Robyn Elizabeth Adcock, L.Ac., D.A.C.M. ’94

Robyn AdcockDEGREES: B.A. in chemistry and theater and dance; M.S. in Oriental medicine, Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College, Berkeley; doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (D.A.C.M.), Pacific College of Health and Science

JOB TITLE: Pediatric acupuncturist, Integrative Pediatric Pain & Palliative Care team (IP3), UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals; executive director, California State Oriental Medical Association (CSOMA)

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Trinity’s campus is the perfect setting for great memories: foreign movies at Cinestudio, warm afternoons playing Frisbee on the quad, endless nights in Mather Hall cramming for organic chemistry with mnemonic devices that are still stuck in my head, getting to see Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company dance at Austin Arts Center, watching sunsets through the ornate windows of Jarvis, and absolutely every moment of senior year, when I savored each remaining minute of my time at Trinity.

What led you to study acupuncture and Chinese medicine? A gift of liberal arts education is the ability to dive deeply into both art and science. I double majored at Trinity in chemistry and theater and dance, which might appear as polar opposites, yet equally inspired my study of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. I always wanted to study medicine and was premed in school, but the path of an M.D. never felt quite right for me. I wasn’t interested in pharmaceuticals or surgery, and I longed for a medicine that was rooted in nature, seasonal cycles, human relationships, hands-on therapies, and herbalism. After college, I moved to N.Y.C., worked in business, and started training and competing in tae kwon do. The martial arts taught me about chi and pressure points and also left me with regular musculoskeletal injuries that only healed with acupuncture treatments sought in Chinatown. When I finally committed to pursue a career in medicine, I realized that acupuncture and Chinese medicine had already captured my heart and imagination.

What do you see for the future of your field? I believe that acupuncture and Chinese medicine will continue to grow in the United States in both private practice settings and at large medical centers. The opioid epidemic is forcing hospitals, medical practitioners, and patients to seek out new tools for pain management. Because many high-quality studies and randomized controlled trials support the use of acupuncture for pain, there is an opportunity for Chinese medicine to fill a much-needed gap and to continue to show how effective it is in treating many other symptoms, conditions, and diseases.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I love my work at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. It’s my dream job. I serve on one of the country’s most progressive integrative medicine teams, composed of physicians, anesthesiologists, clinical psychologists, specialized nurses, chaplains, music therapists, and manual therapists. We see some of the most difficult medical cases, including heart, liver, and stem-cell transplants, and apply with our patients a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates body, mind, and spirit. Every day, I have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids and families who are going through a tough time. Acupuncture and acupressure are very gentle modalities that offer children non-pharmacological management for common symptoms including pain, nausea, anxiety, constipation, and insomnia. Almost daily, I get to hear children say, “Acupuncture didn’t hurt, and I feel so much better.”

What are the biggest challenges you face? Acupuncture has been practiced for more than 2,000 years, but is just beginning to be used in U.S. hospitals. The introduction of any new modality into the established medical system presents challenges. I am the first doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine on staff at my hospital, so I am introducing new techniques and medical theories to patients, families, and other staff, which requires a lot of patience, clear communication, and self-evaluation. It is my hope to help create at UCSF a successful model for acupuncture medicine that can be replicated at pediatric hospitals across the country.

Did you have a professor who was particularly influential? Judy Dworin’s “Improvisation” class changed my life. She introduced me to concepts that still inform my life and work today. We started each class with meditation, practiced massage and therapeutic touch, and explored how movement can be a powerful vehicle for healing and wholeness. I still have two books about Daoist philosophy and tai chi chuan that were required reading for her class: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and Al Huang’s Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain. Dan Lloyd’s philosophy classes inspired my passion for neuroscience and the human brain. He posed key questions about intelligence, consciousness, communication, and perception and then guided us in how to apply technology and computer models to seek answers. I vividly remember using a program called SimAnt to explore human learning by modeling digital ant colonies and having to write letters to my classmates through this new thing called “the internet.”

To hear an NPR Morning Edition story about Adcock, her work, and her team, please