Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
November 5, 1999

Vet students get the point

by Phyllis Peters, Veterinary Medicine
The importance of keeping an open mind is firmly imprinted in the consciousness of 21 senior veterinary students who recently traveled to China to study veterinary acupuncture.

For three weeks in September, the students attended classes at the China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing. They were the first Western students to receive instruction from CAU veterinary faculty in a curriculum that emphasizes traditional Chinese medicine.

"This experience re-emphasized for me the importance of maintaining an open mind about the potential benefits that alternative therapies can provide," said Kim Langholz, a fourth year veterinary student. "Sometimes we get so locked into a scientific process that we're not willing to consider other possibilities."

Veterinary acupuncture is a healing art that is centuries old. The CAU's College of Veterinary Medicine offers Chinese veterinary students academic programs in Western medicine or traditional medicine, which includes herbal and holistic practices.

The Iowa State students attended lectures taught in English for the first six days, then advanced to hands-on-learning, involving donkeys, small horses and dogs.

The practice animals were partially sedated. Students were exposed to more clinical techniques involving live animals than would be possible in a teaching setting in the United States, where veterinary and medical schools follow more restrictive animal use guidelines.

Typical acupuncture treatments are spread out over six to eight sessions and needles remain in the patient for five to 25 minutes. Shorter time periods are used for treatments designed for strengthening, while longer insertion times are used for pain management.

Throughout the course, the Chinese veterinary instructors emphasized that acupuncture is not going to be the best remedy for all cases.

"We know, for example, that the only way to decompress a spinal chord is to go in there and deal with it surgically," Langholz explained.

Both Langholz and ISU neurology professor Karen Kline agree that acupuncture may best serve as a bridge between treatment options or in conjunction with another remedy. Animal owners increasingly are asking veterinarians to first consider treatments that are less invasive than surgery; or to use acupuncture as an alternative to increased drug use. In the new age of "integrated medicine" for both humans and animals, Kline says acupuncture also increasingly is viewed as a post-operative option for pain management.

The ISU students are not certified as veterinary acupuncturists, but may choose further study toward specialty certification. Veterinary acupuncture currently is not offered by the College of Veterinary Medicine.

A second study trip to China is planned for May 2000.

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