Recently, our own Teresa Williams Zhang sat down for a conversation with LiMing Tseng, LAc, who is a licensed acupuncturist based in Stowe, Vermont, a fierce advocate of our profession, and former board member and founding secretary of the American Society of Acupuncturists. As the chair of the ASA Conference Committee, she recently hosted the ASA 2023 Conference in Washington DC.
During their conversation, LiMing shared details on a number of topics relating to her life and practice, including her:
Path to TCM
I was born in Guangzhou. My family moved to Hong Kong when I was two and then came to New York City when I was six years old. And, maybe because I’m Cantonese, I always say that my mom might actually have more Chinese herbs in her kitchen than I do in my office. At one point I counted all of her herbs and she had like 100 raw herbs in her kitchen!
My aunt was the assistant director of Guangzhou Children’s Hospital. She knew both Eastern and Western medicine, and she believed in training kids early. So when other 5-year-olds were playing with a Mr. Potato Head, my aunt gave me a potato and needles to stab into it!
While we did see herbalists, most of my childhood Chinese raw herbal prescriptions were from my aunt. When I was three years old, my understanding of herbal medicine was: “it has to be bitter to make me throw up all the bad stuff”. So, herbs have been a part of my life forever. Acupuncture, other than playing with needles in potatoes, was less so.
I was going to go to medical school, to do what the "stereotypical model minority" would do, which I now teach against perpetuating! In my interpretation, at that time, it was what I was supposed to do, even when I was at Wells College.
In college, I had planned to go to medical school (stereotypical model minority - a role that I now teach against perpetuating). Then, at the end of my junior year, beginning of senior year - I took a medical sociology class where I learned that people in America did acupuncture! Before that class, I thought Chinese medicine was only in Chinatown. So, I applied and got into the New England School of Acupuncture and there, at NESA Herbal Pharmacy, they used Treasure of the East herbs!
Teachers and Education
I went to NESA at a time when it was the heyday of continuing education. My campus job was in continuing ed. I was the person who helped pick the teachers from the airport. I did the sign-in sheets, I made sure the tables and chairs were all ready for the class.
At one point, I lived two blocks from the school, so I was the person who opened and closed the school for weekend events. There were many weeks I was at school 7 days out of the week.
Yet, I felt so blessed. I got to have private conversations with Miki Shima and other experts. At the time, we were flying in experts from Japan almost monthly to teach. I got to see the incredible techniques of the masters with acupuncture, herbs, and moxa,. I learned so many different styles, and of course, I got to learn from Jeffrey Yuen. I’m blessed to have been one of the students who was able to take monthly classes with him for the past 18 years, traveling all over the world. Jeffrey Yuen is an amazing teacher who can teach you anything in Chinese Medicine! I’ve also done a lot of different oncology training, so I’m a member of the Society of Integrative Oncology as well.
The oncology training took a fascinating path with my mom having cancer. There's an amazing story of her treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
She went on vacation developed a respiratory illness. When she got back, her doctor wanted her to get a CAT scan because she couldn’t stop coughing. By the time she got the scan, her cough was gone because it was just due to a cold; but, they found cancer.
My mom didn’t want surgery, I did what I tell my patients to do, “look up whoever’s the best, see if you can get in with whoever’s the best.” So, I looked it up and it turns out that the best robotic thoracic surgeon was at Sloan Kettering, Dr. Bernard Park.
By some miracle, we were able to see Dr. Park within a week. He and his team were amazing, they respected herbs and Chinese medicine.
My mom had surgery there. Unfortunately, it had metastasized, so she took the targeted therapy medication for 6 months and got really sick. We decided to take a break from the medication, and the oncologist agreed to a one-month break, while they did scans to monitor her condition.
During that time, I was giving her herbs. And that one-month break turned into 2.5 years off her medication without signs of growth! She has since started the targeted therapy again because of one of her scans, but she’s still doing well
When we go to Washington DC to advocate for our profession to increase access to acupuncturists for seniors through Medicare inclusion (HR 3133), we're told to give a power statement. Mine is “In one year alone, I saved Medicare over $100,000 on one patient alone, my mom.”
Hopes and Dreams for the Profession
My big wish for our profession is that we love each other as much as we love our patients, with the goal of sharing our powerful medicine with as many people as possible.
This idea was the theme for ASA's 2021 virtual conference, “We are stronger together." There’s no way we will agree on everything, but hopefully, we all agree on sharing our powerful medicine.
The most important thing is our patients. While we don’t agree on what style is the best, we all care about our patients. Acupuncture, in my very biased opinion, is one of the leading integrative medicine modalities. With herbal medicine, more research is being done and made available, which is super awesome.
Other professions are looking at us and they're trying to emulate us, so we need to set a good example. We need to say we are the leaders, this is our medicine, it’s okay that we share some of it with you, but this is the medicine for which we are the experts. We can collaborate, and we are good team players. That’s my hope.
The idea is that we uplift each other. For people like me, who are privileged - in this specific situation, I am privileged - I have a voice and I need to exercise that power to uplift others, so that we can together work to promote and share our medicine
Thoughts on Acupuncture's Power Worldwide
At the start of the war in Ukraine, I helped create a project with ASA and the European TCM Association to provide treatments for refugees.
We connected with the Polish Society of Traditional Chinese Medicine who I had previously met in France for World Acupuncture Day in 2018. Because our European colleagues were the local acupuncture experts, we asked them to provide the treatments. We would do the fundraising for them to provide the treatments.
I reached out to our friends all over the world and we were able to gather a good amount of donations, We mostly provided funding for acupuncturists in Poland help Ukrainian refugees. We also funded programs in Slovenia, and the Netherlands.
One of these stories is of Tania, an acupuncturist in Poland who heard about the program. She got connected with Lidia, a Ukrainian woman, who jumped out of a second floor window to escape, broke her back, went to the Ukrainian hospital where they performed surgery, sent her to Poland for rehab, where she was told that she would never walk again. Tania was familiar with neuro-acupuncture and took it upon herself to go to the hospital twice a week to treat Lidia. She is now able to walk with a walker and she continues to improve.
It is a journal focused on evidenced based conventional medicine, as well as complementary and integrative medicine. This was important because we wanted people outside of our profession to see this. We all know we can do this, but we want others to know strength of our medicine, too.
Inclusive Diversity, Equity & Access (IDEA)
I believe in sharing access to our medicine with everyone. Since 2020, Afua Bromley, DACM, LAc, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) and I have co-chaired the ASA NCCAOM Cultural Competency Task Force. By promoting equity and inclusive diversity in our profession, we increase patient safety and access to our care, all while gaining greater cultural humility and becoming greater practitioners.
For the past 3 years, we have hosted Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine Day webinars with over 1,500 participants annually to share the stories of inclusive diversity in our profession. This Fall, we will be doing this again. In addition, we will be teaching NESA first-year students so that they can enter the profession with this cultural awareness.
I am very fortunate to have learned from great masters of acupuncture medicine, and to have been able to learn the stories directly from the great leaders of our profession who fought so hard, at times risking their own safety (through persecution or imprisonment), so that patients can get access to our powerful medicine. It is my mission to emulate these great leaders to continue and grow their work exponentially, through the love of our medicine, our patients, and each other. I invite you all to join me.
And one final fun and proud ASA moment: enjoy this little clip.
LiMing Tseng, DAc, MAcOM, LAc, Dipl OM (NCCAOM) obtained her Doctorate of Acupuncture from the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA) at MCPHS, and her Masters of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from NESA with a concentration in Chinese Herbal Medicine and Traditional Japanese Medicine. She is a graduate of the Diversity & Inclusion certificate program from Cornell University. For the past 20 years, she has volunteered for state and national acupuncture professional association work. Aside from her acupuncture volunteerism as the chair of the ASA Conference Committee and co-chair of the ASA NCCAOM Cultural Competency Task Force, she maintains a private acupuncture practice in Stowe, VT.