Q&A with Dr. Jung Kim: Assistant Director of Clinical Education at ACTCM

To get to know our teachers and supervisors beyond the classroom and the clinic, we’re sitting down with a different faculty member each month to ask them our burning questions. We’re covering topics like, the vibe of their clinic shift, favorite self care rituals, essential herbs for travel and their best advice for new students and practitioners.

First up is Dr. Jung Kim who may be best known among ACTCM students for his gentle bedside manner, five element technique and running the clinic smoothly. In speaking with him we also learned that he has a way with powerful metaphors and some strong opinions about the definition of “rest.” Also, he continues to study nearly every night! Read on for more.

Jung Kim, DAOM, MSTCM, LAc, Assistant Director of Clinical Education at ACTCM

What do you teach at ACTCM?

Acupuncture Theory, Clinic Orientation, and now I am teaching Clinical Case Review & Management where interns present difficult and interesting cases for review and discussion.

What is your style of acupuncture and area of focus in the clinic?

Comprehensive Chinese and Korean medicine combined. I practice Chinese Five Element Theory and I combine it with Korean abdominal palpation and the Korean four needle method.

Dr. Jung Kim with students

What makes your clinic shift unique for students?

Students on my shift learn to apply classical Five Element theory to modern disease, think through the diagnosis and treatment process and apply it in a practical setting. We very much follow the basic Five Element theory because I want students to understand that Chinese Medicine must follow the foundations. I encourage students to look for why a patient is suffering, not only from the disease itself but often there is also an emotional component. We try to release the emotion and its impact on both the mind and body. Students are also encouraged to continue to study everyday outside of their shift to develop their TCM knowledge and properly deliver it to Western society.

Dr. Jung Kim with a student

What takeaway do you think students gain from your shift specifically?

I try to get people to understand basic concepts then repeat, repeat, repeat. Students are learning a very new language so we must slowly continue to teach it over and over. When you are walking in San Francisco and it’s very foggy, you can’t really feel the fog right away. But if you are continuously exposed to it, eventually you are wet. I apply this concept to teaching.

I also teach basic formulas on my shift for students to memorize so that in the future they know how to easily modify them. I frequently ask questions about herbs and points and push my students to study very hard. My job is to emphasize the basics and continue to bring it all together because it is not just about teaching knowledge but about gaining a deep understanding of Chinese Medicine.

How did your journey in Chinese Medicine begin?

Long story short, I always admired Western philosophy. When I came to the US I took philosophy classes at SF State and a professor told me, “You are not a Western philosopher. You are not logical. You need to study humanities or religion.” I took world religion classes but still was not satisfied so I changed my major to biochemistry, then eventually landed on chemistry.

I graduated with a chemistry degree from SF State then came to ACTCM in 1995. I studied Chinese Medicine but still something was not satisfying me so I enrolled in a Korean acupuncture school. Still, I did not feel satisfied because the school system does not teach a deep classical method, so I continued to educate myself outside of the Korean school.

Ultimately when I saw Korean abdominal palpation it resonated with me. I began to combine it with TCM acupuncture. Today I use the Korean four needle technique and hand acupuncture, blending several different areas of study into a unique approach.

How do you think Western and Eastern Medicine fit together?

Western Medicine approaches health by looking at the most specific area of the body but it often misses the larger body system. In Eastern Medicine we take a broader perspective and ask, “what is not balanced?” We check pulse, tongue, etc.

Western medicine is “space medicine or local medicine.” TCM is “time medicine.” We need both time and space to survive, therefore they need to work together. Both time and space benefit the human being.

What do you think is the most pressing issue in health care/integrative medicine today?

Society is all consuming of our energy. Some people work physically too much but do not work their brain enough. They go to the gym, do strenuous exercise, they think it’s good that blood is moving to their muscles. They keep working the brain and exercising the muscles and using energy. They look good on the outside but they are not thinking about the inside.

Especially in San Francisco people do yoga, meditation – that’s inner exercise. I always ask my patients, “Do you do exercise?” They say “yes.” I ask, “Do you do mental exercise?” They say, “Yes.” And I ask, “How do you mentally rest?” But they don’t have an answer. They work, work, work, exercise, maybe take some vacation time. But even vacation time takes planning and organizing – that is still consuming energy. It’s like your body is in a war zone – the sympathetic nervous system is constantly consuming energy. I treat people by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system.

Neon sign on a wall with plants that says "and breathe"

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

So then what is “rest” to you?

You have to literally relax – calm you mind. Imagine two glasses. One is filled with Coca Cola, the other with water. The surface of the water is very calm and relaxed. But the mind is often like the Coca Cola – there are lots of bubbles making waves on the surface. The human mind is similar – constantly moving, thoughts bubbling to the surface. The mind cannot stop the thinking; it is rarely still. So many people are living that way.

As human beings, many people simply don’t know how to breathe the right way. The breath is often very shallow, never deep enough. People are constantly vibrating energy, even when lying down they can’t close their  eyes. You must breathe deeply and calm the mind.

What inspires you?

My patients. I don’t have a special talent. I am not a musician or a sportsman. I don’t know how to sing. But when I treat patients they make me special. Sometimes I treat patients all day. I’m physically tired at the end of it but I am mentally joyful. My patient’s smiles makes me happy. And they want to learn, so I teach them. I meet a lot of beautiful minds.

Favorite herbs of the moment? Gui Zhi

Dried herbs on a table

Herbs you always travel with?

Gui Zhi Tang. It’s not just for wind cold. It’s also very powerful and has 36 modifications. If you double it, you treat a headache. Remove Bai Shao and you have an edible formula to tonify qi and blood. It treats a lot of stress and emotional issues because it treats the Chong, it calms everything down in the brain. It’s also a muscle relaxer, it is nourishing and harmonizing.

Favorite acupuncture point combinations?

I use a lot of SJ3 and GB41 for modern society. This combo treats intellectual stagnation by tonifying the Shao Yang Channel.

Favorite self care practice?

This is my weak point but I do continue to study and meditate most nights.

What is your morning routine?

Wake up, eat breakfast, take my son to school, come to work. For breakfast I always have some kind of Korean grain powder with honey, spirulina and water. I have one apple and toast or a scone (something with bread).

Favorite teacher and/or book?

Tae Woo Yoo and his book is called Korean Hand Acupuncture. He offers a very good foundation and he is an excellent scholar.

Advice for students entering into ACTCM/beginning on their TCM education journey?

There is no such thing as a shortcut. Each step, try your best. Also don’t think too much about your grade, instead try to understand TCM. You are learning brand new knowledge – try to apply it to your life. Without the real life experience, you will just say it to your patients and they can feel that.

Advice to emerging practitioners in regards to this medicine?

Six months before graduating, think about which style of acupuncture you are comfortable with. Graduate, get licensed, learn from a practitioner and always study part time.

Do you have specific questions you want included in our next faculty interview? Let us know in the comments below!

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