Monday, November 9, 2009

William Casalaina, MS, LAc

Francesca Biryukov and William Casalaina at the Yu Wen Acupuncture Clinic at the Swedish Institute.
The Acupuncture Program’s off-site clinic at Montefiore Medical Center supports people in the community while offering students the opportunity to work in a medical environment. William Casalaina, who has supervised the off-site clinic in Montefiore’s Pain and Palliative Care Service for the past three years, has witnessed the changes acupuncture can create. “When acupuncture gives patients some relief,” he said, “it affects their whole outlook.” 

As Clinic supervisor and Chair of the Clinical Department, William feels privileged to guide student interns in their first encounters with patients. “We feel we’ve been very successful at Montefiore. We have a lot of repeat patients, which means they like acupuncture; we see people’s demeanor change through the course of treatment, which is very satisfying; and the nurses seem to appreciate having us there.” The patients receiving acupuncture may have different conditions, but what they have in common is unrelenting pain. “These patients are referred to us by their doctors, who may have nothing else to offer the patient,” William explained. “Often patients cannot take any more medication or they’ve gotten to the maximum safe dose without relief.”

This semester the interns at Montefiore will be part of a new research project in which the Swedish Institute is collaborating. (See feature.) For the spring semester, three student interns are working in one site; in subsequent semesters, nine acupuncture interns will be working at three satellite locations in Fordham, Castle Hill and Williamsbridge.

The newly recruited patients underwent an extensive pre-treatment interview, and are questioned before and after every acupuncture session. Now, a research coordinator will be documenting some of the changes William and his interns have been seeing for years. “For instance, during the first week of our current offsite a new patient came in, walking with a cane,” William explained. “She was in significant pain, had a somewhat grouchy attitude and was skeptical about acupuncture. However, within three weeks she was using her cane less, to the point of forgetting about it! We were teasing her that she was going to have to throw away her cane. Needless to say, she has fallen in love with her acupuncturist!”

In addition to making acupuncture available to more patients, the off-site also creates opportunities for professional interaction. “One of the doctors in the pain clinic asked me if she could have her medical interns observe the acupuncturists at work,” William said. “One will be observing this semester, two in the next few weeks and two more over the summer. It’s exciting to have the opportunity of educating medical professionals during their initial training, when they are completely open to all of the information coming in. I’m looking forward to that exchange.”

When he is not supervising an off-site, William is at the Yu Wen Acupuncture Clinic at the school, where interns take care of about 300 patients a week. The off-site and on-site clinics are under the direction of Francesca Biryukov, MS, LAc, Dean of the Acupuncture Program and Clinical Director.

Find out more about our Acupuncture Clinic or what it feels like to experience an acupuncture session.