YONGSAN, SOUTH KOREA -- When she was a little girl growing up in California, Erica Clarkson always had a desire to assist and help people. Now serving as the commander of the Brian Allgood Army Community Hospital/121st Combat Support Hospital, Col. Clarkson continues down the path of a long chain of family military service with a special twist. Surprisingly, she is the ONLY practicing Doctor of Physical Therapy in the Department of the Army that is an actual trained and certified acupuncturist.

"I think it was in elementary school that I decided to join the military," said Clarkson. "I always wanted to be a doctor growing up and never changed my goals as I always wanted to help people."

In the beginning of her military career, Clarkson was unsure of which path of medicine to follow. As the top graduate of the University of Southern California Reserve Officer Training Corps program and a George C. Marshall Award receipt, she went on active duty.

"As a Medical Service Corps officer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I realized after observing many types of medical professionals and specialties, I determined physical therapy was the right medical profession for me," said Clarkson.

It was within the early part of her military career that she became exposed to Oriental medicine, acupuncture and holistic healing. "I remember during my deployment to Kosovo as the chief physical therapist for the 212th MASH I also worked in a British Army hospital and encountered a therapist using acupuncture," Clarkson reminisced. "I asked two questions as I observed. Have you ever hurt anyone and how many people have you helped?"

With the answers being a resounding no and thousands, Clarkson embarked during her weekends and free time to England to complete her first level of training on acupuncture while assigned to Germany. "It was a lot of self and independent study, but I showed competence and gained self-confidence to begin practicing this with wonderful results," she said.

According Clarkson, holistic healing is an approach that uses natural methods to improve health, without using drugs or surgery to correct problems. Some of her holistic modalities included acupuncture, manual therapy, relaxation techniques and prescribed exercises specific to each patient's physical ailment. "There are no significant adverse side effects like there are with using drugs to treat problems," she said. "Different medicines have been linked to ulcers and other gastrointestinal irritations, and even death."

Clarkson details acupuncture a component of the health care system of China that can be traced back at least 2,500 years. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture may, it has been theorized, correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.

The practice of acupuncture to treat identifiable pathophysiological (disease) conditions in American medicine was rare until the visit of President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972. Since that time, there has been an explosion of interest in the United States and Europe in the application of the technique of acupuncture to Western medicine.

Acupuncture is a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical locations on or in the skin by a variety of techniques. There are a variety of approaches to diagnosis and treatment in American acupuncture that incorporates medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The most thoroughly studied mechanism of stimulation of acupuncture points employs penetration of the skin by thin, solid, metallic needles, which are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation.

After her European tours, Clarkson found herself being stationed in Washington State not far from Canada which led her to complete her board certification and credentials in acupuncture techniques prior to her multiple deployment to Iraq.

"I really honed my skill set during the deployments," said Clarkson. "As the only practicing physical therapist using acupuncture in conjunction with traditional medicine and therapeutic techniques, I realized that this was a great technique and tool for me to help people recover from their injuries."

On a sad note, Clarkson commented that one of the reasons that she wanted to come to the Republic of Korea, particularly to command the BAACH, was her affiliation of having worked with the late Col. Brian Allgood who was among 12 people that were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by hostile fire on January 2007. He had been serving in Iraq for about six months before the crash northeast of Baghdad.

Even today as commander of the hospital, Clarkson is still passionate about acupuncture and helping others to become better. "I stay consistent in my field of physical therapy and practice by seeing 3 to 5 patients a week before work, during lunch or after work. I enjoy seeing the changes my techniques bring to people's lives and how quickly they heal."

For this holistic healing physical therapist, Clarkson lamented, "Acupuncture will always be a part of my life. It is a safe, effective, and inexpensive treatment with no down side."