OCOM spoke with Victor Kumar, MAcOM 2003, LAc, as he prepared to begin a PhD program in Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Tell us about your background.
Well, I grew up in Bedford Hills, New York, which is about an hour north of Manhattan. I attended Reed College in Portland as an undergraduate, where I received a degree in Physics. I graduated from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in 2003 and I currently maintain a part-time practice at the Teal Center for Therapeutic Bodywork in Arlington, Virginia, incorporating mainly acupuncture and tuina.
What steered you from physics to Chinese medicine?
The Chinese language and culture classes I took at Reed College introduced me to thinking about what you might call Chinese “systems of knowledge,” including medicine. Just as I was seriously considering studying acupuncture, I began studying Xing Yi and Ba Gua with Matt Hillman (OCOM 2001). The class was a fantastic and intense learning experience and, coincidentally, full of OCOM students.
What do you enjoy most about treating patients?
VK: I really enjoy watching people improve after the treatments. There is nothing more satisfying than resolving a health problem completely. I wish that could happen with every patient. Beyond that, I feel privileged by the trust that my patients extend to me each time they let me work with them. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are very intimate practices. Even taking the pulse brings you very close to a person.
What do you think it takes to be a successful acupuncturist or researcher?
For me, I would say drive, empathy (tempered with confidence), patience and compassion are essential qualities. One of the nice things about acupuncture is that we get to write our own script about what it means to be successful.
Please tell us about the Anthropology program you’re starting.
This fall, I am starting a PhD program in sociocultural anthropology at Johns Hopkins. Of course, my interest is in alternative and integrative medicine and asking questions about how systems like Chinese medicine are being interpreted by practitioners and how they’re being integrated into existing medical practices. Chinese medicine is far from a monolithic block. Each era, each culture — probably every practitioner — produces their own version of the medicine. This reproduction of Chinese medical knowledge takes many forms. I want to look at different ways in which this process occurs and the role that science has to play in all of this. People like to think that medicine is a universal, outside the influence of economic, social, political and cultural realities, but these factors are inseparable from the practice of healing. Acupuncturists are generally aware of this since Chinese medicine is quite consciously rooted in a historical world that for the most part no longer exists. Our practice begins with overt translation and replication. If anyone is interested in the anthropology of Chinese Medicine, I’d recommend these books: Knowing Practice, Judith Farquhar, The Expressiveness of the Body, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Medicine in China: a History of Ideas, Paul Unschuld, Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China, Volker Scheid.
So, where do you see Traditional Chinese Medicine 10 years from now?
That really is the whole question that I want to investigate. What I care most about is not necessarily predicting what is going to happen with the medicine, but to provide options or avenues along which the medicine can develop. Many systems have been “integrated” into Western medical practices, such as physical therapy, psychology or chiropractic. Acupuncture is evolving and integration in one form or another is inevitable, but the form which integration takes is largely up to us. Currently, the presence of Chinese medicine in the American medical landscape is growing and I expect it to continue to do so.
Okay, tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
I seriously considered going to college for music. I’ve started writing music again. The software is so advanced and easy to use these days that I can’t resist messing around with it.