Most integrative medicine doctors say patient care is the main reason they wanted to practice this form of medicine.
“An integrative approach is very patient-centric, which is the medicine I’ve always wanted to practice,” said clinician and integrative health expert Dr. Holly Lucille, ND, RN. “This means working with everyone on the patient’s healthcare team. It’s always about the patient.”
To most integrative medicine physicians, it just makes sense. “It seems that logic dictates the use of all therapies that may benefit the patient,” explained naturopathic oncologist Dr. Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO. “I honestly cannot imagine any other way to practice medicine.”
Many integrative medicine doctors have had some experience with non-conventional healing before pursuing their doctorate. Such was the case with integrative health pioneer Dr. Ronald Hoffman, MD. “I was interested in alternatives long before med school,” explained Dr. Hoffman. “I learned about healing practices from different traditional cultures and then I studied acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition several years before deciding to become a doctor.” Dr. Hoffman said that soon after medical school and residency, he chose to open up his integrative medicine practice and “never looked back.”
Radiation oncologist Dr. Matt Mumber, MD was also drawn to an integrative approach. “It is important to include all aspects of a person’s life at all levels of being and experience,” said Dr. Mumber who is the editor of the book Integrative Oncology: Principles and Practice and co-author of Sustainable Wellness. “We do this to lay the groundwork to fix what is broken, help the weaker parts of one’s self, and be of service to the other parts that require the often difficult, slow work of healing.”
But the question remains for those bent in this direction: how do you become an integrative medicine doctor?
Becoming an integrative medicine doctor
Medical education is a very important component of a successful integrative medical practice. Integrative medical experts agree that advanced training can enhance their medical practice and help improve patient outcomes.
Dr. Mumber, who earned his Integrative Medicine Fellowship from the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, feels the additional training was critical. “Most of the material I learned through the Integrative Medicine Fellowship was not covered in conventional medical education,” he explained. “In medical school, we did not receive foundational knowledge in areas such as nutrition, physical activity, stress management, and spirituality. Those areas were deemed not as important as the more reductionistic Western medicine-based approaches.”
As a fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (FABNO), Dr. Kaczor chose to get additional education in oncology. “Having that additional training was an integral part of launching our oncology practice so quickly,” she explained. “It also helped me establish relationships with colleagues within my specialty, which is a win-win for everyone, especially the patient.”
There are many integrative medicine programs online and through a variety of different universities throughout North America. There are 70 different medical and nursing schools presently offering fellowships within integrative medicine programs in the United States. (4) Many of these universities offer their integrative medicine programs online. There are also many integrative medicine programs in Canada offered by the Alberta College of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Alternative College of Canada, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and other organizations.
The American Board of Integrated Medicine (ABOIM) also offers a fellowship program and board certification when a candidate meets the following criteria:
- Completion of an ABOIM-approved Fellowship in Integrative Medicine
- Graduation from an accredited four-year naturopathic college
- Graduation from an accredited National Certification Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) college
- Graduation from an accredited Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) college (1)
Thousands of doctors each year earn their fellowship in integrative medicine. The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine offers the largest fellowship in the world. The program has graduated 1,600 fellows in 50 states in the United States as well as 15 countries, who now guide more than eight million patients worldwide. (5)
Doctors who would like to boost their nutrition knowledge can also gain a Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) credential from the American Nutrition Association. (2)
Integrative medicine doctor salary
While helping and inspiring patients is a key motivator for integrative medicine doctors, is there a financial upside? According to ZipRecruiter, the annual integrative medicine doctor salary range is between $92,000 and $206,000 with a national United States average of $160,703 and top earners making up to $315,500 per year. (6)
Challenges and rewards
Of course, as with any profession, there are challenges. “The most difficult aspect of becoming an integrative medical physician is swimming in the cross-currents of conventional medicine and alternative medicine,” said Dr. Kaczor. “Those who follow dogma have the luxury of not having to read, digest, and synthesize ongoing medical information. To be an integrative physician is to question dogma, to keep the patient at the center of all aspects of care, and to repeatedly ask yourself what is best for the patient.” Dr. Kaczor reminds those interested in becoming an integrative medicine doctor that “this is both the most inspiring work you can do and perhaps the most laborious way to practice medicine as well.”
One of the rewards of becoming an integrative medicine doctor is that this form of medicine excels with patients who want to actively participate in their care. “The easiest and most rewarding aspect of integrative medicine is talking to patients and explaining their integrative therapies,” concluded Dr. Kaczor, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Natural Medicine Journal and the founder of RoundTableCancerCare.com. “Since the treatments follow rational thought, patients are grateful and even relieved when they understand their treatments.”
The bottom line
Integrative medicine practitioners create a strong partnership with the patient to holistically address the patient’s emotional, environmental, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. (3) It’s a form of medicine that can be transformative for not only patients and providers but the healthcare system in general. (5)
“For those wanting to become an integrative medicine physician, focus on getting appropriate education, continuing education, and guidance,” concluded Dr. Lucille, who is also a nationally recognized integrative health educator and author. “It’s important to remember that integrative medicine is about being compassionate and providing exceptional care and hope to those in need.”
- American Board of Physician Specialties. (Accessed 2022, Feb 17). Integrative medicine board certification eligibility requirements. https://www.abpsus.org/integrative-medicine-requirements/
- American Nutrition Association. (Accessed 2022, Feb 19). Become a CNS. https://theana.org/certify/CNScandidate
- Gannotta, R., Malik, S., Chan, A. Y., Urgun, K., Hsu, F., & Vadera, S. (2018). Integrative medicine as a vital component of patient care. Cureus, 10(8). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6173273/
- Marcus, D. M. (2020). Alternative therapies in academic medical centers compromise evidence-based patient care. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 130(4), 1549-1551. https://www.jci.org/articles/view/137561
- The University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. (Accessed 2022, Feb 17). About the center: inspiring the pursuit of health and the transformation of healthcare. https://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/about/index.html
- ZipRecruiter. (2022, Feb 10). Integrative medicine physician salary. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Integrative-Medicine-Physician-Salary