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Acupuncture more than needles

by: ELLEN SPITALERI Dr. Joyce Shields took a roundabout route to her career in Oriental medicine and acupuncture. She now has a practice in Milwaukie with three other health-related specialists.

Dr. Joyce Shields wants to make one thing perfectly clear - she does more than stick pins in people. In fact, she does a lot more.

Shields is a licensed acupuncturist, and in 2010, at the age of 69, she earned a doctorate in Oriental medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland. She also has an extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese herbs and maintains an herbal dispensary at Healing Path Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine in Milwaukie.

What she likes best about her job is the opportunity to get to know her patients in much more depth than she might if she were a traditional doctor.

'I typically spent 90 minutes with them, getting to know them and observing. Then I use that information to set up a treatment plan. People say, 'Thank you for listening to me.' They don't have that opportunity in Western medicine,' she said.

Another plus for her is 'being able to educate people about this beautiful medicine,' Shields added.

During acupuncture, she noted, patients often go to sleep, and that is how she knows the patient is getting the very best treatment, 'when the body is totally relaxed.'

Shields also wants people to know that she accepts most insurance plans and routinely gets referrals from medical doctors.

Oriental medicine

In the past 10 to 12 years, Shields has seen an upsurge of interest in Oriental medicine, particularly in acupuncture. Before that time, most of the research had been done in China, and 'did not fit the model of Western science.'

But in 1999, Dr. Richard Hammerschlag, a respected biomedical researcher in neurobiology for 25 years, came to Portland to create an acupuncture research department at OCOM.

'He stayed for 10 years,' Shields said, adding that his research provided more 'hard science' about the benefits of acupuncture.

'There are a lot of misconceptions about Oriental medicine, but people need to have an open mind. I believe in this medicine; it has science and thousands of years of practice behind it,' she said.

In fact, Shields noted, some of the herbal formulations she stocks have been used in China for 3,000 years.

Oriental herbal medicine is quite different from Western herbalism, she said, adding that some of the Chinese herbal formulas use 15 to 20 separate ingredients.

Herbs fall into three categories, she said. The first is raw or bulk herbs which look almost like a tea; the second is granular, with the herbs in powder form; and the third is patent, where the medication has been measured out and turned into pills.

The Chinese believe that the raw herbs are the most effective, but that form is 'often hard for Western palates to deal with,' Shields said. For that reason, she carries only the granular and patent herbs in her dispensary in Milwaukie.

Career shift

Shields did not start out wanting to be a doctor; in fact, she earned a fine arts degree in college and worked in that field for years.

'And then I got a unique opportunity through my mother, who worked with abused children. She was working with a little girl who had been terribly abused and my heart went out to her. I ended up adopting her; she and I were the first adoption in Oregon for not only a non-blood relative, but for a single parent,' Shields said.

She began doing physical therapy for her daughter, and then went back to school to get a degree in that field. She worked mostly with multiple-trauma patients until 13 years ago, when she was in a devastating car accident and became a multiple-trauma patient herself.

'I was struck by a driver who was reading and going 70 miles an hour. I nearly died and had multiple surgeries. I was immobilized in the hospital and became claustrophobic. My mother sent her acupuncturist up to the hospital and she calmed me,' Shields said.

Then she remembered that years before her car accident she had sought acupuncture treatment for a neck injury sustained at work.

'I got miraculous results and that made me a believer. I had always been interested in Oriental medicine, but I was 57 at the time [of the car accident], and thought I was too old' for a new career, she said.

And then her physical therapist at the hospital told her this: 'You are never too old to learn something new.'

She took inspiration from those words and, from her hospital bed, applied to OCOM. She was accepted and four years later graduated with a master's degree in Oriental medicine. Students needed to work for at least five years in the field before applying for the doctoral program, but Shields worked for six years and then graduated with a doctorate in Oriental medicine in 2010.

Milwaukie move

In 2002, Shields set up practice in Portland and then came to Milwaukie in 2004, first in an office on Harrison Street, and now at the clinic near the intersection of S.E. Washington Street and S.E. 23rd Avenue.

Milwaukie has 'retained its uniqueness,' she said, adding that the friendly community reminds her of her own childhood growing up in Hillsboro.

Shields and her three associates at Healing Path have a plan for the future that reflects what happens to people who need treatment in a time of economic downturn. A lot of patients have lost their medical insurance or find out that Medicare won't cover their treatments, and Shields and her fellow practitioners would like to do something proactive about that.

She added, 'There is a space next door and we would like to get a group treatment center set up. People would not have to disrobe and they could sign a waiver and get treated in a group of four to six patients. We could offer this service on a sliding-fee scale and we could include classes and lectures.'

Fast Facts

• Healing Path Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, 2305 S.E. Washington St., Suite 109, Milwaukie.

• For an appointment, call 503-659-0064.

• Hours of operation: Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon.

• In addition to Dr. Joyce Shields, other associates include Kerrie Nasman, acupuncturist; Roxanne Young, massage therapist; and D. Michael Sullivan, a chiropractor.

• Visit the website at: www.healingpathmedicine.com.