Acupuncture institute poised for expansion

Evolution: Columbia's Tai Sophia Institute has expanded its curriculum to reflect increasing interest in complementary medicine.

April 22, 2001|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With a master's degree program that has doubled in enrollment in the past five years, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia has embarked on an ambitious expansion program. Now known as Tai Sophia Institute, the school has added two master's degree programs in complementary medicine and acquired 12 acres for a new campus.

Bob Duggan, Tai Sophia Institute president, said the school will move from its 20,000-square-foot space in the American Cities Building to a new 45,000-square- foot building three miles south. In addition to classrooms and lecture halls, the building will have a clinic with 28 treatment rooms and the region's most comprehensive library on the healing arts and complementary medicine, he said.

The new facility, scheduled to open in the fall, will provide space for students and administrators in the master of acupuncture program and in two new master of arts programs: botanical healing and applied healing arts. According to Duggan, these are the first programs of their kind in the country.

The institute is accredited by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Students in the botanical healing program will study botany, herbal pharmacology, and issues with plant medicine such as quality, safety and efficacy.

Rachel Pritzker, botanical program coordinator, said graduates of the program will have at least three career options.

"They can go into private clinical practice, ethnobotanical study and research, or the production end of herbal product lines, working for herbal manufacturers," she said. "These people will be coming out with a degree that's never been available before."

The only herbal medicine programs in the United States are nondegree programs at schools in the West, according to Pritzker, who said she had to piece together her own knowledge.

The program will be under the direction of Simon Mills, a medical herbalist for more than 25 years and chairman of the British Herbal Medicine Association. His association with the Traditional Acupuncture Institute began in 1981 when attending an acupuncture conference.

Another faculty member, James Duke, operates a 6-acre "Green Farmacy" a few miles from the institute. Students will each spend one afternoon a month working in that laboratory.

With the increase in use of herbal remedies and products and their acceptance by consumers as replacements for over-the-counter drugs, Tai Sophia administrators expect enrollment in the program to grow quickly.

The applied healing arts program is an expansion of the institute's School of Philosophy and Healing in Action - SOPHIA -which was developed in 1987 in response to requests from acupuncture patients. They asked to learn about the personal approaches and observational techniques used by acupuncturists, without learning how to treat people with needles.

"They will learn how to be a healing presence," explained Allyson Jones, an adviser to the program. "This is distinct from a philosophy because it's applied, how you take this and do something differently."

The focus of the program is to provide educators, health care professionals, business people and families with ways to use ancient wisdom in their careers and lives.

Students will study oneness with nature, meditative stillness skills, Chinese philosophy, and the relationship between science, art and spirituality.

The program will be run by John Sullivan, a professor of philosophy at Elon College in North Carolina. Sullivan has served on the board of directors for Tai Sophia and helped design its SOPHIA program.

Courses in Eastern and Western medicine are common to all Tai Sophia programs. "What we do is collaborate with medical professionals," Jones said. "This is another approach and often less invasive."

Tai Sophia has a partnership with the Johns Hopkins University medical school in which medical students come to the institute for a month to study complementary medicine.

The acupuncture program will continue to be the core of Tai Sophia, with more than 220 students and nearly 60 senior faculty. The Traditional Acupuncture Institute opened in 1975 in a four-room clinic in Columbia. It has more than 600 graduates, 85 percent of whom are in practice - more than half of those in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The average student age is about 40, and Duggan said an increasing number of retirees are applying. About 30 percent to 40 percent have advanced degrees.

"We get a good number of nurses and have a couple of physicians who have been practicing medicine 10 to 12 years or more," Duggan said. "We get scientists, artists, businessmen, engineers and social workers."

If students attend classes four days a week, they finish in 2 1/2 years. If they attend two days a week, it takes 40 months to complete. Tuition for the program is $31,865.

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