As a nurse practitioner and staff member at Kaiser Permanente since 1994, and a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese medicine since graduating from OCOM in 2009, Doug Beal, NP, LAc is in a position to not only see changes in the system, but to create them.

You were a Nurse Practitioner at Kaiser before you studied at OCOM. How did the OCOM degree change your job?

As an NP, I’ve worked at Kaiser for 16 years. Getting my master’s degree from OCOM gave me more options and tools for helping people, so I expanded my role. I feel like I’ve been a bit of a trailblazer and an emissary, and I’m doing what I dreamed about. I added acupuncture in the integrated medicine clinic treating chronic pain referrals, and then I moved from there to doing acupuncture in my home department, addiction medicine.

I wrote a proposal to include acupuncture in our residential treatment program, and then I asked if I could do group treatments on the patients in the residential psychiatric unit. So for the past couple years, two days a week, I've been doing group treatments. I didn’t see myself starting a private practice like many graduates will do, I wanted to try to integrate at Kaiser. And it’s happening, it’s slowly happening.

How do the other practitioners perceive you?

I get a lot of positive support in my department. Everyone loves it and I think the patients love it too, I get a lot of positive feedback.

Do you think the number of acupuncturists employed by Kaiser will grow?

I feel optimistic. At Kaiser, I know they allow their employees to grow and educate themselves further and give them opportunities to grow and evolve, like they did for me. They allowed me to go to school at OCOM while I was working, and they even granted me sabbatical to study. I know that employees are allowed to improve themselves and educate themselves more and I’m hoping that as health care reform continues to evolve that there will be more opportunity. That’s my view, I’m hoping there will be more opportunities and I hope I can be a good example for that.

What experiences inspired you to follow a career path in acupuncture and TCM?

Ever since I was young I was always interested in different ways of looking at the body and different healing systems. So, curiosity, and then personal experience. Acupuncture helped me, and so I became even more curious. In my position I'm introduced to people that are new to acupuncture more often than not, and I’m always talking about what is Chinese medicine, I’m constantly explaining that. One of the things I say is how it affected me, how I never got colds, which was because I was getting acupuncture all the time. And when I got sick, colds went away immediately and I started thinking, what is this medicine.? I stimulate patient’s curiosity to other ways of healing, and to be open to all ways of helping yourself.

What is the level of openess from your addiction clinic patients?

It’s voluntary in the program. At first I wanted it to be a requirement like I saw in other programs in recovery, but as it turns out, most people want to be there and opt in. Many days I have the whole group. I have to really work very fast, because it’s just me, I’m a one man show. I find that most patients are fascinated. Fascinated. Providing the treatments is an avenue to talk about all the alternative ways of taking care of themselves and I encourage them. My role is not to convince them that they have to do acupuncture or Chinese medicine, but just to introduce them, and if they resonate with it and like it, then add it! But think about yoga, think about therapeutic massage, that’s how I take care of myself, so think about doing that for you. The more tools you have the more chance you have to be healthy and stay healthy. If you just do one or two things, like take medications, that may help you, but you’ll increase your chances of good health if you use these other things. So I simply advocate that.

How have you used research to further your goals?

When I wrote a proposal to include acupuncture in our residential addiction program, I had to include research. I asked for help from the school’s research department, and got it. When I wrote a proposal to include acupuncture in the residential mental health unit, I asked the research department to help, and they did. It made a difference.

The research department is important for helping move the medicine forward in integration. Very important because Kaiser values evidence-based medicine. Even though not every piece of evidence is 100 percent conclusive, any evidence is important. Any research is important. I don’t think I could have progressed forward without showing benefits. It’s crucial. You can’t just talk about anecdotal evidence, you have to show something.

How did OCOM transform you?

I think it was a bridge in bringing my philosophy about what I think healing and wellness and health care are together with my work life. My professional life became more integrated into my personal philosophy about healing and wellness. It brought everything together and I love practicing this medicine. I find this medicine very nourishing to practice.

What advice would you give to acupuncturists that are looking to improve integration?

Make as many contacts as you can. Find an entry job into health care that fits your qualifications, and follow any lead, be open to any option, and be patient and persistent. Practice what you learned at school and find your own way of using the medicine that works for you.

I think that the future is more integration. I think with health care reform, it’s going through major changes this coming year and I know Kaiser is expecting more patients, as more people get health care insurance, which is great. I think that is going to expand all of health care. I just see expansion from that. People wanting services and more people asking about their options. I see positive things.