Cleveland Clinic sign
University News | 1/9/2024

'Wonderful opportunities': New England School of Acupuncture teams up with Cleveland Clinic

By Dana Barbuto

The New England School of Acupuncture has formed an affiliate program with the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation's major hospital systems. PHOTO: Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic sign
The New England School of Acupuncture has formed an affiliate program with the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation's major hospital systems. PHOTO: Cleveland Clinic

Thanks to a strong alumni relationship, New England School of Acupuncture students have a new outlet for clinical placements: the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.

"You are smarter than you think you are"—those are the encouraging words Tim Sobo tells New England School of Acupuncture (NESA) students during rotations at the Cleveland Clinic, a new affiliate program for Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS).

A 2012 alum, Sobo is a staff acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation's major hospital systems. He has hosted three NESA students, with another coming this spring, on weeklong learning experiences where he is equal parts instructor and hype man.

"I reinforce to them that they can do this professionally. These students have been bombarded with information for the past three years, and if they've made it this far, they know a lot more than they think they do," Sobo said.

Students spend about 30 hours shadowing and observing Sobo, seeing about 60 patients weekly—roughly a patient every half-hour. They treat conditions such as chronic migraines, neck pain, scoliosis, and tennis elbow. There are also opportunities to participate in grand rounds and work with other clinicians in the Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, including medial doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, mental health therapists, herbalists, and chefs.

The partnership with the Cleveland Clinic unlocks another chance for students to gain real-world experience at a top medical facility, said Maria Broderick, who worked with Sobo and the hospital to launch the program. "People are aware of what the Cleveland Clinic means regarding healthcare excellence," she said. "To spread our wings and expand our regional footprint provides our students wonderful opportunities."

Take Chinese herbal medicine, for example. Though herbal therapy has been practiced in China for centuries, it is still gaining traction in the United States, except at the Cleveland Clinic, where certified herbal therapists prescribe custom Chinese herbal therapy formulas to patients within a clinical practice.

"We have a Chinese herbal medicine program. We have a dispensary at our school. We provide patients in our treatment center on the campus grounds with formulas. But for a hospital to have cleared all of the barriers to providing Chinese herbal medicine to their patients right in a hospital setting is cutting edge," said Broderick, a licensed acupuncturist and Director of Clinical Education.

During the week, NESA students train alongside practitioners from different branches of medicine, and they work together as a team to take an integrative approach to healing. Across the hall from Sobo's office are a pharmacist, a nurse practitioner, and three family medical providers. Around the corner are physical therapists and some social workers. "You can run into the hallway and just go, 'Hey, I have this question for you,'" Sobo said.

Experiencing innovation like that is invaluable for NESA students, said Medelise Reifsteck, MAC CHM '23, who joined Sobo in August. Reifsteck works in private practice now, but said the rotation in Cleveland practicing acupuncture in a hospital setting has opened her to other possible career paths.

"I could see myself working more in the Western medical environment. This experience was significant, and it's an important bullet point on my resume," Reifsteck said.

Broderick emphasized the strong alumni relationship with Sobo made this new outlet available to NESA students. "To have our alumni in positions within such a premier institution, guiding and training our students, we're cultivating generations of elite acupuncturists ready to perform at high levels."

Sobo, who has a Master of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, said his favorite moment of the clinical experience is when the students' skills, confidence, and training finally merge. "They've never worked at this pace before, seeing 16 or 17 patients daily. By the end of the week, they're like, 'Wow, I do actually know what I'm talking about.' And I'm like, 'Yes, students. You do know what you're doing. You will be good at this.'"