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Internship program brings Chinese medicine to Concord Hospital

26 June 2017

UTS Science has partnered with Concord Hospital to introduce acupuncture as a potential treatment for pain experienced by oncology patients.

The acupuncture internship program ran for the first time during the 2016 Spring session. It offers final year undergraduate students from the UTS Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine the opportunity to work with patients in a clinical setting.

“As far as we know it’s the first program of its type to be integrated into a public hospital,” said Dr Sean Walsh, Senior Lecturer in the UTS School of Life Sciences.

Students are supervised by registered Chinese medicine practitioners and help to assist in the management of symptoms for those going through cancer treatment.

“Pain relief is a very big one for people going through cancer,” Dr Walsh explained.

“With the chemotherapy treatments you can often get quite a bit of inflammation.

“Also a lot of chemotherapy treatments will cause nerve damage so you get things called chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathies,” he said.

“Acupuncture has been shown in a few studies now to help with alleviating the intensity of the symptoms, decreasing the duration and assisting their recovery.”

The program has been implemented with the assistance of Concord Hospital oncologist Dr Janette Vardy, along with Associate Professor Byeongsang Oh from the University of Sydney, and Associate Professor Chris Zaslawski from UTS.

Dr Walsh explained that the program was designed to provide clinical experience to students while allowing them to gain experience working alongside other medical disciplines.

“It was a nice fit to develop a placement program into a public hospital where our intern students will have the benefit of working with a cohort of people that are also being seen by other practitioners,” he said.

Hong Lu is one of the students involved in the program and has found it to be a very rewarding experience.

“Our supervisor Professor Oh was always constantly challenging us to think,” Mr Lu said.

“I learnt a lot in terms of all the different treatments patients go through and gained a bit more of an insight into the personal and emotional side of dealing with cancer.

“It’s really good to get some sort of recognition that acupuncture can be helpful alongside Western medicine.”

Acupuncture is being used as a treatment option for pain experienced by oncology patients. Image: shutterstock.

Though patient audits are yet to be completed, so far the response from those involved in the program has been positive.

“Anecdotally the feedback we have is that it’s been well received, highly regarded and it’s seen as another tool that will help cancer patients deal with treatment,” Dr Walsh said.

Acupuncture was the chosen Chinese medicine discipline due to its lack of potential cross interactions and greater acceptance within the medical community.

“As a discipline and as a profession it’s developed over many decades and it’s the discipline of acupuncture that’s really been at the forefront of getting Chinese medicine into universities,” Dr Walsh said.

“The evidence is there to support it, more studies are always welcome, but the evidence base has been developing over time.”

According to Dr Walsh there has been strong interest from several other hospitals looking to implement similar programs.

Acupuncture is a registered health discipline with the Chinese Medicine Board Australia, one of 14 National Health Practitioner Boards within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.

Patient involvement in this program is on a voluntary basis and referrals are made to the clinic through the Sydney Survivorship Centre.