Students and colleagues often ask me for advice about the available DAOM programs. I hope the following article with prove useful to those who are considering enrollment in an accredited DAOM program. While one could do an entire doctoral research project on the subject, I hope this will serve as short and practical reference guide for prospective students.
Introduction to the DAOM
So, you’re thinking about obtaining a doctoral degree. Why? Do you have plans to teach? Do you like the idea of calling yourself “Doctor”? Do you want to conduct scientific research? Are you looking for an easy way to defer student loan payments while still advancing your education? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the DAOM may be a good option for you.
The DAOM is a relatively new development in the history of education in East Asian medicine. While many master’s programs have been around for 30 years or more, most DAOM programs have only been existence for 10 years or less. What does that mean to prospective students? It means that—despite certain program standards necessary to achieve accreditation—each school is defining how it will approach the education of its students at the doctoral level. Whereas the goal of most master’s programs is to prepare students for the state and national board exams, the primary outcome of DAOM programs is the completion of a unique Capstone research project. This simple fact means that there is an incredible amount of variance between these programs. In addition, since DAOM programs are still in their infancy, the institutional and administrative problems that most students have experienced in their master’s programs are likely to be worse at the doctoral level.
Why were DAOM programs created?
My understanding is that DAOM programs were created for two primary reasons: to provide advanced clinical training to practitioners, and to create doctoral-level educators for the profession. The benefits to providing acupuncturists and practitioners with additional training are fairly obvious, so I won’t address that here. The need for doctoral-level professors, however, may seem puzzling to those who are not familiar with some of the recent developments in TCM and OM education.
For many years now, there has been a desire among some educators and administrators to create a first professional doctorate program (FPD) for acupuncture and East Asian medicine. The goal of the FPD is to expand upon “the minimum ACAOM standards for master’s programs” (pacificcollege.edu). Last year, ACAOM—the accrediting body for master’s and doctoral programs—began reviewing applications from schools who want to offer this new degree. Some schools are already beginning a transition to the FPD, but in order to legitimately offer these new degrees, the majority of teachers in these programs must have doctoral-level credentials (ACAOM). So, one function of the DAOM is to train teachers for these newly accredited FPD programs. In fact, if you’ve tried to get a job in a master’s program within the last few years, you may have been told that the school is only accepting applications from candidates with a DAOM. This is partly the reason why so many current teachers are enrolling in these programs: they have been “encouraged” to obtain the DAOM by the schools at which they teach. Of course, doctoral-level educators are also necessary for the growth of DAOM programs as well.
The DAOM as a vehicle for research
Not all DAOM students are teachers, some are interested in the potential research opportunities these doctoral programs offer. If you are one of these students, I am sorry to burst your bubble, but is unlikely that any DAOM program will provide the opportunity to conduct high-level scientific research. Unless you personally have connections to a research hospital or university, you will be able to do little more than a meta-analysis of existing data, or a case study involving one or two patients. It’s unfortunate, but true. I am not familiar with any DAOM program that currently has the resources to support the level of research that would be required of a PhD student at a university. In fact, very few—if any—programs have university or hospital connections at all, so you can pretty much forget about that double-blind placebo controlled herb study you had in mind for allergy sufferers, or that multi-tiered acupuncture study on diabetes.
Serving the Disparate Needs of Students
One of the greatest challenges facing DAOM programs is how to accommodate the disparity of student knowledge on any given subject. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I did my master’s level work at Five Branches University, where I received training in the Huang Di Nei Jing, Shang Han Lun, and Jin Gui Yao Lue as separate required classes. When I began my doctoral work at PCOM, I was shocked to discover that only half of my cohort had received any instruction on the Nei Jing in their master’s programs. Once I started my Capstone research, I understood why this disparity existed: only about 10% of schools teach the Nei Jing as a required class at the master’s level.
Imagine the challenge of creating a doctoral-level Nei Jing class that would simultaneously benefit a student who had taken a semester-long Nei Jing class, and a student who had never studied the text before…it would be practically impossible! In my experience, this educational divide was never truly bridged; the class I enjoyed the most was taught by Giovanni Maciocia—who gave an incredible presentation on the history and background of the Nei Jing—but many of my fellow students found it boring and academic, because it was simply above their level of understanding. Without some familiarity with the Nei Jing, how can a student benefit from a lecture about the influence of Legalism, Confucianism, and Daoism on the text? In contrast, the remaining Nei Jing classes were far more rudimentary than I would have liked, and I didn’t get much out of them. This example underscores the reality that on any given topic, some students are ready to be taught at the doctoral level, while others are not. This situation has nothing to do with the intelligence or clinical skill of one group of students over another, it simply has to do with the different program goals and curricula at the master’s programs from which these students graduated.
The challenge of bridging these knowledge gaps is very real: DAOM programs will always be forced to serve the needs of one group of students at the detriment of another. So, in any given class, there are students who are not being served. This is a natural extension of the variance in master’s level education: while all programs have certain academic standards to uphold, how they choose to meet these standards varies greatly.
To recap: although there are many doctoral programs to choose from, they all take a different approach to the education of their students. In many ways, the variance between DAOM programs is even greater than at the master’s level. Every program has particular strengths and weaknesses, due to their design. Thus, it is unlikely that you will find a doctoral program that meets your needs all of the time, so do your research and choose wisely.
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