Strength in Collaboration: An Interview with ACTCM Faculty Pam Olton

When Pamela Olton sums up her teaching philosophy into just a few words, it boils down to “being honest, generous, and hands-on.” Much of Olton’s pedagogy was influ­enced by her martial arts teachers. Olton considers her former mentors’ ideas about posture, breath, and intuition when teaching needling classes at ACTCM. “I think there are ways to actually hold hands in a very special way and encourage people to relax,” she explains. “There is a true mind-body connection that you have to help train students to appreciate.”


When Olton moved west to San Francisco from New York, she began to adopt a more Eastern perspective about health and medicine. In New York, she had been a medical lab technologist and had planned to continue along that path by attending medical school. But that plan began to change after she started working at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. “I saw these medical students who were doing rotations, and they had a really harsh and unhappy way of being because they were feeding into a system that was just so shocking,” she says.

At the time, she was also reading a lot about alternative medicine. A few years later, a serendipitous trip brought her to Tokyo to study martial arts. It was there that she met teachers who were acupuncturists and recognized her desire to diagnose and treat people through a holistic medicine and to model a life of balanced health. Acupuncture, she realized, would be the perfect fit.


Olton, who is is pursuing her doctoral degree at ACTCM, is focusing her research on acupuncture in the public health sector. She’s examining how acupuncturists can find a permanent position in the field and not depend on grants that come and go. “I think there are going to be other ways and avenues to figure out where we belong in public health, and that we are going to create new ways to collaborate.”

As Chinese medicine becomes more integrated with Western medicine, more patients are seeking out acupuncture and other treatments. Olton believes that acupuncture can complement Western care and, for certain conditions, provide better care. She points to the number of ways that acupuncturists can treat a common cold. “People can come into our clinic, get an acupuncture treatment and  get some herbs, and actually feel a whole lot better.”

She’s pleased to see that in California, acupuncture is now listed as an essential health benefit. “As long as people can have a choice and live in a culture where they have access to different healing modalities, that is what is most important.”


As ACTCM and CIIS continue hitting their merger milestones, Olton believes the collaboration between the two is a positive move that will fundamentally benefit both schools. “Everyone gets changed a little bit, and change is a good thing,” she says.”It’s going to open up our scope of our world at ACTCM and help both schools become academically stronger. CIIS will learn from our medicine and the energetic, hands-on nature of our profession.”

By Crystal Erlendson