Introducing Greg Livingston, PhD (China), LAc – Master’s Faculty

When his father died young, at age 53, Greg Livingston began to contemplate how to avoid a similarly premature death. This first step towards a path in medicine and health care was the question, “How do you take care of yourself?”   Upon finishing his biology degree, Livingston decided he needed a career.  He looked at all kinds of medical traditions, but after growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, with herb shops around every corner and the strange but familiar smells of decoctions from friends’ homes, he felt drawn to Chinese medicine. 

While licensing and a well developed educational structure supported a profession and career in the U.S., he didn’t foresee what a journey he was undertaking when he started at Five Branches University — at the time, he hadn’t even had an acupuncture treatment! 

Quickly realizing that a master’s degree wasn’t enough, he felt he needed to study in China. Shortly after graduating in 1997, he lived in China for two years, following senior practitioners in Hangzhou outpatient clinics and Beijing’s Academy of Chinese Medicine. He then moved to Suzhou, where his specialty as a classical jong fang style herbalist coalesced during a year-long mentorship. 

After five years of practice in San Francisco, he returned to Hangzhou to pursue his PhD and received a license to practice in China. He completed his PhD degree in 2009 and published three articles on Shang Han Lun related topics, particularly on the treatment of cold pathogens in Westerners with classical formulas. 

In 2012, the question of “how to live well” drew Dr. Livingston away from China. The constant effects of urban pollution — bronchitis, fevers, fatigue — led him to seek an open faculty position at OCOM. Based upon its reputation in the professional community and the calibre of the graduates he had met, he relocated his family before even visiting the college. As a full-time faculty member for the last two years, Dr. Livingston notes, “OCOM is obviously not like institutions in China, but it’s also clearly not run by your average Westerner. OCOM people are progressive, alternative and fair-minded. They really care — about the school, the students, the employees, the patients. The faculty cooperates, even honoring varying strengths and weaknesses. In some corporate cultures, you might be afraid of showing weakness, because people will take advantage. At OCOM, they help you improve.”

As someone who has spent twenty years bridging East and West, Dr. Livingston observes, “If you study the China model of health care, there is much you have to change when you move the medicine here. The fundamentals don’t change — the herbs, the acupuncture — it’s all the same. But Western patients differ significantly from Chinese patients when it comes to the clinical encounter. China is so crowded, and largely poor, so health care has to be delivered without a lot of time or privacy. In America, Chinese medicine practitioners don’t need to see as many patients per day and we’re required to give them privacy. It’s a different way of practicing the medicine.” 

In October 2014, Dr. Livingston served as faculty for OCOM’s clinical studies program in Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine (NJUCM). “With students that study in the West versus those studying in China, one of the shortcomings is the amount of clinical herbal experience they receive. In the United States, we have limited resources and patient access to herbal internal medicine. This is why going to Nanjing is so valuable, even though it is only a five-week externship, those students saw more patients in those weeks than they saw the whole time they were interns at OCOM. You can see between 40-60 patients a day in clinical settings in China, and you get to watch really experienced doctors treat them. One of the big things is that beyond sitting in class or doing rounds, you need to chao fang, where you follow doctors and write their prescriptions down.” 

Although Dr. Livingston began his clinical career in 1997, he didn’t start teaching until 2005, when he was living in China. At the Long Island University program on Zhejiang University campus, he taught introductory Chinese medicine and health cultivation classes to visiting foreign students and, ultimately, to Chinese graduate students studying family medicine. 

Chinese students, he found, tended to have more rigid thinking. “However, when you find someone who can think outside the box and they get clinical herbal training in China, they will be unstoppable.” He believes OCOM strikes the right balance. “We have a wide range of faculty with different backgrounds and experience. If students here use all the resources available to them and have a natural ability for medicine, they can go far and get a lot out of the program. In medicine, you have to have some natural ability, a certain strength with logic and memory. If you possess those and you take advantage of everything, you can graduate from here and go right to seeing patients.”