By Ruth Gerson
Nicole Sheldon is a Colombian/American woman practicing Chinese acupuncture in Asia, based in Thailand, who has successfully merged her expertise with the art of spices and healthy eating.
It’s an unusual combination that stems from Nicole’s interest in both fields – medicine and food – but instead of choosing one over the other, she has created her own, and very special, career: acupuncturist and herbalist.
Born in Bogota, Columbia, she began to travel with her parents at a young age, living in Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, and ultimately in Thailand, moving here in 1983, where she spent her childhood and teen years. Studies followed at Tufts University just outside of Boston, where she took pre-med courses majoring in medical anthropology with a minor in Latin American studies, intending to continue her medical studies.
While at university, this energetic young woman was seeking meaningful and interesting life experiences in addition to her full-time studies, preferably medically related. And so she structured her class schedule to allow time to pursue this ambition, beginning in community services, working on Battered Women Hotline and in an HIV/AIDS Acupuncture Clinic, talking in the latter to patients and learning how acupuncture had helped their immunity in AIDS related illnesses.
Working there roused her interest in acupuncture.
Nicole’s dissertation for the course work in an ongoing two-year Ancient Medicine seminar was “Garlic through History”, which sparked her interest in the link between food and medicine. This led to her applying and receiving a grant in 1999 to study and research the Green Revolution in Cuba, a movement that came into existence after the Soviet Block collapsed in the early 1990s and Cuba ceased getting help, finding itself cut from the world. This forced the Cuban government to seek self-reliant methods to sustain its economy.
Asked “Why garlic?” Nicole answers, “Garlic is everywhere – in rituals, medicine, food.”
For her research work in Cuba, Intersection of food and medicine, Nicole received an award from Tufts University. This and similar work began to cast doubts on her initial desire to pursue the traditional medical route.
At the end of her stint on Madison Avenue, Nicole considered attending the famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. However, being the practical and sensible person that she is, Nicole thought ahead of the future life that she envisioned for herself, which at some stage would include a family and children, and she decided to go into healing. And so began a very interesting career that would take her life in a new direction.
Nicole then applied to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, a school of Chinese medicine in New York, better known in her circles as PCOM where she studied from 2001 to 2005, completing a five-year course in four, by the end of which Nicole became what is known as OMD, Oriental Medicine Doctor.
Following her studies she remained in New York, working as acupuncturist in a private clinic. This was a pivotal time in her life, not only in cementing her career, but also the time when she met Sebastian, her future husband.
In 2006 Nicole decided to further her education in her chosen field of alternative medicine and traveled to Beijing to apprentice with Dr. Wang Ju-Yi (then in his 70s), an acupuncturist and herbalist who was considered one of China’s living treasures.
During her studies with her mentor, Nicole also learned Yao Shan, which is medicinal cooking, as well as fluency in the Chinese language. She jokingly calls herself, “White Chinese medicine doctor.”
In 2007 after one year in China Nicole’s future was about to change when she went back to New York to attend a friend’s wedding. There she reconnected with Sebastian, with whom she had lost touch, and instead of returning to Beijing she remained in New York. She and Sebastian got married, with nuptials in the following year in Colombia, then settled in Chicago, where Nicole opened her own acupuncture clinic.
"In 2006 Nicole decided to further her education in her chosen field of alternative medicine and traveled to Beijing to apprentice with Dr. Wang Ju-Yi, an acupuncturist and herbalist who was considered one of China’s living treasures."
The pull of China was too strong for Nicole to resist and three years later, as luck would have it, her husband was employed to work there. Back in her element, Nicole now studied full time Chinese language followed by three years of research on Chinese medicinal plants and food, the results of which she hopes to publish in a book, to be augmented by medicinal cooking recipes translated from Chinese.
In 2014 Nicole and her husband decided to stop their global wanderings and settle down to start a family. They chose Thailand as their home with Nicole’s connections to the place. This has been a fortuitous move for Nicole, as around 15 years ago the Thai government began licensing Chinese medicine. “It is an interesting time,” she says, “as the Ministry of Health wants to fully integrate Chinese medicine into Thai hospitals – both public and private.”
Her knowledge of the Chinese language enables her to write herbal prescriptions in Chinese which she sends to Hua Chieu Hospital in Bangkok’s Chinatown, where the first Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital was established in Thailand. Meanwhile, Nicole’s goal is to get her Thai medical license to enable her to practice and work in Thailand indefinitely.