Envisioning the Future Series: Alumni Spotlight Dr. Nikki Cerone-Fancher

Our Envisioning the Future blog series gives a glimpse into some of the exciting and diverse opportunities being pursued by our graduates. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing alumni stories and interviews. Get to know our community, what motivates them, and be inspired!

Dr. Nikki Cerone-Fancher earned her Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine degree (’07) and her Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (’15) from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM). Her current holistic practice, New Mission Acupuncture, is greatly influenced by her past medical experience as a women’s care nurse and clinical internships at Zhejiang University Hospital in China, and Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. We recently sat down with her to learn more about her time at ACTCM, her experiences post-graduation, and her views on the future of Chinese medicine

Tell us about yourself and what you’ve been up to since graduating from ACTCM.

I specialize in perinatal health, women’s health and pain management, which are my doctoral degree specialties. I have more recently increased my focus on pediatric medicine as well, after studying extensively with my doctorate mentor, Raven Lang and becoming a mother myself. When I finished the master’s program, I was working at ACTCM in the finance department and directing the CEU program. At the same time, I worked in a fertility-only acupuncture clinic as a private contractor, while also starting my own practice, New Mission Acupuncture, in 2008. In 2012, I started the ACTCM doctorate program. I completed most of my doctorate externship hours following Raven in her clinic in Santa Cruz and at a clinical retreat in Humboldt. I also spent a week at New York Lutheran Medical Hospital in Dr. Claudia Citkowitz’s labor and delivery intensive, assisting laboring people with acupuncture and TCM. My capstone project was an academic study of insufficient lactation within western and eastern medicine.

What was it like working in a labor and delivery hospital ward?

The intensive was an incredible experience. You meet with Claudia every morning in the diner that’s in the hospital. It’s so New York. She starts with a slow introduction, and then you have a few days of really hands-on work in the hospital. We mainly treated patients who did not have insurance. She would have these pamphlets in different languages and ask people if they wanted Chinese medicine support for their labor. There were usually three of us in the room, plus one of her interns.

What an experience to be present through an entire labor. In private practice, usually when you see a client, you talk to them about what’s going on, give them their 12 points, and then have them lie down for 25 minutes, take needles out, and then you’re done. But at the hospital, one woman was in labor for six hours and you’re with them and touching them the entire time.

Claudia teaches you how to use massage techniques to augment the labor and how to use tongue and pulse and observational diagnosis to determine the constitutional imbalance of the patient. You learn how their constitution can affect their labor. For example, yin-deficient clients tend to be really irritated in labor. They also tend to not make their transition as well because they need that coolness and yin. I learned how to use more than just the points we’re taught in school—LI-4, SP-6, UB-32–to assist with labor.

What currently excites you in the field of TCM?

With the recent news around COVID-19, it’s exciting to see how the virus is being treated using TCM in hospitals in China. I think we can contribute so much to the current conversation around immune support and antiviral medicine. Among the TCM community, there has been so much collaboration and sharing of knowledge that’s happening–and all online. We are learning from what has been working in China and having discussions around what we can do for our patients here.

It’s an important time for TCM practitioners now also because as the Western health-care system becomes more overwhelmed with COVID-19 testing and treatment, we are being called upon by different state governments to help fill in the gaps.

Given that we can no longer see patients in person, this pandemic has also changed the way we practice the medicine. The rules around telehealth are loosening now that health-care systems are having to go mostly virtual. I can now see not only established patients, but also new patients through videoconferencing.

What experience at ACTCM has greatly shaped or influenced your TCM practice?

There are certain point combinations and treatment directions that I still use today that I learned from influential teachers during clinical rotations. For example, Dr. Tao and the 5 Shu treatment, Dr. Men and the “4 doors,” and Dr. Hennessy and her use of K27.

A particular memory you want to share?

Chuan Yeung, the late clinic manager, would take my powdered herbs and remeasure them to make sure I was charging the correct amount for them. I really enjoyed her salty-and-sweet personality. She had a brilliant mind for running the clinic.

I also studied abroad in China during the MSTCM program. We were in a hospital in Hangzhou that had TCM and Western medicine side-by-side. I wanted to cultivate my own experience, so I specifically asked to see gynecology patients only. I was assigned with this doctor who was doing TCM but also pelvic exams–and even abortions. It was an amazing experience to witness such holistic care.

Outside of studying, we also got to explore the city. We traveled around. We stayed at a DJ hostel. We went to hot springs. Hangzhou is such a beautiful city–half of it is tea fields, pagodas, and bamboo; the other half is a city of 4 million people.

What was your background before becoming an acupuncturist? How does that influence the way you practice?

I worked at a women’s health clinic in Eugene, OR. I was the in-house trained “Women’s Care Nurse.” Our other official title was “Feminist Healthcare Worker.” I started off working in the lab, taking blood, testing hematocrit and Rh factor on the abortion services day. Then, I transitioned to direct client services, which involved taking a client from start to finish through the abortion process and assisting the doctor during the procedure.

I also have an undergraduate degree in Women’s and Gender Studies with a Preparatory Medicine emphasis. I think we often treat what we are, so I was naturally drawn to working with women. What I focus on has evolved as I’ve gone through different phases of my own life…fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and then pediatric work. Now, I’m moving into menopausal/postmenopausal work as well.

In my practice, I am interested in how I can collaborate with other perinatal professionals. I was previously a part of a birth professionals group of chiropractors, MDs, and doulas called Bay Area Family Wellness. It was a great way to build community and have vetted excellent referrals to get my clients the services they need. I still maintain a connection to a network of doulas, midwives and other birth professionals. I try to refer all of my pregnant clients to postpartum doulas. After their babies are born, maybe they aren’t able to come and lay down for an hour-long treatment, but maybe they will let somebody into their home to give them nonjudgmental care and show them how to get a better breastfeeding latch, or cook them nourishing food. How can we continue care even if we aren’t the ones doing it?

Any advice for current students or recent grads?

I recommend that students intern with senior practitioners while in school. Nothing in your schooling prepares you to run your own business. Even to wash your own cups! They say it’s 10,000 hours to mastery, right? And your degree is 3,000. Before you graduate you can start to observe other people and how they run their businesses or take insurance. I think that’s critical because you won’t get that experience in the clinic. You’ll also observe a practitioner’s bedside manner. You will learn a lot about who you want to be and what you won’t want to ever do by seeing how others are in practice.

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