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Natural Awakenings Austin

Community Spotlight - Defending the Rights of Acupuncture Professionals

Apr 20, 2013 10:59AM

by Sandra Yeyati

Born in Taiwan to a big family, Lisa Lin knows firsthand what it’s like to be a middle child. “The big sister you love. The youngest brother you love. But I was in the middle, number five, so I learned to do things for myself,” she says. As a child, she always liked to know what was going on around her and in the world. She watched the news and listened to the radio. She also liked to help people. “If anyone had a problem, I tried to help them, and if I saw anything that was unfair, I always liked to jump in.”

It was this desire to help people that led Lin to study medicine and to complete a four-year apprenticeship with Dr. P.R. Sun, a renowned doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Taiwan. Lin was the first woman he ever taught. She met her husband, Paul, at an acupuncture convention in Taipei. He too, was born in Taiwan, but when they met he was already living in Texas, where he practiced acupuncture. After exchanging phone calls for a year, the couple married and Lin moved to America.

At that time, it was not legal to have an independent acupuncture practice in Texas. The medical board required that acupuncturists practice under the same roof and supervision of a medical doctor, and they could not collect money from their patients. Instead, payments were made to the medical doctor, who paid the acupuncturist an hourly wage. Lin thought these rules were unreasonable. The medical doctor didn’t understand acupuncture; how could he supervise the acupuncturist? “They were only supervising for the money,” Lin says.

So, she and her husband, along with a handful of other practitioners, talked with a lawyer to see how they could challenge these unfair rules. Their small group did not have the financial strength to fight the Texas Medical Board (TMB) in court. The lawyer recommended that someone move to Austin where the TMB was headquartered, and provoke the medical board into attacking their profession. This would give them standing to ask the Texas attorney general for an opinion as to whether or not the board’s rules were constitutional.

Lin volunteered to move to Austin. “Anything that is unreasonable cannot survive forever. I understand that in America if you think something is right, you can fight for your freedom.” In 1981, the Lins opened an independent acupuncture practice in Austin without applying for approval from the medical board, and without a medical doctor’s supervision. They charged patients for their services and ran advertisements in the local newspaper.

The medical board paid the Lins a visit, entreating them to apply for a proper license and to comply with the board’s rules. When Lin refused to comply, they cited her for practicing medicine without a license. Now, she could take her case to the attorney general, who subsequently issued an opinion in 1984 that the medical board rules were unconstitutional. This was a milestone decision that helped acupuncturists in Texas and 14 other states challenge these rules and become more independent. “Since then, I never stopped fighting,” Lin says.

For several years, Lin and a small group of acupuncturists lobbied the state legislature for passage of a bill establishing the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners. “We wanted regulation to protect public safety, so people will know who is a qualified acupuncturist,” she says. Finally, in 1993, the bill passed. Governor Ann Richards appointed Lin to serve on the newly established acupuncture board as the first chair of the education committee, a position she held for six years.

Lin saw a need for acupuncturists to have a proper education, and in 1990 she founded the first acupuncture school in Texas, which today is called the Texas Health and Science University. The three-year, accredited curriculum follows a Chinese model of instruction. It is the only U.S. school that has a relationship with a prestigious school in China. Students can choose to receive a dual degree from both schools, allowing them to practice in both countries.

Lin’s future plans for the university include a master’s degree in business administration for acupuncturists. “After students graduate from school, most open their own clinic, and a good business education is very important,” she says. Lin also intends to continue fighting for acupuncturists’ rights. Next up is getting coverage for acupuncture under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

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Sandra Yeyati is the editor of Natural Awakenings Austin.

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