Her family members tell Linda Atkinson, D.C., that she
has “a pioneer heart.” She needs that kind of heart to practice
chiropractic in China, a country of 1.3 billion people with
only a handful of licensed chiropractors.
The 1975 graduate of Palmer’s Davenport campus was the
fourth of 18 chiropractors in her family to graduate from
Palmer. After practicing in Michigan for nearly 30 years,
Dr. Atkinson’s China experience began with an e-mail from
the Michigan Chiropractic Association looking for a chiropractor
to work in China.
“My children were grown and married,” she said. “After 30
years, I was ready to do something different.” She inquired
about the position, consulted with her family and prayed
about the opportunity.
Putting chiropractic in its correct place
In the end, she realized it was the right thing to do. “I knew
the Chinese medical doctors had no preconceived idea of
what chiropractic was and were willing to see how this
natural, drugless healing art can work with them,” she said.
“I knew that this would give me a chance to help put chiropractic
in its correct place in the healthcare profession, and
more importantly, to help sick people get well, and well
people stay well.”
Dr. Atkinson left her Romulus, Mich., practice in the hands
of her nephew, Dr. Jeremy Shaft, and departed for China in
November 2005. She practices in Zigong, Sichuan, which at
3.2 million people is considered a small town in China.
Her clinic is set up within the No. 1 People’s Hospital, a
national medical facility integrating preventive medical
treatment, scientific research and education. Patients in
China typically carry all of their medical records with them,
and go from doctor to doctor seeking relief. “They have no
concept of appointments,” Dr. Atkinson says, “and they go
to a doctor as a very last resort.”
Making chiropractic and cultural adjustments
Life in China has its challenges as well as its joys, she said.
Some of the challenges are dealing with the Chinese culture
and being so far from her family. “We keep in contact by Web
cam and voice messenger, but that’s not the same thing as
having them in the same room,” she said.
The food in this Sichuan city took some getting used to, she
added. “They love spicy food here. I can’t eat spicy food.
It took me a while to figure out what I could eat and to find
some of the foods from home that I miss.”
Dr. Atkinson points out elements of the spine to two of her
translators, who assist her in communicating with her patients.
Joys include the reactions of her patients and the Chinese
medical community to chiropractic. “My patients love
chiropractic care and they refer many of their friends and
relatives. They feel that there is something missing in their
health care here. Most patients are constantly asking me not
to leave. The Chinese medical doctors refer patients to me
all the time. They are very interested in natural health care
and welcome chiropractic with open arms.”
Doctor and teacher
Her greatest joy is giving people hope for a healthier, pain-free
lifestyle. “I am able to give my patients hope that they don’t
have to live in constant pain,” she said. “I’m also able to teach
them that they need to bring their families in to be checked
when they are young so they don’t have the lifetime problems
the parents and grandparents have.”
Dr. Atkinson’s pioneer heart is inspiring people in China,
including her interpreters. She has several interpreters who help
translate her directions to her patients, including educating
them about chiropractic. “One day while I was having a training
class for them, Willa and Fresh got a look in their eyes and I
knew they got ‘the Big Idea’ about chiropractic. They are so
excited about how we can help people that they want to
become chiropractors themselves.”
What fuels her passion to bring chiropractic to China?
“Chiropractic is unique,” she says. “It should be available worldwide.
I feel it is an important missing factor in health care, and
many people have pain, symptoms and disease because they
haven’t had the benefits of chiropractic care. I received a letter
from a Chinese student who is now in America searching for
something to help his mother. He said he found chiropractic
helped a similar problem he has and now he wants to become a
chiropractor and come back to practice in China.”
Setting up practice a world away
As for those who think they have what it takes to practice in a
country like China where chiropractic isn’t readily available, Dr.
Atkinson has the following advice: “Learn about the culture
before you come; take a trip to the area you’re interested in living
in, and check out the living conditions, not just the tourist
attractions. Find out if you can live in the climate and eat the
foods, and learn some of the language if you can. Talk to other
chiropractors who have been living there.”
Hot topic: Spicy Szechwan-style
cooking originated in Sichuan,
the province of China where
Dr. Atkinson’s practice is located.
Dr. Atkinson also has a few suggestions for what to do once you
finally make the big move. “Plan to go home at least every six
months,” said Dr. Atkinson. “Make sure you have basic office
forms, research, pamphlets, a spine and visual charts to help
you explain how chiropractic works. Ask yourself if you have
the pioneering spirit in you, because at times you will feel like
one. Basically prepare, prepare, prepare and then expect the
unexpected to happen.”
Dr. Atkinson may be reached by e-mail at