This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only. The information contained in this article represents the views and opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Fullscript.
The formative years of Integrative Medicine
I was first introduced to the concepts of holistic medicine in 1976 through the work of Dr. Norman Shealy, MD, PhD and the foundation of the American Holistic Medicine Association. This resulted in my introduction to Dr. Andrew Weil, MD who had just joined the University of Arizona Medical School as a faculty member. It was through these formative years that I became much more aware of the amazing group of healthcare providers who recognized that good medicine was more than just treating disease with drugs and surgery.
I also came to recognize that there were many healing traditions around the world that had things to offer us to improve health outcomes. Dr. Weil advanced the recognition of that and a movement was born.
The advancement of Integrative Medicine
A new emphasis on the person “as a whole” provides a conceptual framework for the advancement of healthcare beyond that of “alternative and complementary” but rather foundational. This movement has brought people who focus on healing, and not just the treatment of disease, together as a unified voice. It has allowed what had previously seemed as concepts unattached to medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Aruveydic Medicine, Acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, manipulation and physical medicine, nutrition, herbal therapies, stress management, exercise science, and behavioral medicine, to be united in a discipline focused on health and not just on disease. Over the past 40 years, I have been amazed to see the growth and maturation of Integrative Medicine and the training and quality of its practitioners.
In 1998, Dr. David Eisenberg, MD and his colleagues at the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School published a paper in the Journal of the American Medicine Association entitled “Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990–1997.” In this article, they reported that nearly 40% of the U.S. adult population had used therapies within the Integrative Medicine field during the 1990s. His research found that out-of-pocket expenditures for Integrative Medicine therapies exceeded expenditures for U.S. hospitalizations. To me, this illustrates both the importance of Integrative Medicine and its need in serving people’s health needs beyond that of crisis care. I consider myself fortunate to have been brought into this field in the 1970s and to be a small part of its evolution.
Over the last four decades, we continue to see:
- Medical schools incorporating the concepts of Integrative Medicine in their curricula
- The formation of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative and Integrative Health
- The founding of four accredited Naturopathic Medical schools
- The development of the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) accreditation
- Accredited programs in acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, TCM, integrative nursing, and integrative health coaching
- Many other programs that provide skilled practitioners in the Integrative Medicine field
The impact of Integrative Medicine
A theme that unites all practitioners within the Integrative Medicine field is the belief that health is more than the absence of disease and is associated with a strong connection to balance in body, mind, and spirit. This fundamental concept allows practitioners with many different skills that deliver service to this model to be united in the discipline of Integrative Medicine.
Estimates indicate that there are now more than 500,000 Integrative Health practitioners in the United States. A 2017 study headed by Dr. Leonard Wisneski, MD, then a professor of medicine at Georgetown University, found that there were more than 1,300 medical doctors certified in Integrative Medicine in the United States alone. (1) Over the past four years, this number has more than doubled, indicating the rapidly increasing interest in this medical specialty.
Continuing education with Integrative Medicine
In 1991, I, with a number of my colleagues, had the privilege of founding the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) which provided a systems biology approach to the incorporation of the concepts of Integrative Medicine within different healthcare disciplines. Over the past 30 years, this organization has seen more than 200,000 healthcare practitioners worldwide attend its educational courses. This demonstrates to me both the increasing interest in and dedication to the disciplines that fall within the domain of Integrative Medicine.
I have been personally amazed at the dedication of thousands of licensed healthcare practitioners of many backgrounds that are willing to once again open their textbooks and spend hours to study biochemistry, cell biology, systems physiology, and network medicine in order to develop expertise in Integrative and Functional Medicine. They recognize that they did not get this type of training in their medical education and are willing to commit themselves to develop these skills through additional training beyond that of their previous medical education.
The bottom line
For me, Integrative Medicine and its connection to Functional Medicine represent opportunities to move our healthcare system away from a singular focus on disease to that of health through what Dr. Lee Hood, MD, PhD, founder of the Institute for System Biology, has termed 4P medicine:
I am very excited for the future of Integrative Medicine and how it will contribute to the improvement of health as its adoption increases over the years ahead.