Israelis call upon S.F. expertise in Chinese medicine

Israelis generally respect such forms of Oriental medicine as acupuncture, herbology and shiatsu. But their government does not.

Most large Israeli hospitals maintain a department of alternative medicine. Yet because there are no standards for practitioners of Oriental medicine in the Jewish state, anyone can tack a shingle outside his door reading "acupuncturist." In fact, most Israeli practitioners of Asian healing methods obtain degrees abroad.

But an exchange program between San Francisco's American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Wingate Institute, located near Netanya, could strengthen Oriental medicine in Israel.

Atara Sherman, deputy director of the College of Physical Education at Wingate, recently visited the 15-year-old San Francisco school and its 300-plus students to discuss enacting professional standards for Oriental medicine in Israel.

"These ideas are popular in Israel, so there's a lot of [public] pressure on the government to give it a chance," Sherman said. And a partnership with the American College could further legitimize the cause, she added.

Although only in the early stages, the exchange is being conceived as a several-tiered plan to train doctors, build up the practice of herbology and set standards for alternative medicine in Israel.

Israeli students will study for two years at home and complete their final year of education at the American College. The college will award them a master of science degree in traditional Chinese medicine as certification.

That document will help cement new standards in Israel, because certification from private institutes in Israel, "means essentially nothing. There are no [educational and professional] guidelines," Sherman said.

In America, each state determines its own laws and standards regarding the practice and study of alternative medicine. Thirty states currently have legislation that supports acupuncture practices. California is one of them.

As part of the exchange, American College students will have the option of interning at hospitals in Israel. In addition, American College faculty will set up an herbology program at Wingate and help create strategies for furthering government acceptance and action in setting standards for practice.

"It's all part of [the American College's] commitment to promoting traditional Chinese medicine and its development worldwide," said Li Xin Huang, American College president.

Besides the new Israeli connection, the American College has exchange programs with the Bolivian government and medical schools in Japan and China.

Huang said he believes an Israel exchange will be equally successful. She visited in June and found "the people were open to new ideas and ready to try them. The professors at universities, the mayor of Tel Aviv and his wife, they're all patients of acupuncture."

Sherman attributes the willingness of Israelis to try alternative medicines to the country's size and the time its people spend traveling.

"As a small country, Israel tends to be less conservative, more open to new ideas. Plus, after the army many Israelis travel, often to the Far East. So this approach [Oriental medicine] is not foreign to them," Sherman said.

So far, costs are the greatest obstacle to building the exchange.

Tuition for one year at American College costs $7,000. Adding to that price tag the cost of living in San Francisco for one year and "it could be prohibitive," Sherman said.

While ironing out the details of the exchange they hope to begin next summer, Huang and Sherman are looking for foundation grants and private funding.

"We need people to see this as another window for Western practitioners," Huang said.