This month ACE sits down with doctor and researcher Dr. Tamsin Lee, DAOM, L.Ac, AEMP. Dr. Lee is a passionate researcher of acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine with a focus on mixed-method design, and translational and implementation science. Ultimately, Dr. Lee’s aim is to contribute relevant work to help others gain a better understanding of human resiliency. Non-combative PTSD, trauma-informed care, and suicide prevention are key areas of interest for Dr. Lee.
To learn more about Dr. Lee’s story, acupuncture research, and her current thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic, check out her interview below.
Welcome Dr. Tamsin Lee, DAOM, L.Ac, AEMP! Thanks for taking the time to sit with us for Acupuncturist of the Month!
So, how long have you been practicing acupuncture for?
What inspired you to become an acupuncturist?
I woke up paralyzed from the waist down one day. I was living a chaotic life in New York City, juggling multiple careers and living an unhealthy lifestyle when my body finally gave up. Losing my innate ability to walk was a wake-up call. Uninsured and desperate at the time, I received my first acupuncture treatment. After a month of acupuncture (3x) a week and herbal therapy, I was able to walk again. It took a couple more years before I made the commitment to study acupuncture but the driving force has always been to understand what happened to me and how to prevent it from happening it again.
The catchphrase on your site is “skeptic turned curious human being” tell us a little more about that… We notice you are heavily involved in acupuncture & oriental medicine research, which is amazing, especially for getting acupuncture recognized among the medical community and patients alike.
It’s my life motto that describes me best. I was highly skeptical when I received my first acupuncture treatment but it “worked”. My skepticism has transformed into a passionate curiosity, not only in research but every aspect of my life. I believe when we come from a place of curiosity we are able to see things more profoundly.
In what ways has your research shaped you as a healthcare
I’m much more aware of the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion that exists in healthcare, particularly in the Complementary and Integrative Health (CIH) field. Despite the increase use of acupuncture, the demographic of acupuncture users has remained virtually the same for decades. As a researcher and clinician, I’m committed to expanding our medicine to be more inclusive and to work with those that have been historically neglected.
Tell us a little bit more about your research fellowship at Kaiser Permanente investigating secondary analysis on NIH funded Complementary and Integrative Health studies.
When I began my T90 postdoc position, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a leading CIH researcher, Dr. Karen Sherman. My first project was working with a multidisciplinary team on a feasibility study of Tai Chi for older adults living with chronic low back pain. As a researcher focused on mixed-method design, I worked on a secondary qualitative data analysis for this feasibility study. One of our papers was recently published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, and we’re currently awaiting to hear back from a second submission.
To date, how many acupuncture research studies have you conducted (or are conducting)?
I conducted one small retrospective case series study on acupuncture for herpes zoster which I presented at the Society for Acupuncture Research conference (2015); however, I haven’t conducted any studies as a lead Principle Investigator, however, I’ve worked on two NIH funded studies, collaborated on a few published papers, assisted in a successful grant submission in conjunction with the Oregon Health and Science University and will continue to work on a few more projects this year. I hope to continue my research training to be able to conduct my own study in the near future.
Which study was (or is) the most meaningful to you, and why?
I worked on an implementation study at Kaiser investigating an online Mindfulness-Stressed Based Reduction course for adults living with pain. In addition to working with a multidisciplinary team of researchers, I assisted in conducting a focus group session with a trained qualitative researcher. My experience in qualitative research until then was primarily analyzing data. Meeting the participants and listening to their story added a profound human element that’s sometimes forgotten in research.
On your journey to become an acupuncture researcher, what obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
So many! When I started acupuncture school, I always knew I was interested in research, however, I had a difficult time navigating a career path. The obstacles were primarily from people that did not understand my career vision. But I’ve always viewed negativity as a strong motivator. Fortunately, I had the support and guidance of wonderful mentors. I also reached out to people I admired, formed connections with researchers and sought opportunities outside of school.
For new acupuncturists interested in doing research, do you have any advice on how to get started in collaborating with over researchers and get funding?
First, familiarize yourself with the current literature, various design methods and researchers working in your area of interest.
Second, seek opportunities to gain research skills by working with the research department at your school, taking biostatistics or epidemiology classes or applying for a grant to receive the training you need.
Third, reach out to professionals through social media, cold emails or at conferences. Networking is critical and there are more opportunities for acupuncturists to work in research. I’m personally passionate about helping students interested in research or working in large institutions and offer various opportunities for support on my website.
Share a recent success story you had with a patient. What acupuncture points, herbs, or other interventions (meditation, yoga, nutrition, etc) did you use to help them achieve results?
The patient’s chief complaint was feelings of grief and high anxiety. They had recently ended a long-term relationship. The following acupuncture points were used: SP 4, PC 6, CV 17, CV 19 and Bai Hui. I also led them through a guided meditation while they rested with the needles. A modified An Shen Ding Zhi Wan was prescribed for one-week. The patient returned two days later for a follow-up treatment. They reported feeling more stable and there were improvements in their pulse, eye contact and speech.
What is one thing about acupuncture & oriental medicine, that to this day, still amazes you?
That it still works! I recently had a skateboarding accident where I landed on my shoulder. I immediately received acupuncture, moxa and herbal therapy. I continued the treatments and was mindful on slowly rehabilitating it. As a clinician, I know shoulder injuries are quite complicated and takes time. I was surprised my range of motion improved quickly and I was able to incorporate strength-training in just a few months after the accident.
Looking back, what advice would you have given to the younger version of yourself, who was just getting started in this profession?
Do you… Pay attention to your intuition, surround yourself with people that believe in you, celebrate the highs and the lows, find supportive mentors and trust that you’re on the right path.
What has been the most rewarding moment so far in your career as an acupuncturist?
The most rewarding moment has been receiving the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award as a postdoctoral scholar.
We have all occasionally had a patient come into our practice who is upset, frustrated, and a little angry. Maybe it’s from work, being stuck in traffic, or life in general – we have all been there! What advice would you give to fellow acupuncture students and/or colleagues on how to deal with situations like these?
Breathe and hold space. I say this for the patient but more importantly, for yourself. As clinicians, we really have to take care of ourselves first. You can’t hold space for your patients if you don’t know how to hold space for yourself.
What are your favorite acupuncture points, and why?
HT 7, PC 6 and LU 8. I was taught this acupuncture point combo is called “The Buddha’s Triangle”. From experience, I find this point combo powerful for chronic high anxiety.
Sometimes, the best resource for improving our skills is by learning from the other acupuncturists we meet along our professional journey. What is one thing you learned from a fellow acupuncturist or holistic practitioner, that has helped you in your professional growth, or in your care for patients?
Prior to becoming an intern, we would shadow current interns in our school’s clinic. I would ask each intern for one advice and the most memorable one I received was, “Try to be nice.” It’s a simple advice that often needs to be reminded. Trying to be nice to patients is a given but it’s also important to extend the kindness to the front desk team, colleagues, referrals, cleaning crew etc.
How do you feel technology has impacted acupuncture?
This is the question I think about the most because my research interest involves technology. There are wearables, telemedicine, EMRs, and even VRs to help students learn pathways but I don’t think the acupuncture field is truly grasping the impact of technology.
I think we can use tech in innovative ways to connect and share our medicine to a broader demographic. Social media for example is powerful in the way we communicate. However, as clinicians, we really have to be mindful in being transparent with our medicine, particularly its limitations and continue to practice evidence-informed medicine.
Do you have any daily habits or rituals that keep you at your “best-self”, both as an acupuncture practitioner and person?
I am a strong proponent of daily rituals. The three daily rituals I live by is starting my morning with a cup of warm water, a meditation practice (sitting, journaling, art, dance, etc.) and exercising. My workouts vary depending on the season. It’s spring now so I’m working with the Wood element and have switched my workouts to be more intense with HIIT, kickboxing and cycling.
The kindest thing a patient said to you recently:
“Thank you for helping me.”
The funniest thing a patient said to you recently:
“I brought this [herbal formula] so you know what it tastes like.”
As an acupuncturist, what are you most proud of thus far in your professional journey?
I’m quite proud of following my dreams even when no one else could envision it. There were some lonely times and personal challenges but I’m proud I stuck with my vision. We all deserve to be living out our wildest dreams.
If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it be and why?
“It’s going to be okay. I promise.” I’m currently working on mental health projects with high-risk individuals and it brings me back to challenging moments in my life. Life is hard. But it’s also impermanent and sometimes, we need that reminder.
What are your thoughts on the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how are you handing the situation in your personal and professional life?
The COVID19 pandemic is very interesting. I’m curious as to how this will impact the Complementary and Integrative (CIH) field, particularly the acupuncture field. I’ve been fascinated with the growth of telemedicine and mobile technology, and have been wondering for years where the acupuncture field fits within the Digital Age.
Personally, this hasn’t effected my life as much as others. I’m fortunate to have a position where I’ve always had flexibility to work from home. Certain research projects have been held off but it has given me time to work on my own projects such as my online face reading consultations and conducting my own acupuncture research. The project is in its infancy stage but moving very quickly, and I’m looking forward to sharing more via IG (@drtamsinlee).
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