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Med Student Considers The Alternative

Med Student Considers The AlternativeFor Lauren Elson MD, an interest in alternative therapies is helpingher shape a varied curriculum and a unique perspective on healthcare.

Boston [06.16.05] After studying acupuncture as her student elective during her second year at Tufts University School of Medicine, Lauren Elson's fascination with alternative medicine grew. Recently returned from an eye-opening trip to China, Elson's interest in therapies ranging from Chinese massage to movement therapies has only grown, and she looks forward to incorporating them into her profession.

"I got interested in medicine through the idea of treating both pain and taking a holistic approach to the body," says Elson, a 2005 Tufts graduate. "It just seemed like acupuncture really understood that or really understood the intricacies of how the body and health are related."


Elson talks about the therapies she observed in China
Elson talks about her interest in alternative medicine


Elson, a 2005 graduate, spent several weeks in Beijing this past semester, studying acupuncture and other Eastern remedies.

"It really helped to see it in practice and showed how it can be used as a form of health care and an effective form of health care," says Elson. "Unlike [in] the States where there's only a select patient population being treated, it's much more widespread there."

She appreciates the focus on the whole person, not just the symptoms.

"You don't just look at what's bothering the person but why that's bothering them or what's been out of whack in their life to cause that."

And in China, according to Elson, patients appreciate the availability of multiple choices for medical care.

"They felt like they could go get one kind of treatment and if that didn't work, go get the other kind of treatment," she says.

Elson recalls one woman who had been afflicted with allergies for years and after six acupuncture treatments finally felt relief.

"She was just so thankful that she was feeling better and that she felt like she could complete her daily activities without worrying about what she used to be feeling," recalls Elson.

Besides acupuncture, Elson also witnessed the practice of cupping, in which heated glass cups are applied to a patient's skin, and tui na, traditional massage therapy.

Elson came to Tufts out of a desire to translate her interest in body movement into therapeutic practice.

"In college I ended up being a neuroscience major because I wanted to understand how we're able to do the movements that we do," explains Elson. "It just seemed like medical school would be a way that I would be able to learn about this and work with the community and share the knowledge of how the body works and help people who've been injured or are trying to enhance performance."

Her love of dance - she deferred admission to Tufts for one year to dance in a professional company based in Austin, Texas - has also propelled her academic interests.

"Dance is what gave me an appreciation for the body and made me interested in wanting to know how the body worked," explains Elson.

The rigors of medical school haven't prevented her from immersing herself in her favorite activity. With some fellow students, Elson started a group called Dancing Docs. She is also co-dance captain and contributing choreographer for Rainbow Tribe, a Boston-based dance company that offers multicultural workshops, participates in events such as the AIDS Walk and Walk For Hunger, and assists organizations such as City Year and the Boys and Girls Club.

"It's a different type of reaching out than you can do in the hospital," Elson explains. "It's helped me learn to relate to people from all walks of life."

Elson herself has completed an orthopedic rotation with Boston Ballet, taken a community service elective where she and others performed public health skits in the community and traveled to Nicaragua with other Tufts students and professors to provide medical care.

She plans to spend the next four years in residency at the Columbia-Cornell program for physical medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. By the time her education - in its many forms and flavors - is complete, Elson has a simple, yet important goal.

"Just to be able to understand what it's like to not be at one's optimal performance level, so whether it's from a traumatic injury or chronic pain, to be able to really empathize with the patient and come up with a plan to help them feel better."

Photos courtesy of Lauren Elson


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