Acupuncture school begins a program on the Island

This spring the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (SIOM) will open a satellite program on Vashon, bringing what will be the first college courses offered on the Island in recent history.

The school, which currently operates at a campus near Green Lake in Seattle, purchased a 24-acre wooded property with a home on Cemetery Road. The parcel will serve as a facility for graduate students to study acupuncture during weekend-long intensives.

“Chinese medicine is based in a natural medicine context,” said SIOM president Paul Karsten. “We though it would be a great idea to have students learn in a natural area.”

SIOM has offered a Master’s in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degree since 1994 and recently added a Master’s in Acupuncture program with the intent of eventually holding classes on Vashon.

Karsten said the Vashon facility will have several classrooms as well as a few dorm-style bedrooms for students who choose to stay overnight. The students will also be able to spend their free time and breaks on the large and diverse property, which features a wetland, a stand of Douglas firs, a meadow, a creek and a pond.

“They can take breaks and wander around the woods rather than be on the main drag in the city,” Karsten said.

Classes will be held outdoors at times, he said, and students will eventually plant Chinese herbs on the property.

Karsten said SIOM, which is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, has considered creating a retreat-type learning center in the Seattle area for several years and spent much time looking at different properties before settling on Vashon and finally on the Cemetery Road parcel.

“We didn’t really need that much land, but it will be great to have that much land around us,” Karsten said. “It’s idyllic in that sense.”

The masters classes will be small, as SIOM is only accepting eight students to begin the program in May.

“We try to keep it small because when you’re training people to be health care professionals working with acupuncture, you want to do it with great care, and it’s a lot easier when you have a smaller group,” Karsten said.

He said the program is aimed at working professionals. The intensive weekend format will allow students to hold jobs while working toward their degrees and ideally graduate with less debt than they may have had at other schools.

The three-year program, slated to begin in May, will involve 15 intensive study weekends a year, most of them on Vashon and a few at the Seattle campus. Students will round out their training by working a few hours a week at clinics in the Seattle area.

Karsten said the study format SIOM is trying on Vashon isn’t common. Most acupuncture schools follow a more traditional weekday class schedule and offer classes at city campuses.

“I’m excited by the possibility — then, at the same time, this is new territory,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it all works out.”

Eli Stahl, an Island acupuncturist who practices at Full Circle Wellness Center, said SIOM is a highly respected school and perhaps one of the best in the county. He said their new program on Vashon sounded like something he would have been interested in as a student.

“Really the basis of (Chinese medicine) came from observing nature,” he said. “Everything that is outside happening in nature happens inside of us. If you observe nature enough, it will help (your) studies.”

Karsten said that in the beginning he was unsure what potential students would think of traveling to Vashon on weekends, but so far SIOM has had some impressive candidates apply for the program.

“So far everyone is very positive about this,” he said.

Though no Vashon residents have applied yet, Karsten said it would be great to have a few Islanders in the class. Applications will be accepted through April.

“I hope that we would get a few more local people. Ultimately we want it to be a more community-based type of program,” he said.

Depending on how the new program goes, Karsten said, SIOM would like to one day open a clinic in downtown Vashon — a place where students and professionals could offer acupuncture and Chinese medical massage and possibly lead tai chi and qigong classes.

“Maybe someday if it really goes well, we’ll move the whole school out there,” Karsten said with a slight chuckle. “Who knows?”


For more information about the Seattle Institute for Oriental Medicine, visit its website at, call 517-4541 or email


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