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OCOM alumni Celia Hildebrand, DAOM (2013) recently became the first U.S. acupuncturist to be awarded a Fulbright grant to teach abroad. Her award was hosted by the Uzhhorod National University School of Medicine in southwestern Ukraine.

Celia previously spent time in Ukraine and western Poland to conduct research and visit family who remained in the region in the wake of World War II. She researched the traditional folk medicines of the Carpathian Mountains, and the Rusyn people from whom she draws her heritage.

During previous visits to Ukraine, Celia worked with a Corvallis, Oregon Sister-City organization (Project T.O.U.C.H.), which sends annual support and medical assistance to orphanages in Uzhorhod. Joining them in Fall 2017, she was invited by the Uzhhorod National University (UzhNU) School of Medicine to give some impromptu presentations on the use of auricular acupuncture for PTSD and pain, and also to introduce basic concepts of tongue observation. After returning to the United States, Celia worked with leadership at UzhNU and together they submitted an application for her to return and develop a short curriculum for certification of an abbreviated auricular acupuncture protocol through the Fulbright Specialist grant program. 

In March 2019, Celia returned to Uzhorhod under the Fulbright program. Under the umbrella of the School of Medicine, she provided nine guest lectures and introduced the broad concepts and theories of East Asian Medicine throughout the UzhNU system, including presentations to medical faculty, staff, students, residents, alumni, and practitioners in the field. All slides were translated for viewing, by professional translators provided by UzhNU, and included faculty and medical school residents.

Her lectures included live interpretation by these same professionals. In fact, her hosts at the school and her translators requested that she refrain from using words such as Qi, Yin, and Yang because they were unable to grasp the concepts behind these words and were uncomfortable in trying to communicate their importance. This presented a critical challenge, but using the research of Dr. Joseph M. Helms, and the work of Terry Oleson, she made it work. Dr. Helms was generous to allow her to use the research behind, and terminology of, his six-needle protocol, which enabled Celia to reach deeper into the Western medical model to effectively teach the East Asian concepts.

As a result, she was able to dispel misconceptions and false beliefs about acupuncture by introducing the research. The Associate Dean of the School of Medicine (a PhD pharmacist)  approached her after the initial lecture to say they had thought acupuncture was witchcraft because previous lecturers had been unable to bridge the East-West medical terminology, but that she had demonstrated how and why it works in a way no one else had done before. 

It wasn’t only education on acupuncture treatments and the science behind them that Celia introduced. In many Ukraine communities, there is little recognition of trauma and trauma-related issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though individual symptoms of trauma reactions may be recognized, they are often not recognized as a part of a whole, complex syndrome. In an area of the world where many people have suffered severe trauma as a result of exposure to invasions and war, Celia has started the work of bringing education about trauma and PTSD to local psychologists and medical doctors. 

Developing positive relationships in Ukraine in 2017 helped Celia become a Fulbright specialist, and it is something that she wants everyone to know they are capable of doing. The process of applying, navigating, and negotiating with Fulbright and the university took two years. Because it can be such a lengthy process, Celia says that even current OCOM students could begin the process prior to graduation, especially through developing those initial relationships in locations where students might be interested in visiting and working. These relationships Celia described as “critical to being able to access allotted positions through Fulbright.” 

Her goal moving forward after this Fulbright experience is to, first and foremost, return to UzhNU and gather data she asked the graduates of the certificate program to collect from their treatments. UzhNU has offered to host a “Train the Trainer” program to certify the people she trained in March 2019 to conduct similar trainings on the use of five- and six-needle acupuncture to treat PTSD and generational trauma. She would like to carry this forward, expanding her traveling and training to the northern reaches of Ukraine where the war is still being fought, but says that making the connections to open those doors is the hardest aspect of accomplishing this goal.