Merger Creates New Doctorate for American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Nothing’s and everything’s changed for the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM), located on Arkansas Street, following its merger with the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) last summer.  The merger created new academic and research opportunities for ACTCM and CIIS, according to ACTCM executive director Lixin Huang.

Logistically speaking, 250 ACTCM students continue to attend classes at the Potrero Hill campus. However, the merger with CIIS gave ACTCM students access to resources they didn’t have before, such as online journals and courses at CIIS. The biggest change, though, is that the merger established the first professional doctorate (DACM) in acupuncture and Chinese medicine that’s both nationally and regionally approved.

The DACM is made possible by CIIS’ institutional review board, a committee established in accordance with federal regulations to protect the rights and welfare of human subjects who have volunteered to participate in research studies. The ability to conduct research on people means ACTCM can now offer a doctorate, something it couldn’t do before because its size didn’t allow for an institutional review board.

“As I sat in at the meeting at the beginning of the semester with new students, masters and doctorate, I was struck about how the new research opportunities played a role in them choosing to come here. The students are interested in the new opportunities the merger will bring to them,” said marketing communications manager Gail Mallimson, in an interview with the View.

The merger also resulted in the addition of acupuncture at CIIS’ Center for Somatic Psychotherapy. Collaborating with psychotherapy providers enables acupuncture students to practice on a more diverse client body, a benefit for ACTCM students, Mallimson said.

There was widespread support for the merger at both institutions. “Personally at CIIS, I have never seen this kind of support from faculty; a unanimous 100 percent favor this new relationship,” stated CIIS president Joseph L. Subbiondo in a press release.  Many of ACTCM’s 50 faculty were already teaching at CIIS before the merger, a relationship that’s been fostered over the past six or seven years, according to Huang.

“Rather than one institution going down to save its life like in most mergers, for this one, both institutions are leaders and both expressed their support for the merger,” Huang said in an interview with the View.  “The college has been a leader in the U.S. in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. We set up the first master’s degree program in acupuncture and we are highly regarded as a leader in education, with high standards and the highest passing rate with licensing boards.”

In 2013 ACTCM launched a five-year planning process, investigating where it’d like to be as an institution, Huang said. The college knew it wanted to achieve the next accreditation level, but had limited resources to do so.  It started exploring the idea of merging with a university that’d already established regional accreditation, and would welcome what ACTCM offers.

“Due to our reputation and success, we were approached by several universities, one in San Francisco and one in SoCal, who asked to join with us, but we really considered CIIS,” Huang said. “They have a great institution for counseling, philosophy, psychology, religion, spirituality, human sexuality, and many other areas, but no health care, no medical care. ACTCM is a perfect fit as a medical school because it’s holistic.”

The first classes under the combined campuses started last fall; there have been kinks to work out. “Everything has an exciting part and a challenging part,” Huang said. “The truth is the challenging part always exists.” ACTCM had to fit into CIIS’ structure, and change its business practices.  Before the merger the college was a solo entity, able to do everything its way.

“Change is not easy for people,” Huang said. “It takes time for them to really resolve those technical issues. To address their policies to meet our needs. We work very closely to hammer out the issues to really address and change their policy and ours. Many places say, ‘OK, we’re bigger, and you become a school of us and do what we ask you to do.’ But with CIIS, we feel fortunate to select this institution, because they’ve been very respectful and very equal and very open in terms of responding to our needs. ACTCM is smaller but was successful, therefore we bring new ways to think about how they have been handling business. We bring fresh air into the institution for change.”