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A pioneer heart brings chiropractic to China

Imagine having a successful practice for almost three decades. Then one day you receive a request to move yourself and your practice to a place 13 time zones away. Palmer graduate Linda Atkinson, D.C., took up this challenge last year.
close up of globe

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.
Dr. Atkinson instructs her translators

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.
Chinese toddler with globe

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 drlindama@gmail.com.

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