History of Acupuncture in Washington State

Reflections of the First Association President, Richard Kitaeff

by Richard Kitaeff  ND, MA, EAMP
Director, New Health Medical Center
Staff Acupuncturist, Northwest Hospital
Clinical Affiliate Faculty, Bastyr University

I arrived in Seattle in the summer of 1978 after graduating from Meiji College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Osaka, Japan, passing the national licensing examination in Japan, and interning at a couple of clinics there. The period of my study there, the early 1970's, was a time when there was no comparable program of study available in the U.S. While following a PH.D. program at University of Washington, I began to conduct a part-time practice of acupuncture at Acadia Health Center, a massage clinic in Wallingford.

Demand for my service was tremendous, since word had been out about acupuncture in the American press since Nixon's visit to China in 1972, and of course many people were not getting sufficient help from conventional American medicine. At the same time, medical doctors were completely ignorant about the subject, referring to it as "quackupuncture,” since experimental or clinical research studies were virtually non-existent at the time. I had heard rumors of Dr. Liu practicing only auricular acupuncture in the Beacon Hill area, but otherwise, I was the only visible practitioner at the time.

Since there was no law pertaining to the practice, it was technically "practicing medicine without a license" and could not be advertised openly. I started the Acupuncture Association of Washington around that time, but since there weren't other practitioners available, the members besides myself were acupuncture patients and supporters. The goal of the Association was first to introduce legislation for legal, independent practice and then to start a training program in the state for acupuncturists.

In the meantime, the state Board of Medical Examiners had introduced a bill to register acupuncturists as "acupuncture physician assistants," a unique category, which would place practitioners under the direct supervision of medical or osteopathic physicians. The process required public hearings, and many Association members and other supporters appeared at these hearings to testify as to the effectiveness of acupuncture and the need for completely independent practice. Unfortunately, this testimony was disregarded, and the provision for supervision was passed.

This suddenly made the practice of acupuncture without medical supervision not simply outside the law, but clearly illegal. I began searching for a supervising physician, which took 1 1/2 years, while continuing a secretive practice out of a naturopathic office in Kirkland. My initial application for registration was sponsored by an unusually sympathetic osteopathic physician. But the Osteopathic Board was unwilling to approve the first practitioner, so stalled the process by continually postponing hearings over a period of many months. The problem was the lack of physicians that were at all interested in or knowledgeable about acupuncture.

Finally, I discovered a medical doctor who was very open to supervising me: Dr. Robert Anderson, a holistic physician in Edmonds and co-founder of the American Association of Holistic Physicians. He knew someone on the Medical Board, and with his support, my application was approved within a couple of months.

This new status required me to practice in Dr. Anderson's office, and eventually in a nearby satellite office owned by him. He had to sign off on every chart note. Eventually, I found two other medical doctors in Capitol Hill and Renton willing to sponsor me, so I was able to keep busy full-time by practicing in three different locations on different days.

At the same time, efforts were proceeding through the Acupuncture Association to move closer to legalization of independent practice. The first step was a bill to establish practitioners as "certified acupuncturists," a designation more limited in scope than licensing. Finally, in 1984, primarily through the efforts of David Kailin, then president of the AAW, the bill for independent licensing was passed.

Previously, in 1981, the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine was founded by myself, together with a group of non-practitioner supporters who had administrative experience. There were many difficulties in the first year of NIAOM, including recruiting students in the absence of a law for independent practice. Now that licensed independent practice and training programs are readily available, the current generation of students and practitioners should not take for granted these hard-fought advances. The next step seems to be the availability of acupuncture in hospital settings. In 1998, I became the first practitioner to become a full staff member at a hospital in Washington State, but have made few visits to treat hospital patients due to the need for physicians to become more educated about the effectiveness of acupuncture.