An interview with Caroline Wilkerson

In this series, we meet with current students and alumni to get a deeper look into why they chose to study Chinese Medicine at Five Branches and dedicate their lives to being of service to those in need of high quality, holistic healthcare.

[Editor]] Hi Caroline, it’s great to meet with you today and learn a little bit more about you. Do you mind telling us a little bit about your background?

[Caroline] Hi, of course. My name is Caroline Wilkerson. I grew up Illinois. When I was 22, I joined the US Navy as a Crypto-linguistic analyst. I went to the Monterey Peninsula Defense Language Institute to learn Russian and then later Chinese. I moved to Hawaii to further learn Chinese language and culture with the Navy. While studying Chinese language and culture I fell in love with it. So many of my teachers were amazing. That was such a great experience. That was where I started digging deeper into Chinese Medicine and learning more.

When my dog was 8 ½ years old she had an accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. We found a veterinarian acupuncturist and we had appointments with her 3 times per week for 1 month and then once a week after that. She regained 75% mobility and lived another 4 years. We very happy and it was pretty exciting.

[Editor]] What did you do when you got out of the Navy and how did you discover Five Branches University?

[Caroline] When I got out of the Navy, I was trying to do decide what I wanted to do. Everyone was pushing me to choose a more conventional career path like as a government contractor because of my security clearance. It wasn’t very rewarding work for me though. So i thought, how can I use my skills, work with and help people? I had also fallen in love with Chinese culture. So I started looking into different acupuncture schools.

First I went to the Institute of Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ICAOM) in Honolulu, Hawaii. Before we start school we all think we know what Chinese medicine and acupuncture is, but we really don’t know until we actually start studying it and digging in deeper.

After studying at ICAOM for a little bit, I made the decision to transfer to Five Branches University. I chose Five Branches because they have an amazing program and a great reputation. It is also close to Monterey, where I had spent quite a few years of my life. I looked at the faculty and they had amazing credentials. So i decided to transfer to FBU in January of 2013.

Coming from 8 years in the Navy, where you must be alert at all times, almost walking on eggshells, where you are literally moving ships with your information, it was a lot of pressure to deal with regularly. My first day of acupuncture school here at FBU people were very friendly and were like “oh, you’re new here. Hi! Welcome!” None of the students were in competition with each other. They were studying with each other, helping each other out, sharing notes. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of me that I didn’t even know was there.

[Editor]] Why did you choose the San Jose campus?

[Caroline] I chose the San Jose campus because I have a daughter, who was 4 at the time and was starting school soon. I wanted her to go to San Jose schools and I felt it was a great family environment with many activities nearby.

[Editor]] Chinese Language: Is it necessary to be fluent?

[Caroline] Part of our curriculum is one semester in Chinese language. I think being conversationally fluent in Chinese gave me a leg up. Knowing the names of the points and being able to read them helped me to understand their functions and why they do what they do. All of them have a name for a reason. This also applies to the herbs. There are also several Chinese sayings in regards to the theory that I was able to memorize easily and not have to translate them. It also helped with the Chinese professors that would get stuck on a word and not know how to translate it into English. I would give the translation and help the class to move forward.

Different people have different language abilities. There is enough stuff that is translated well enough and a lot of our instructors do a great job at translating and interpreting the material that you can make it through the program just fine without learning Chinese, but it really helps. I think it’s important. In order to see into the soul of another people you have to know the language, because the language and the words that you use to describe things really frames the way that you form thoughts about those things. So the more you know Chinese and study the grammar and how to put different words together to create thoughts and ideas, then it gets you into the mindset more of the great masters who created the medicine and that wrote it down and catalogued it.

[Editor]] Our culture and country is accepting natural medicine, especially Chinese Medicine, instead of Western Medicine more than ever. They are gravitating towards it. Even Olympians are utilizing its many benefits. What are your thoughts on this?

[Caroline] Exactly, it’s because we have so many health issues, especially with our aging population, and the high amount of pharmaceuticals that are being prescribed, which are very expensive and have lots of side effects. I think we are realizing that the way the West has gone, especially in American culture, we have created an environment that seems to breed mental and physical illness. I think that is why so many people like natural healing methods. The idea of prevention is so important. That is really the central pillar of Chinese medicine: prevention. By eating right, living right and keeping things in balance you can stay healthy and won’t need any treatment at all.

[Editor]] It’s almost time for you to graduate and get your license. What are your plans for the future?

[Caroline] Well, I have my primary plan and a contingency plan. Either way, I am going to Denmark to study at the John Bolls Acupuncture Center and learn the Acunova treatment protocols to treat eye disorders. My long term goal is to create an integrative ophthalmology center focusing on degenerative eye diseases with Traditional Chinese Medicine as the center and help people with early onset macular degeneration before it gets serious. Helping people have better vision and better quality of life is great, but I’m also very interested in it because it is very measurable and objective, unlike pain, which is very subjective. Chinese medicine can also treat glaucoma without any invasive treatments. My mother had a vitreous detachment and after 3 treatments it was completing gone. Now she only needs to go to weekly treatments to maintain her pure field of vision.

I’m currently trying to secure a job at Stanford’s international medicine department utilizing my Chinese language skills which would allow me to network with doctors at the ophthalmology center at Stanford. If I am not able to get this position, I will open my private practice a little earlier and continue to network with ophthalmologists and establish the integrative ophthalmology center.

This summer I started a lecture series at the San Jose Veterans Center focusing on integrative medicine techniques for female veterans. This series is to help them self-treat their PTSD and anxiety symptoms by giving them the techniques and skills they need in order to take back their life. I have invited several integrative medicine practitioners and fellow Five Branches students and graduates to offer classes on various topics. I plan on continuing this lecture series after I graduate.

[Editor]] Thank you so much for meeting with me today, Caroline. It is very exciting to hear your story and to learn about your interest in Integrative Ophthalmology utilizing Acupuncture and TCM. I look forward to working with you in the future and bringing Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to Americans and the world.

[Caroline] Of course! Thank you for having me. Yes, we will definitely be working together towards helping so many people in need.