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Community Highlights: Meet Florence Lim of Traditional Chinese Medicine Healing Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Florence Lim.

Hi Florence, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?

Since I was a little kid, I was always into movement and exercise. I grew up involved in gymnastics, ballet, and dance throughout my childhood and teen years, taught Pilates throughout college and during the years prior to becoming a full-time acupuncturist, and was a dance major at UCLA before switching to psychology. This instilled in me a strong awareness of the human body, of movement, and its effects on one’s health and well-being.

Growing up as a Chinese American and child of first-generation immigrants from China and the Philippines, I was raised in an environment in which food and Chinese herbs were used not only as nourishment for the body but as remedies for ailments as well. Whenever I got sick or had a cold, my mom would give me herbs to take instead of taking me to the doctor. Most of the time I recovered without having to resort to Western medicine. While I believe that antibiotics and Western medicine have their uses, I realized that doctors have a tendency to over-prescribe medicines to cover up or hide symptoms instead of treating the root cause of the illness or suggesting lifestyle or dietary changes to prevent illness in the first place. As I got older, I became interested in the more holistic philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and its emphasis on the relationship between the body, the mind, and the environment in which one lives. I also was attracted to traditional Chinese medicine’s emphasis on prevention and treatment of the root causes of disease as opposed to Western medicine’s emphasis on treating the branches, or superficial symptoms, of disease. At the same time during college, I had been practicing a lot of martial arts such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Ji Quan, and traditional Chinese Wushu, whose emphasis on the body-mind-spirit connection further piqued my interest in learning Eastern methods of healing. I decided that if I wanted to learn more about Eastern medicine and delve more deeply into my martial arts training, I should go to China to study these things. Thus began a six years journey of life in Shanghai and immersion in Chinese culture leading to a comprehensive understanding of this ancient, holistic way of healing. I attended Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and completed my clinical rounds and internships at renowned TCM hospitals in Shanghai.

During my studies there, I suffered from severe menstrual cramps and heavy menstrual bleeding. The fact that my mother had survived breast cancer in her 40s and had a history of fibroids also made me hyper aware of my own health and whether what I was experiencing was a sign of a systemic imbalance. Since I was studying TCM gynecology at the time, I decided to prescribe Chinese herbal teas for myself to see if it would help alleviate my menstrual discomfort and symptoms. I was amazed at how effective the herbs were in rebalancing my hormonal function and relieving my menstrual discomfort, which motivated me to learn as much as I could about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to treat a wide variety of female gynecological issues. I saw firsthand how Chinese medicine and western medicine are fully integrated with each other at the hospitals in Shanghai. For instance, if a patient came to a TCM doctor with irregular menstrual cycles, the doctor could order blood tests and perform a routine pelvic exam or transvaginal ultrasound if necessary, and then go on to write a prescription for either conventional Western medicine, such as hormones like progesterone, or Chinese herbal medicine, depending on the patient’s situation. I interned with a well-known female gynecologist named Wang Cai Wen, whose practice filled up every morning with a long line of twenty, sometimes thirty patients who would travel long distances just to be able to get an appointment and see her. She could easily see and prescribe herbs for more than seventy patients every day. If a patient was in the in-patient ward, the TCM doctor could prescribe western painkillers or an IV drip while at the same time prescribing Chinese herbal medicine to address the patient’s illness based on their TCM diagnosis and constitution. Cancer patients undergoing chemo, radiation, or who were in remission would regularly visit the TCM oncologist (doctor who diagnoses and treats cancer) to get herbs to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, help support their immune system, and prevent the recurrence of cancer. My primary fields of interest at the time were TCM gynecology, gastroenterology, and oncology. After five years of study, I graduated from Shanghai University of TCM with highest honors in both gynecology and acupuncture. I also won a gold medal at an international martial arts conference for my performances in both the Shaolin sword and 24-movement standard Tai Ji Quan sequence at the Zhejiang International Martial Arts Conference in Hang Zhou in 2003. I stayed for an additional year of clinical internship before returning to Los Angeles to begin my practice.

It was during the first years of my practice in L.A. that I discovered there existed a doctoral program focusing on women’s reproductive health and fertility at Yo San University of TCM in Los Angeles. Since TCM gynecology was one of my main interests, I decided to enroll in the program. I completed an extensive literature review synthesis regarding the integrated use of Chinese medicine and Western medicine to treat immunological recurrent miscarriage. During the course of the program, I came to know and work with my mentors, Dr. Shiaoting Jing and Dr. Biao Lu at TCM Healing Center, and have been working there ever since for the past 13 years. While a majority of my patients are women with hormonal imbalance or fertility-related issues, I also treat many patients with digestive, respiratory, skin, immunological, and pain-related issues. As much as I’ve helped many patients over the years with their various acute and chronic health issues, I believe there is always so much more to learn about the intricacies of dealing with different people, different body types and constitutions, and different personalities. My respect for and knowledge of Chinese medicine as it pertains to treating infertility and female hormonal issues has deepened considerably over these years. Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes that medicine should not adhere to a one-size-fits-all model of treatment. Rather, a skilled doctor knows how to be sensitive to and develop a treatment strategy that best fits the patient in whatever stage of unwellness they are at. I hope that acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and other holistic, integrative therapies will become more widely used and universally accepted as part of the healthcare system, as there are so many patients that can benefit from them.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?

In Chinese culture, children are typically obligated to take care of their elders and follow in the family tradition. There has always been and still is pressure on me to take care of my parents’ fashion and property development businesses, despite being the youngest child and having two older brothers, both of whom had substance abuse issues, with one passing away at only 41 years old from causes related to alcoholism. My father, at first, was not the most supportive of my desire to carve out my own career path. However, this made me even more determined to prove myself, become independent, and follow through on my decision to pursue a career in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

Going all the way across the world to study something in a completely different language was one of the major difficulties I encountered upon beginning my journey towards becoming a TCM doctor. As with many Chinese Americans, I spoke the language well enough but was basically illiterate in Chinese since most of the written Chinese I had learned and then easily forgotten came from my childhood days spent trying to learn Chinese in Chinese school once a week. I never thought I’d see the day that I could actually read Chinese from books or newspapers! It’s amazing what being forced to live somewhere does to one’s language skills! After living in China for those six years, I was able to read fairly fluently in Chinese, at least when it comes to everyday written and medical language.

When I first came back to L.A. after finishing my studies in China and obtaining my license in California, I quickly realized just how little I knew about the business aspects of running my own clinic. Despite six years of specialized education and clinical internship, it was a whole other ballgame learning how to deal with the day-to-day aspects of running one’s own business, let alone know how to communicate with Western patients and manage their expectations. Furthermore, when I was working full-time at TCM Healing Center – including a very L.A. daily two hour commute – while simultaneously completing the doctoral program at Yo San University, I was under a lot of stress – not only to perform well at my new job but also to complete all the assignments and research work necessary to finish my doctoral thesis. During this time, I neglected to take care of my health and, as a result, ended up at the hospital getting surgery to remove an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit. While helping take care of other people’s health, I had severely neglected my own. It just goes to show how much of an impact stress has on one’s physical health!

But as with most challenges and struggles, these forced me to learn about managing expenses and taxes, about correctly filling out insurance forms such that I would get paid adequately for my services, about which supplements and products to purchase and from whom, and about how to communicate treatment plans and goals more effectively to patients depending on their needs. Over the past 13 years, I have learned to create a better work/life balance for myself and make my own physical and mental well-being a priority, in the same way that I tell my patients to take care of theirs. Life is short, and there is no better time to take care of yourself than right now.

Even now, with a stable flow of patients that I see on a regular basis, there are still many day-to-day frustrations and challenges when it comes to dealing with certain types of patients and their health issues, but I feel that these are all struggles that will further encourage my growth as a practitioner as long as I stay humble and open to learning new things. I can definitely say that every difficulty I have had along the way has only made me stronger, more confident, and better equipped to deal with whatever challenges await in the future.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Traditional Chinese Medicine Healing Center?

I work at one of the busiest traditional Chinese medicine clinics in Los Angeles, together with Dr. Shiaoting Jing and Dr. Biao Lu. We specialize in the use of acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbal medicine, as well as diet and lifestyle management to treat a wide array of both acute and chronic health conditions. I specialize in the treatment of infertility and women’s health conditions such as menopause, peri-menopause, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain), amenorrhea (lack of periods) or oligomenorrhea (infrequent periods), and management of fibroids and endometriosis, among other things. Beyond that, many patients come to me for general health, stress and anxiety reduction, musculoskeletal pain, chronic digestive issues, and skin or allergy issues such as acne and eczema. During the pandemic, when some of my patients had lingering post-Covid respiratory symptoms such as chronic dry cough and low-grade fever even after taking antibiotics or steroids, the acupuncture, cupping, and herbal teas I prescribed really helped to resolve their remaining symptoms.

I’m also known for my facial rejuvenation acupuncture treatments, which involve the insertion of fine needles into the face to help promote blood circulation, collagen synthesis and elasticity in the skin and to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. While these treatments do not have as dramatic an impact as conventional approaches like botox or fillers, facial acupuncture is far more gentle, looks more natural, and comes with fewer side effects than Western cosmetic treatments and helps give the skin a healthier glow if done on a regular, consistent basis. I also tell my patients that hydration, a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and regular exercise are just as important for maintaining a healthy complexion!

I think that what sets me apart from others in my field is that I was lucky enough to be able to experience, learn from, and combine the best of both worlds, Eastern and Western. I was trained in China at a medical school that taught both conventional and traditional Chinese medicine, which helped me develop a more complete and thorough understanding of the Chinese herbs and how to use them in conjunction with Western medicine treatments to treat a variety of health issues, as opposed to students who learn from TCM universities here in the states, which focus primarily on acupuncture and considerably less on herbal education and formula prescriptions. On the other hand, being fluent in English and at home in Western culture allows me to more effectively communicate TCM to my patients in a way that they can grasp and understand.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
In my view, there is no growth without risk. Traveling across the world to live in a different country and study its medicine in a different language was a big risk in itself, with no guarantees that I would end up having a successful career as an acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine. I could have lived comfortably off the back of my parents’ successes, but I chose instead to work hard and carve out a path for myself. When I came back to America, I tried to open up my own acupuncture practice, sharing the space with a chiropractor and working part-time as a Pilates instructor to make ends meet. Having no experience running a clinic, things were not going as well as I would have hoped for. I knew that if I wanted to survive as an acupuncturist, I needed to meet other like-minded individuals in my field of work and learn about how acupuncture and Chinese medicine are practiced in the West. This ultimately led me to the doctoral program at Yo San University in Los Angeles, which is how I found the full-time job at the clinic where I now work. In hindsight, the failure of my first attempt at starting my own practice ended up helping me discover a better and more stable work situation. In the end, I consider the risks I take and the setbacks along the way to simply be paths towards self-improvement and better opportunities.

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Image Credits
Iris Debelder (image credit for the self-portrait with greyish/blue background)

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