 legislative session 20 students from the Kototama Institute contributed $1,000 each. A lobbyist was hired to introduce our first practice act. Governor Bruce King signed the bill into law and legal status was achieved! At that time there were very few states with legal status. Perhaps, only California, Hawaii, Oregon were the only other states where acupuncture was practiced legally. Governor King appointed a very diverse board that developed the beginning of our rules and statute.

You are likely aware that there has never been universal agreement on how acupuncture should be practiced. I have learned that the Huang Ti Nei Jing was compiled to set a particular standard of care and put the Shamanic practices outside of the mainstream.

In our early days of legal status there was seemingly continuous competition with BAOM appointments and the licensure process between the graduates of the Kototama Institute and practitioners from other traditions. Sometimes the conflict would be pretty intense. Before the NCCA exam and before AOM was added to their name both the written and practical exams were places where this conflict was experienced. Our NM BAOM developed and administered their ow exams.

The introduction and the adoption of the NCCA written exam greatly helped to relieve some of the tension. I took the very first NCCA acupuncture exam in San Francisco in 1985.

Our community was fortunate to have a group of committed practitioners who started to work together to create the best practice environment in our country in our state. In the later 1980s people from the different factions came together for the common benefit.

In 1989 we came together for a significant legislative victory. Our practice act was changed to change our legal title from L.Ac to DOM. We were also then allowed to order laboratory testing including imaging. Injection therapy was included in our regular scope of practice. Governor Bruce King sign our bill into law over the objections of the Medical Society and the DCs. Because we were able to mobilize strong public support Governor King stated that the bill was The Will of the People.

There was not universal support for this bill. Some of our practitioners had a Oriental Medicine Doctor degree granted in China or in the US. These practitioners felt that the DOM legal designation cheapened a degree that they had earned. Regardless, time did move on. Our professional association scored legislative victories to allow DOMs to be paid for Work Men’s Compensation cases and insurance for auto accidents.

In 1984 the International Institute of Chinese Medicine was founded in Santa Fe New Mexico. Sadly, it was closed in 2004. For a number of years IICM and SWAC had a campus both in Santa Fe and in Albuquerque. Tragically, in recent years SWAC has operated solely in Santa Fe. Enrollment has declined at SWAC since the 2008 recession.

From the late 1980s our professional association worked cohesively to improve our legal practice environment. Our national acupuncture community had fractured in the early 1990s. In the 1990s in New Mexico our community was pretty stable. Our leadership was able to hold our New Mexico community together while nationally it had split.

And then the 2001 legislative session happened. This was the session that created the RX licensure designation. Injection therapy was taken out of our regular scope and put into the RX category. This legislative change allowed DOMs with specialized training to perform IV, injection therapy, bio-identical hormone therapy and some other special modalities.

The result of the new designation triggered strong feelings and reactions from a sizeable portion of our community. An argument ensued about the true nature of Oriental Medicine. One perspective was that these modalities were unrelated to OM and did not belong under our license. Another perspective was that since the orientation of these DOMs was from OM principles these modalities did indeed belong under our license. The perspectives of the argument hardened, and DOMs retreated to their perspective corners.

In reaction an association known as ATEAM, Association of Traditional East Asian Medicine was formed. Their membership numbers were modest, but they were vocal in bring a more classical perspective to the discussion.

During the 2007 legislative session the RX 1 and RX 2 designations were broken into 4 modules. They were called EP Expanded Practice. Basic Injection therapy, Advanced Injection therapy, IV Therapy and Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy. The motivation was to make these therapies more accessible to DOMs. The entire RX training was very expensive, and DOMs tended to be more keenly interested in only one aspect of the expanded practice.

Differences erupted in the aftermath of the 2008 association meeting. Those of you who were there remember the trauma that many of us experienced. NMSAAM was founded to counter the faction with a very narrow focus. There is perhaps no argument as painful as a family argument.

Since that time a whole generation of DOMs have arrived without the memory of the past conflicts and arguments. We have an opportunity to move forward united in what we do agree upon. Which, I believe is acupuncture, herbal medicines, Tuina and the other aspects of traditional Asian medicine.

Some classically oriented practitioners seemed a bit wary of being too enmeshed in science. They feel that all of the insights are in the classical literature. Being that we are now well into the 21st century we are called upon to be bi-lingual. We have our roots firmly in classical medicine while being about to communicate effectively with patients, public and conventional medical providers in language that they can understand.

DOMs are free to practice in any style and specialty that suits them. Much of the past arguments and conflicts have been quiet. May we work together as NMSAAM to build greater access to our medicine and greater success for our fellow DOMs.

Please note: This article expresses the opinions and research of the author, and does not necessarily reflect all views or policies of NMSAAM members, the NMSAAM BOD, or the ASA.