A conversation earlier this year with Megan Yarberry, MAcOM 1998, LAc, underscored the need for acupuncture in underserved regions of the world and how a number of OCOM graduates are stepping up to provide care and expertise where it is needed most. Yarberry earned a BA in International Affairs and French at University of Puget Sound, and her master’s degree from OCOM. She is currently Academic Dean of the Traditional Chinese Medical College of Hawaii, and maintains a private practice in Hilo, Hawaii. She enjoys gardening, reading and, of course, travel.
What experiences influenced you and led you to a career in acupuncture?
I spent much of my childhood in the Pacific islands and in Asia, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in West Africa, which gave me an appreciation for diverse philosophies and approaches to life. Honestly, I stumbled into acupuncture on my search for ways to be helpful in the world. The foundations of the medicine resonate strongly with my background, and I have been able to weave my experiences and abilities into how I apply the medicine in my local and global communities. I was three months pregnant when I graduated from OCOM. At seven months, I moved back to Hawaii to be near my family, which happens to include a naturopathic doctor specializing in OB/GYN. She had recently moved from the island of Tinian in Micronesia, and was establishing a busy practice including home birthing services in Hawaii. The night I returned, she invited me on a birth that had not been progressing optimally, so I did some acupuncture and the baby came a few hours later! That was the beginning of my participation in home births, in every type of home from million dollar spreads by the seaside to homesteader tents in the rain forest with Hawaiian kahunas chanting unseen in the jungle around us. It was a really magical experience to be on the doorsill of the infinite, which is how birth and death both feel to me.
After about eight years of this, though, I realized I couldn’t sustain all my activities, which at that time included a private practice, administration for my college, birthing, and the international work, so I stopped doing births — except for when friends ask. I eventually began to focus on taking acupuncture abroad. Having grown up primarily overseas and in places where people were visibly suffering from poverty and disease, I always thought acupuncture was extremely well-suited to resource-poor environments. With this conviction, I joined up with various organizations, such as The Real Medicine Foundation, trying to figure out the optimal framing for getting acupuncture into the communities that can use it. I’ve been involved with diverse projects, from heroin detox in Kenya to refugee work in Uganda, and was most recently in Haiti in response to the earthquake there. Haiti was challenging on many levels, but we were able to provide treatment and training for 24 people. I learn an incredible amount with each of these experiences, and the challenge is to maximize the usefulness of the work (so that people have regular, ongoing access to effective acupuncture), as well as minimize the costs (since I have to generate the finances myself to do these projects). I’ve also learned to adapt to the specific cultural, linguistic and religious norms of each locale. I find it intensely satisfying, and as a single mother, it has interestingly been a way for me to “take my kid to work,” as my 11-year-old son has been making these trips with me since he was six.
What do you enjoy most about treating patients?
Being helpful and assisting people in optimizing their health and life experience.
What does it take to be a successful acupuncturist?
Dedication and intention. Empathy and creativity.