Tara Manjiw is one of the very few qualified acupuncturists in Kenya. Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Acupuncture from the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, a post graduate specialisation with a focus on acupuncture for the treatment of infertility and obstetric acupuncture; and over a decade of clinical practise, Tara says that the practise of acupuncture is both delightful and challenging.
“Acupuncture training requires many years of commitment. In addition to studying the Chinese Medicine health paradigm; I was also required to study Western Medicine including physiology, anatomy, pathophysiology, biochemistry, and differential diagnosis,” she says.
But this is a commitment she was willing to make because human health in general and acupuncture in particular has always been an area of interest to her. Acupuncture is distinct in its approach to health because it views pain and illness as a sign that the body is out of balance and seeks to restore good health through rebalancing the body's vital energy (Qi).
Thus, acupuncture not only looks at presenting symptoms, but also at the connections between different parts of the body and how specific symptoms and dysfunctions influence each other. It also looks at ways of empowering the patient to take control of their own health; like through diet or lifestyle changes.
“This is known as treating the root as well as the manifestation, or in modern terminology, holism,” she explains. “I am a scientist at heart, and I strongly believe that we are the total sum of our parts and that all our bodily, emotional, and mental functions are connected. The fact that there is a strong body of evidence based clinical research documenting the efficacy of acupuncture combined with its holistic approach makes it very attractive to me,” she says.
What is the connection between acupuncture and primary healthcare as we know it?
Acupuncture is often referred to as alternative medicine. I dislike the term ‘alternative’ as it suggests that people must choose either orthodox medicine or acupuncture. This is not the case and in fact, acupuncture and orthodox medicine complement each other.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), recognises acupuncture as a useful and effective treatment for a wide range of conditions including pain, nausea, depression, gynaecological conditions, rhinitis, digestive problems and many more.
In my own practice, I actively cultivate close links with primary health care providers as well as other therapists, so that my patients can benefit from what I refer to as a ‘network of care’ which addresses all their health needs.
What does a typical work-day look like for you?
I don’t have a typical day because everything revolves around my patients who always bring surprises into the treatment room. I have a basic routine though, so I can manage my time productively.
I keep the first two hours of my working day for phone calls. I then see patients for the rest of the day. In between patients, I often research on the conditions they present with and work on professional development courses. I set aside one day a week for home visits and to do my administrative work.
What skill sets are important for someone who wishes to get into a career in acupuncture? What passions make the best acupuncturists?
A passion for living a healthy lifestyle, the ability to relate with people and an interest and motivation in helping them with their health.
As an acupuncturist, you spend more time with your patients than a regular doctor, and it is vital to be able to connect with people in a meaningful and compassionate way, actively listening and empathising with them.
Beyond that, you will need excellent analytical and critical thinking skills. Because acupuncture is a healthcare system, an interest in science in particular the biological and health sciences, is also very important if one wants to pursue a career in this field.
Are there institutions of training in Kenya where aspiring acupuncturists can train?
Although the Ministry of Health authorises and registers properly trained individuals to practice acupuncture, I am not aware of any universities in Kenya offering acupuncture training.
I hope that this will change as I feel there is great potential for acupuncture to benefit our nation’s health within both the private and public healthcare sectors.
Would you say that this is a career that is open to young people?
Working as an acupuncturist is incredibly interesting and rewarding and is a wonderful career option for young people.
Globally, people are taking greater control of how they manage their health and the choices available to them. Statistically, acupuncture is one of the most requested complementary therapies worldwide and as awareness and understanding of acupuncture becomes popular, the market for skilled practitioners continues to grow.
When I first started working in Kenya, most of my clients were expatriates, but now a very large percentage of my patients are Kenyans.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Many people seek acupuncture as a last resort, after exhausting orthodox medical treatment options. This is especially true of patients with terminal illness.
I get many enquiries about whether acupuncture can cure for example, terminal cancer and I must explain that while acupuncture may help with side effects of medication, emotional distress and pain, it is not a magic pill which can miraculously eliminate the disease.
Seeing the faces of these people after I tell them this is without a doubt the hardest part of my job.
Who should actively seek acupuncture?
Acupuncture is particularly suitable for patients who prefer not to take large amounts of medication as well as those who orthodox medicine has not had much success.
It is also great for supporting people who suffer from chronic conditions. For people trying to conceive, acupuncture may also be very useful both as a stand-alone treatment and in conjunction with IVF.
It is a wonderful option during pregnancy, to help with issues such as nausea, sinusitis and other pregnancy related conditions, and to help prepare for labour.