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Alternative Healing in the Era of COVID-19

By Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

As summer begins its transition into fall—or in theory, at least, considering this is Southwest Florida—and we all brace ourselves to enter the sixth month of COVID-19, stress has become a familiar presence in many of our lives.

Parents have wrestled with the dilemma of whether to send children back to school. Business owners and employees have questioned when and how to return to the office. Essential workers have endured the frontlines of this pandemic, often at the risk of their own health and safety. Not to mention, all of us feel the tension of lost normalcy and stability as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times.

But one constant remains at the forefront: we need to care for our own physical and mental wellness, now more than ever. Sarasota is fortunate to be immersed in all kinds of holistic resources for both healing and prevention—and that is where establishments like the East West College of Natural Medicine come in.

Since 1994, this local institution has operated an alternative medicine school and clinic, along with an herbal pharmacy, and while COVID-19 has forced some recent changes on the campus, its service to our community has not wavered. “In addition to our acupuncture physician program, we also offer continuing education courses—currently limited to online—for licensed physicians, as well as outreach programs for veterans, seniors and others in need of extra support,” enumerates the admissions chair Dr. Steven Roensch, AP.

“Our clinic offers treatments with acupuncture and integrative medicine from board-certified physicians, and our student clinic offers discounted treatments by student interns directly under the supervision of staff physicians. Acupuncture has a profound effect on returning the body to a state of homeostasis, or balance, which boosts the immune system and lowers stress hormone levels that can adversely affect the body’s immunological response. Stress is at an all-time high in these uncertain times.

“This causes a deregulation of the genes and a loss of homeostasis which then has a negative impact on the central nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Acupuncture treatments, balanced nutrition, regular exercise and adequate sleep are the most effective prescriptions for ‘preventative medicine,’” he continues.

But if you need a supplemental buffer of protection outside these basic measures, East West College can deliver in that arena too. Dr. Roensch confirms, “We also have an herbal apothecary on campus stocked with literally hundreds of raw herbs, patent herbs and granules which can be tailored to the specifications of almost every patient.

“Herbs are the oldest form of medicine on earth and—when accurately prescribed by an acupuncture physician as an adjunct to the treatment plan—offer a natural way to re-balance the body without the harmful side-effects of most pharmaceuticals. Acupuncture physicians are licensed to prescribe herbs as part of the rigorous board certifications required for them to practice Traditional Chinese Medicine in the state of Florida.”

Of course, aside from all the educational resources and treatment modalities East West College has to offer, the staff’s main commitment is health and safety from the spread of this virus. “Last semester, as per the state and local guidelines, we shifted to online classes and closed our on-campus student intern clinic in order to create a virtual learning environment for our students,” explains. Dr. Roensch.

“These changes were made in accordance with local and CDC precautions which include wearing masks, social distancing and limiting the number of individuals in a space. As for the fall semester, we are resuming the on-campus student clinic, but will continue to follow strict CDC policies and procedures such as screening patients, both over the phone and on arrival . We will also monitor the temperatures of both our patients and student interns before they enter the clinic. In the meantime, our didactic courses will continue online until such a time as the state and local mandates indicate otherwise.”

During a time when wellness feels like the most precious commodity we have, it’s a source of reassurance to know that such ethical practitioners and healing institutions exist in our own backyard. It’s no wonder that East West College of Natural Medicine has been a Sarasota mainstay for almost 30 years and counting.

*Dr. Steven Roensch is the admissions chair, clinic director and a licensed acupuncture physician at East West College of Natural Medicine, located at 3808 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, to schedule an appointment and to learn more about the academic programs, call 941-355-9080 or visit

*Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer. Her personal blog features tips for embracing an active, nutritious, balanced and empowered lifestyle.

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