As the #1 school of acupuncture in the country, OCOM offers not just a master’s program, but also a highly regarded Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degree (DAOM). The program is delivered in a modular format, during which students meet over a long weekend each month, allowing students to practice while simultaneously completing their doctorate. Some students attend the doctoral program after years of clinical work, while some come straight through from their master’s studies. Those who choose OCOM's accelerated three-year track and go straight through can complete both degrees in five years. It’s a challenging path, and not for everyone, so we asked three OCOM grads who have taken the five-year path to their doctoral degree — Andrew Vu (AV), Colin Gold (CG), and Cissey Ye (CY) — to talk about their experiences.
Did you plan from the beginning to go straight through OCOM's master's program to the DAOM program?
CY - I did not originally plan to go straight through both programs, but by the time I finished my first year I knew that I would want the terminal degree in the field of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and to learn as much as I could within an academic setting, especially to learn more about research.
CG - Yes, I did plan from the very beginning to go directly into the doctoral program from the master’s program. In some ways I considered the two together to be one full five-year program. Of course I still had to make sure that I was accepted into the doctoral program. I made it a point to talk about my interest in the doctoral program with the admissions department and the dean of the doctoral program. One of the reasons I chose to come to OCOM for my master’s degree was that they had a strong doctoral program as well. I knew that if I was going to devote myself to this profession, then I wanted to get as much training and education as I could.
AV - No, I did not. I actually don't think I knew there was a doctoral program when I first started school at OCOM.
Why did you decide to go directly through both programs and what was the advantage of doing so?
CY - I was already in student mode, and I knew that for me it would be hard to go back to school once I was out of that academic mode. I had also gone into the master’s program straight from undergrad, so I did not have a break. So, yes, I did kindergarten through doctoral — 22 years of school in one go! — and that is not the path that many people take. However, the biggest influence for my decision was speaking to current students and those who have gone through the DAOM program to make sure it was right for me.
CG - Well, like I mentioned, I tried to think of both programs together as one five-year training rather than two separate and unrelated degrees. I think there are benefits and drawbacks to either entering the doctoral program directly or waiting until one has more professional experience.
I’m interested in working in hospitals and academic medical centers, and these types of positions often look for applicants with doctoral degrees. One of the advantages of going straight through both programs is that when you finally finish you are in a better position when applying for jobs, or if starting your own private practice, in marketing yourself as one of the few doctors of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in the country.
AV - One of my teachers told me I should apply for the doctoral program during my intern year. My parents also urged me to apply. I preferred going through the DAOM right after the master's program because a lot of information was still fresh in my mind.
Why did you choose OCOM?
CY - I chose OCOM due to its reputation as the preeminent institution within the U.S. to pursue a degree in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. OCOM’s recognized research department was a huge draw for me since research is one of the key languages used in communicating about Chinese medicine’s role in integrative medicine. I also grew up in Portland, and it is the perfect environment to learn and cultivate this medicine due to the natural beauty and scenery of the region.
CG - I chose OCOM for a variety of reasons. I knew that it was one of the most highly regarded Chinese medical schools in the country. I also liked that they had a strong herbal, biomedicine, and research emphasis. As I mentioned before, I knew I wanted to go right into the doctoral program and the fact that OCOM has a great program also influenced my decision.
AV - My cousin is an OCOM graduate. He told me it would change the way I thought about things, and he was correct.
What are the key differences in the two programs (master's and doctoral)?
CY - The doctoral program is much more self-paced and directed compared to the rigorously structured master’s program. Since you are not in class everyday with a set schedule, it is important to have self discipline and time allotted for schoolwork.The master’s program is more homogenized, with everyone in a class learning new concepts at the same time. In contrast, the doctoral program is a mix of practitioners with different levels of experience with contrasting ideas and styles of practice. You also maintain an active practice while being in school for the doctoral program. For me, balancing the doctoral assignments while navigating the complexities of owning your own practice, building a clientele, and managing the business side of things was the hardest challenge.
CG - The master’s program is all about learning a new profession, and really a new way to look at the world, the body, and health. It’s very much like learning a new language, sometimes literally! It’s a very intense program and it needs to be. Graduates of the master’s program become medical professionals responsible for caring for others’ health and well-being. As a master’s student, most things you are learning are totally new and there are a lot of tests and exams to make sure you are competent and prepared to become a practitioner.
In the doctoral program, you and your classmates are already licensed professionals. The focus shifts from teaching you the medicine to deepening your knowledge and developing new skills. There are no more tests and quizzes in the way you are used to in the master’s program. The bulk of the work you do in the doctoral program comes as various writing assignments and presentations. There is much more emphasis on academic writing through case studies, case analysis, peer-presentations, research literature reviews, etc. The program prepares you to follow several possible career tracks from advanced clinician to researcher to teacher/faculty member or any combination of these.
AV – The master's program lays out the foundation of acupuncture and herbs. The doctoral program builds on it as well as give you a feel of the profession as a whole. There is a greater emphasis in writing case studies and research in the doctoral program.
How do you feel that both programs have prepared you to be the best practitioner you can be?
CY – OCOM’s master’s program definitely provides a solid foundation for anyone that wants to seek a career path in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Even though the DAOM program goes over more advanced topics, I felt that the master’s program had exposed us to such a broad spectrum of ideas and topics that I did not feel like I was starting from scratch.
The doctoral program helped me learn to deeply access information to help me in practice regardless if it's for clinical practice or research. I also feel like I have a broader network of colleagues that have exposed me to new ways of thinking and styles of treatment and makes me a more well rounded and open minded practitioner. It can also help you narrow down what you gravitate toward and focus on a specialization.
CG – I learned so much during my time in the doctoral program, both from my teachers and from my classmates. I feel like not only my clinical skills improved but my abilities as a writer, public speaker, and academic developed greatly as well. The advanced training we received in modern biomedical approaches helped me to develop my interest in integrative medicine. Since I also hope to eventually work in an academic medical center, all of the coursework on research, writing, professional development, Chinese and Western medicine have helped me greatly advance along that path.
AV – The master's program prepared me to be a practitioner. The doctoral program motivated me to strive to be a better and more efficient practitioner as well as becoming more involved with the profession.
Is there any advice you'd offer to someone thinking of taking this path?
CY – Time management skills and being able to juggle class, assignments, building and running a practice and fitting in personal time are essential. It is not easy to do all in one go, but if you have the support system to do so and you want to go into research and get published, then this is a great way to get that accomplished within five years.
CG – I think choosing to pursue a doctoral degree is highly personal. There are many reasons why one might want to take this path. A lot will be determined by your career goals. The doctoral degree is not required to enter the profession and have a successful career. If you want to work in a hospital, as part of a team with other doctors, or in an academic institution, I believe the DAOM will definitely help. Even if you simply want to learn all you can about this medicine and receive the most education and training you can get, it is worth it! What also makes it worthwhile are the relationships you develop with your classmates. These people are your colleagues, peers, friends, and teachers. I learned so much from my classmates and developed lifelong friendships. In the end, you will get out of the program as much as you put into it.
AV – I think it is best to go straight through both programs. In the future, a doctorate in acupuncture will likely be the standard. The best way to get through the doctoral program is to socialize with your classmates after class. You are in class from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM each day. I would not have made it through the DAOM without socializing with people after class. You will have people from all over the country flying in for DAOM and it is an opportune time to learn more about them.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
CY – The people you meet along your journey and the bonds you make with your classmates in becoming a Chinese medicine practitioner will be everlasting and you can learn a lot from your peers.
CG – Since the doctoral degree is purely optional and it comes with additional costs and years of schooling, you should have a very clear idea of why you want to pursue it. Having a clear and strong motivation will help you meet any challenges and get the most out of the program. If you can do that then all the years of training, all the classes, all the work, is totally worth it.