We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Nicholson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, we’d love for you to start things off by telling us something about your industry that we and others not in the industry might be unaware of?
The one thing about my industry that outsiders are DEFINITELY unaware of is just how much education it takes to become an acupuncturist. I’ve had so many people ask if I took a weekend class or how similar my education is to a massage therapist (500-1000 hours for a massage therapist in CA). Physicians can do acupuncture with a weekend class, and their standard medical acupuncture certification course is about 300 hours. Physical therapists can do dry needling with a 15-30 hour class. Chiropractors in many states can do acupuncture with a 100-200 hour course. So the public assumes that acupuncturists have a similar short course of education without the rest of the medical education these other providers have. It’s simply not true. Acupuncturists in California have to complete a MINIMUM of a 3000 hour master’s degree program (there is now a doctorate and most new practitioners are going for the higher degree) and pass a rigorous State administered licensing exam. We complete over 900 hours of supervised clinic time, treating patients under a licensed practitioner. We learn the same anatomy, physiology, pathology, and clinical laboratory interpretation our Allopathic colleagues have learned. In addition, we receive hundreds of hours of training in Chinese medicine theory, needling techniques, and use of Chinese herbs, nutrition, bodywork, and even tai chi/qi gong. An acupuncturist in California can order blood tests, review and understand the reports from x-rays, MRIs, and other tests, recognize signs of drug interactions, and routinely reads and reviews medical literature just like a physician. Acupuncturists are considered to be primary care providers, and even essential providers during COVID, which means you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to see an acupuncturist AND most of us are open and seeing patients despite the pandemic!
What should our readers know about your business?
I shared a lot of my story in the last section, lol. I think what sets me apart from others is my personal experience with going through cancer treatment. I started this business as a massage therapist and 2nd year acupuncture student in 1997. I’ve gotten to where I am with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and trial and error. It’s not easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding. I overcome challenges by focusing on the next issue in front of me and then seeing what needs to happen next. If I look 5 steps ahead, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss what needs to happen RIGHT NOW. So I do my best to get an overview of the big picture so I’m moving in the right direction, then keep my focus on the one thing which needs to be handled to take the next baby step. Once that’s done, I figure out the next thing which needs to be done, and focus just on that. And so on… Going through cancer treatment while running a small business was a huge challenge. I thought by virtue of paying taxes as a business owner that I was covered by State Disability, and discovered that I was wrong so there was no safety net for me and my business. Thankfully, my husband had solid income during this time because I only had the stamina to work half-time for about 4 months, and had time off after each of my surgeries. My only rule was that if I was too sick to practice safely, I would take the day off. I worked every day I could without putting myself at risk of getting an infection I couldn’t kick while immuno-compromised, and without being so brain-fogged or sick that I risked hurting a patient. COVID has presented a whole other level of challenge. My office was ALWAYS sanitary – many of my patients are immuno-compromised. But I don’t have a ton of storage space, so I typically ordered supplies when I was down to about a week’s worth of whatever. As the numbers were starting to climb at the beginning of March, I tried to order more sanitizer and wipes plus stock up on masks, and discovered there were none to be had. I ended up closing the clinic for almost 2 months because I couldn’t obtain the supplies I needed to keep myself and everyone else safe. During that time off, I stayed in touch with my patients through emails and Facebook Live, offered telemedicine consults for my patients who use herbal medicine, and took the time to learn everything I could about managing post-COVID symptoms. I also took the opportunity to complete a Holistic Cannabis Coaching certification class and will be adding cannabis coaching to my menu of services. What do I want the world to know about my brand and story? Really, that I’m there for my patients 100%. No health topic of conversation is taboo in my clinic. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is treated with loving kindness and respect. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll be honest, and hit the books. If I don’t know how to help, I’ll do everything I can to find someone who can. Every patient who walks into my office deserves the opportunity to live their best life and if there’s a way I can help make their symptoms more manageable so they can do the things they love, I’m all in.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When it comes to a social life, it’s ALL about food for me. First stop would be the beach in Coronado. I particularly love that wide stretch of sand. After our afternoon in the salt and sand, we’d head to Barrio Logan for giant hot dogs with all the fixins at Barrio Dog and then grab a pint at Border X Brewing. The next day we’d head to the local mountains for a spin around Laguna Meadows on mountain bikes, followed by dinner and another pint at O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa. O’Brien’s is like my Cheers. I know all the staff and have been a regular for the 15 years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, so it’s a must-go place and their seared ahi salad is the bomb of pub food. We’d have to spend at least a day hanging out at my house, enjoying my backyard patio and kitty purrs from my 4-legged BFF. I’m a food lover and accomplished home cook, so we’d have to stop in at Tuna Harbor and pick up some fresh-off-the-boat ahi or opah from Haworth Fishing and cook it up on the grill with a salad from my CSA box from BeWise Ranch. For a fine-dining evening, hands down I’d take my friend to Garden Kitchen in the Rolando neighborhood. It’s my favorite farm-to-fork restaurant and they never disappoint. There would have to be a day of wine tasting and I’d actually stay away from the more commercial Temecula and head to Forgotten Barrel in Escondido and Grant James Winery in Santa Ysabel. Before we’ve had too many tastes, we’d have to drive or even better, pedal, Mesa Grande. It’s a sweet 7 mile stretch of road between Rt 79 in Santa Ysabel and Rt.76 by Lake Hodges with spectacular views of the lake. One of my favorite roads in the county. If my friend were in town on a Wednesday, we’d have to do my favorite yoga class – a hatha flow at Ginseng Yoga taught by Hamsa Nguyen. His sequencing is creative and his class is always challenging without being “too much”. It’s a wonderful way to start the day. Our second beach day would have to be at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, and we’d drive to the top of Mt. Soledad for the sunset on the way back down the coast. No trip to my neighborhood would be complete without a late afternoon hike in the Marion Bear Park and the network of canyons which parallel the 52 freeway. Every hike is a little bit different – there are so many little micro-habitats in this park, I always discover something new and I hike it pretty much every week. And once we’d cooled down, there would be a trip to the breweries of the MiraMar area – I’d start with Rough Draft which is a favorite, then head to AleSmith and maybe Mikkeller for their unusual barrel aged creations. Somehow on this trip we would have to find a time to have carnitas tacos at Los Cuatros Milpas, and the wonderful hand-sliced noodles at Shan Xi Magic Kitchen on Convoy. My friend will leave tired and really well fed, lol.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to Shoutout to the Breast Oncology team at UCSD Medical Center. In 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was fortunate enough have insurance which allowed me to receive treatment at any facility in the area. My diagnosis was done at UCSD and after a few hours of research, I decided to keep my care at that facility. As an acupuncturist, aside from regular well-woman visits, I had formerly seen a doctor about once every 5 years when I got some bug I couldn’t get rid of without a prescription. My cancer journey put me on the receiving end of more drugs and interventions than I had EVER had. I was diagnosed very early, but had an aggressive cancer and genetics which made the possibilities more dire so we threw everything at it to reduce my risk of re-occurrence as much as possible . My team got me through lumpectomy, a post-op infection, 4 cycles of chemo, a bout of sepsis, 20 radiation treatments, removal of my ovaries, hormone blocking medication and it’s side effects, and recovery from ALL of this. I have always been in integrative medicine advocate, believing strongly that both sides of medicine have strengths and weaknesses and that the best option is using both together. Going through this experience taught me how the “other side” of medicine works, and the experience has been invaluable in learning how to support other patients going through illnesses which require a physician as well as complementary care. When I was diagnosed, I was recreationally an ultra-distance cyclist. I was one of about 45 women from the US to complete Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015, and had participated in team Race Across the West and the 508 ultra-races. My breast surgeon was a runner, and understood my need to be back to my bike as soon as possible. My medical oncologist works with younger women with breast cancer and connected me with other patients who were athletes so we could support each other through the challenges of getting back into our sports. She was less than pleased when I shared that I had attempted to ride 200k (125 miles) between my 2nd and 3rd rounds of chemo, (I managed to finish 80 very slow miles before running out of energy to continue!), but she absolutely supported my need to work as much as possible in my clinic while keeping up as much of my fitness base as I could. My gynecological oncologist was also a cyclist. 4 months after he removed my ovaries, I rode the 54 mile route on the Padres Pedal the Cause, after raising over $2000 for cancer research. I finished the course an hour ahead of him, which was exciting for both of us. In addition to my team at UCSD, I worked with an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a homeopath, a lymphatic drainage massage therapist, and both physical and occupational therapy. I supported myself with Chinese herbs and CBD when it was appropriate in the context of my conventional treatment. I’m just over 2 years out from my last surgery, taking hormone blocking meds for at least another 3 years, and doing regular screening mammos and MRIs to make sure we catch any new tumors early. I no longer have the drive to push myself to pedal more than about 60 miles at a time, and have been putting more mileage on my hiking shoes and yoga mat than my bike these days. But still live a very active life. And this journey has changed the direction of my acupuncture practice. I worked mainly with athletes, veterans, and patients with chronic pain/orthopedic injuries before my diagnosis. I still work a lot with veterans, and now the rest of my practice focuses on supporting cancer patients through the process of surgeries, chemo, radiation, and other treatment. Complementary support allows patients to better tolerate the side effects of conventional treatment so they have better compliance and better outcomes. I’ve found that the medical system does a great job of getting people through active treatment, and then leaves most hanging. So many people finish treatment and find that they still have easily upset stomachs, lingering neuropathy, ongoing post-surgical pain, lower energy levels, brain fog, and other symptoms. There is very little available for these patients, and it’s a place where complementary care really shines at providing support. My clinic now offers a breast cancer support group which meets twice/month on Zoom, and monthly community education classes on topics relevant to cancer survivors including managing vaginal dryness/sexual dysfunction without hormones, how to maintain bone density/muscle mass after menopause (natural or chemically/surgically induced), managing menopause symptoms without meds, nutrition and lifestyle hacks for brain health, and even a class on safe use of CBD/cannabis. NONE of this would even have been conceived of, let alone created, without having gone through my own experience with cancer care.
Lisa Nicholson, L.Ac. (the image is a selfie)