Caring for the Whole Child
By Dr. Jenifer Matthews
The pandemic has been hard on young people in so many ways. One patient that stands out for me is a teen I’ll call “Jay.” He was dealing with anxiety, struggling in school, and experiencing acute abdominal pain. The pain became so severe that Jay was admitted to our Oakland hospital.
The medical team did everything they could, but Jay wasn’t improving, so I went to see him to discuss other options. He agreed to try acupuncture.
Jay and I developed a lovely relationship. He relaxed and opened up during our sessions. We talked about the mind-body connection, and he started to understand how stress might be affecting him. We talked about what he could do to care for himself.
He didn’t magically get better, but Jay did begin to improve, and his parents were so appreciative. They had previous experience with acupuncture and were excited that we offered it because it wasn’t something that they could afford for Jay on their own.
Jay’s family isn’t unusual. In 2019, we began piloting acupuncture at our Claremont Pediatric Specialty Clinic in Oakland, where 92% of our patients live below the poverty line. In a survey, we found that more than half of clinic families were interested in receiving integrative health services such as nutrition coaching, meditation training, and acupuncture.
We secured a grant and began offering acupuncture at the clinic regularly, but when the grant ran out, we lost our acupuncturist. Now I offer acupuncture when I can, and a few of my colleagues with training in mind-body healing provide integrative services when their schedules allow.
We want to do more. We want to expand our acupuncture and massage services to our school-based clinics in Oakland. We want to offer these services to families that come through our clinic for asylum-seekers. And we are committed to establishing a dedicated outpatient clinic for integrative medicine in Oakland.
The demand is there. So many of our families, especially those served by our specialty clinic, are struggling right now. The number of patients we see who are coping with trauma, anxiety, and depression has exploded. But the reality is that integrative medicine is not covered by insurance, so it’s out of reach for a lot of families.
I got into medicine because I wanted to spend time with my patients. I want to hear their stories, talk with them about healing, and explore holistic options together like I did with Jay. And I’m not alone. I think most of the people I work with at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals crave the time and space to provide this kind of support to their patients.
We know that integrative medicine can be life-changing – for kids like Jay, for their families, and for their providers. We just need the support to do more.