With the creation of the first professional doctorate and transitional degrees, there has been a lot of discussion within our profession about the DAOM degree, and whether it is still relevant. Many practitioners feel that the quickest route to the doctoral title is enough after a four-year master’s program. Will our patients care? Will the western medical community know the difference? And quite simply, do we as Chinese medicine practitioners need additional formal training after 4 years? These are valid questions, and they should be examined.
Our profession is growing, and experiencing rapid change. We, of course, still face skeptics, but perhaps our greatest challenge is the acceptance of TCM and Asian medicine by western medical practitioners and institutions, and their desire to harness the power of the medicine, often without an L.Ac. on board. The co-opting of techniques by those with less training (i.e. PT’s and DC’s) also presents an ever-growing challenge.
With these challenges in mind, I would suggest our institutions are only now beginning to address the needs of TCM practitioners as true integrative medicine professionals. And this is where the DAOM degree, as a post-graduate clinical research degree excels. To clarify, The DAOM is a 1200 hour, 2-year degree program, and includes 650 hours of advanced clinical training. Though the DAOM is the terminal degree in our field and requires a capstone project or dissertation, it is not a Phd, which typically requires 3 or more years, and is oriented towards teaching and research. An article in the New York Times (2007) suggested the average Phd student takes 8.2 years to complete their program of study, and this is after a bachelors and masters degree in their field often reaching 13 years of education!
The DAOM program offers students better clinical skills through mentorship and peer collaboration, enhanced patient communication through classes in practice management, and increases their ability to read and understand both current research and classical texts. The capstone or dissertation is guided by professional research mentors to enhance both practitioner writing, and peer communication. All of these objectives lead to improved diagnosis, treatment and patient outcomes, while elevating the profession to a higher standard.
Many of the DAOM programs excel at recruiting top practitioners and teachers in our field to provide deeper understanding of Chinese medicine theory as introduced through the master’s curriculum, and integrating western medicine clinicians and researchers to enhance student’s conventional medical knowledge. There are currently 13 accredited DAOM programs in the United States focusing on women’s health, pain management, internal medicine, and classical Chinese medicine; however, there are no regionally (WASC, SASC, etc. ) or nationally accredited (ACAOM) Phd programs in Chinese medicine as of yet.
Incidentally, our peers in China go through 8 years of school (bachelor and master’s degrees), and generally follow their mentor for an additional 2-3 years. As such, our master’s programs represent just the beginning of our education. In my own studies, I considered the long course of study in China, but in the end decided to attend a masters and doctoral program in the states, with advanced coursework and clinical rotations in China via Five Branches’ dual doctorate program.