How I Got Into This, Part 2

Due to popular request, I actually have to finish writing about this now. I have been reluctant to do so because I was not sure how I wanted to portray my experience. There are lots of ways to say certain things, and I wanted to present this aspect of my story in the best possible light. Also, it is a little personal, so I am being honest while dealing with some experiences that were at times painful. Thank goodness that the parts of life and career referred to below, most of it anyway, are over. 

Back in the early 1990s, I had finished my undergraduate education in chemical engineering. The economy was very bad at that time, which was a factor in my decision to continue in school rather than putting in a big effort to find a corporate job. Another factor was that I really enjoyed being a student. I applied to some schools and got into several of them -- the University of Michigan, North Carolina State University, and the University of Washington. These were all PhD programs in chemical engineering that I'd gotten into. After visiting each school, I liked them all but decided to go to U of M due to the fact that my friends Ken and Robin were already grad students there in the same department, and I thought it might be helpful to know someone where I was going. Long story short, I had a strong dislike for my situation in Michigan. Having kept my options open, I got married to my college sweetheart Chris, who was from Seattle, and transferred to the University of Washington.  That program was a better fit for me but still not a good one. About halfway through, after the time of my qualifying exam, I had a look at my bookcase at home and noticed that all of the books I read for my own amusement had something to do with alternative medicine and acupuncture. Then it dawned on me that I was in the wrong place and that I could never be happy and do my life's work as a chemical engineer. Fine time to realize that, I know, but I felt that I had to finish the degree. Well, once I realized what I really wanted to do, it was like pulling teeth everyday to go up to that school and finish that program. There were a few bright spots, but I was miserable. I had a chat with a random conference attendee, an older man, at a national meeting for the American Chemical Society in New Orleans circa 1995 or 1996 when I was presenting a poster with my advisor and another grad student. I shared with the man that I had considered quitting school to study something else, but he told me, "Look, you are Black and female. How many like you do you think have gone before you? You have to show that you can endure, no matter what you do after this. Do not quit until you have that degree in your hand. Don't quit. That endurance quality is something that finishing will show about you, and nothing can ever take that away." Although I haven't a clue today about who that man was, I remembered his words and thought of them often while I was going through it in that department. Finally, I finished. We moved to California, and I found a job as a post-doc just to give myself a chance to use the degree before starting yet another graduate school program in acupuncture; I was thinking that maybe there could be a way to study part-time while working for several years, so I'd have an income. That was not to be. The job was not a fit, and in the meantime, I attended an open house at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. I was sold on acupuncture after that, and I started school in the evenings while still working. I would look forward to getting done with the work day so that I could get to class at night, and I loved class so much that I didn't even mind the long days. By the end of the school term, I'd decided to resign at my job and return to school full-time. It was a big step, but I never looked back. Soon after starting my next school term, I lost my 31-year-old husband due to suicide. Awful isn't the word. My parents told me it was fine if I just wanted to come home, but my new school community was just where I needed to be. Despite the hardships, I can say that I enjoyed school and healed a lot during that time.

Finishing my degree at acupuncture school was meaningful. Finally, I had some credentials to do something that was my dream. I found a job doing acupuncture in Atlanta, and I moved here. Sometime later, I bought an existing practice and started out on my own. Thankfully, I have been supported by the community here and have not had to even think of going back to engineering, which would be difficult to do anyway. After everything I went through during those years, the degree becomes irrelevant once a degree holder has been out of work in the field for only six months, I have heard. If that doesn't beat all . .

So we come to the present time. Even on my hardest days, I am honored to be doing this work. Thankfully, I have teachers who are willing to teach me and who have made a huge difference in my education and in my life. And may patients -- what can I say about them? I am so grateful. That about sums it up. 


Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to