Why Integrative Medicine?

Later this month I will be traveling to San Diego to go to the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine’s annual conference.  The day after the conference ends (which happens to be Halloween) I will sit for the ABIHM board certification exam.  The opportunity to earn knowledge about integrative medicine is something that has me very excited!

So why integrative medicine?

Oddly enough, my application for the board certification exam requires me to write an essay about this very topic.  Well, one woman’s essay is another woman’s blog post 🙂

I’ve been practicing family medicine for 11 years (after residency, 14 years since medical school).  I’ve had a growing sense for the last few years something is missing from the way I’ve been practicing medicine.

Nowadays in the US, medicine is very focused on INTERVENTION.  If you can’t drug it away or cut it out, American medicine doesn’t really know what to do with it.  American patients tend to be very passive, for the most part.  They want a quick fix.  Something or someone outside themselves to fix all their problems.

For the last few years, I’ve had a growing feeling that we’ve got it backwards.

Let me give you an example.  If you or your child came to see me with a broken leg, what would you expect?

You would expect me to ask questions, order Xrays, and tell you what’s wrong with your leg.  Once I did those things, suppose I told you your leg is broken, gave you a prescription for pain medicine, and sent you on your way.  Would you think I was a good doctor?

Of course not!  You would expect me to put a splint or a cast on the leg and give you crutches.  You would ask me about work or school or home duties, what would be safe and unsafe for you to do.  You would expect me to keep you out of gym class or sports until it was healed.  You would expect me to see you back to evaluate the healing process.  I might even send you for physical therapy, depending on what was broken and how it was healing.

These are all things that a good doctor would do for a serious illness or injury.  We would try to identify things in your lifestyle that can cause, exacerbate or prolong illness or injury.  We want to keep the patient safe from further harm and help healing happen as quickly and easily as possible.

Too many of my patients who have serious illnesses (like anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.) do NOT want to explore how their lifestyle has caused or contributed to their illness.  They do NOT want to be told they need to change their diet, start exercising, quit smoking, lose weight, manage their stress, see a counselor to work on communication skills or old life traumas, or anything else that is more difficult than taking pills.

And believe me, these things ARE more difficult than taking pills.  I am the first one to tell you that taking pills is the easy part.  Changing your lifestyle?  That’s super-tough.  It takes a very strong person to look hard at his or her diet, activity and other habits and make a plan to change.  Think about the last person you knew who quit smoking!

To use a house-building analogy, I’ve felt for a long time that I needed a bigger toolbox.  My integrative-medicine training has given me LOTS of new tools!  I know more about medical nutrition therapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, manual therapy like massage and chiropractic, herbs and supplements, homeopathy, biofeedback, counseling, religion and spirituality and the health effects of LOTS of other modalities.

I am not foolish enough to think that, after taking (and hopefully passing!) my integrative-medicine board examination, I will know everything I need to know about treating patients from a holistic perspective.  I will continue to read, research, and build my skills.

As a wise man named Michaelangelo said at age 87, “Ancora imparo.”

“I am still learning.”

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