In honor of his late father, who was a biology teacher, a park naturalist, a Presbyterian minister and an active humanitarian, Eric Martin has embarked upon a career and education that embodies the best of all of those worlds. A Bastyr graduate of two distinctly different programs — the herbal sciences BS program ('04) and the acupuncture and Oriental medicine MS program ('07) — Martin has found his calling as an acupuncturist, herbalist, instructor and cultural explorer.
"My dad incorporated such an interesting mix of science, nature and spirituality into his life and he really lived a life of service and taking care of others," says Martin. Having recently returned from studying in China and now gearing up to be one of only two first-year acupuncture and Oriental medicine residents at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Martin is building a career that is a twist on this same interesting mix.
Martin grew up in rural Ohio surrounded by lush forests that imbued him with an affinity for nature. "The woods really spoke to me," he says. "That's where I would go to find solace, especially during tough times." This interest in the natural world was encouraged by his father, who frequently took Martin on hikes and harvested berries for making tea. His dad knew exactly which berries were safe to ingest and the tea they made was not only delicious but also high in many nutrients, says Martin.
In addition to nature's harvests filling the household, Martin's early childhood environment was full of a spirit of compassion. As dedicated members of the church and community, his family took in dozens of foster children over the years. As the only biologist in their small town, his father also rescued orphaned and injured animals.
Still, it took Martin awhile to carve out a career path that reflected those early influences. He initially pursued an interest sports medicine at Ohio Northern University, but he later dropped out of college and relocated to Seattle in 1993 to take part in the dot-com boom. Yet, Martin never quite felt at home in the world of high technology. When the boom went bust in 2001, he took the opportunity to search for a whole new career. "I wanted to do something that was more meaningful. I wanted to focus on giving to and helping others." Martin's dad had recently passed away, and so his father's legacy was another prominent factor in his decision to switch careers.
Not only had his father's interests made an impression on him, but so had his father's health problems. His dad had suffered a series of strokes over many years; a side effect of medication he had been prescribed following open-heart surgery. Observing this reinforced Martin's interest in preventive medicine and the importance of not only extending a person's life, but also preserving one's quality of life. Because he also had been interested in Eastern philosophy for many years, he decided to explore a career in traditional Chinese medicine.
While investigating acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) schools, Martin visited Bastyr University to learn about its program, and in the process discovered the undergraduate herbal sciences program. Since Martin, then 36 years old, wanted to finish his bachelor's degree before pursuing an MS, it seemed like the perfect program for him. Besides, he reasoned, studying plant medicine would honor the memory of his father.
When he enrolled in the herbal sciences program, he was uncertain whether he would attend Bastyr for his AOM degree; however he was so impressed with Bastyr that it was an easy choice to stay. "I really fell in love with Bastyr University," he says. "The herbal sciences program was phenomenal. I had a fantastic experience." He recalls a quintessential day at Bastyr: "In the morning we had our anatomy and physiology lab where we were studying the human heart, followed by organic chemistry later that day. Next, we had a class on Ayurvedic herbal medicine. In the evening a practitioner of Native American spirit medicine visited, and we spent the evening dancing around a bonfire."
The program seemed to have everything he was looking for — science, ancient medicine from other cultures, and spiritual aspects of herbs and of healing. "There are great instructors and such an eclectic mix of people — some are very science oriented and some more energetically oriented," he explains. And, while studying at Bastyr University, he found his own allegiances shifting. "I thought the scientific side of natural medicine would interest me more, but now I am more drawn to the energetic aspects," he says, adding that, "Both are equally important."
For that reason, Bastyr's acupuncture program has also been a perfect fit for him, as it is steeped in both solid Chinese medicine and Western science. "The reality is that in today's medical environment, as an acupuncturist you need to be able to speak intelligently about the biomedical basis of disease," Martin explains.
"The AOM dean Terry Courtney and associate dean Steve Given, are extremely good administrators," he notes. "They work for the benefit of the program and run a really tight ship. The program just works — everything from the vast experience and expertise of the instructors to the quality of the course material. And the clinic experience is outstanding."
Although the curriculum was demanding, Martin's ambitions propelled him into a variety of other activities. He became very involved in student council, worked part time at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was a teaching assistant, and taught a course called Introduction to Backpacking and Herbal Identification. This class developed as a result of his venture grant-funded 300-mile hike along the Pacific Crest trail in 2004 in which he and a classmate catalogued, collected and used herbs as they hiked. Martin also leads herb walks for various groups.
Martin recently returned from studying in China, where he earned academic credit working at a clinic in Shanghai. The experience was intense, as he often saw 30 patients in a single morning, but he gained a deeper appreciation for the historical context of the medicine.
His ultimate goals are to teach at Bastyr University, to own a private practice that incorporates both Oriental medicine and Western herbs, and to open a traditional Chinese tea house that offers therapeutic herbal blends. (UPDATE: Martin founded and operates GoodMedizen Acupuncture & Herbs in downtown Seattle.)
After studying for six years at Bastyr University, Martin still has a deep appreciation for the school. Armed with clear plans for the future and the comfort of knowing he's found the right profession, he is prepared to make a genuine difference. It's merely icing on the cake that his dad would have wholeheartedly approved. "I think he would have liked Bastyr," he muses. "It truly embraces so much of what he believed in."
Interviewed December 2007