It seems that the world is moving faster every year and change has become the new constant. This is especially evident in the area of nontraditional medicine. During the past 30 years, nontraditional medicine has transformed from a health care approach primarily done by those on the fringe to almost mainstream medicine. This change is most apparent in the Program for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona -- the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Weil.
Before 2000 most references to nontraditional medicine were called alternative. The term "complementary" was introduced since these nontraditional therapies were complementary to what was being done in traditional Western medicine. Recently the term "integrative medicine" has become the working definition for combining traditional and nontraditional medicine. In 2014, integrative medicine will be a board certified subspecialty.
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In 2000, I was a member of the inaugural class for the Program for Integrative Medicine. None of us actually knew much about the program because no one had done this before. However, we were all dedicated to meaningful improvements in how we practiced our craft.
After two years, we graduated with a greater understanding of holistic medicine and the conviction that the traditional medical system needed to change and would change. Since that time, the program has grown into an international phenomenon.
As an example of how much the program has grown, in 2002, the date of my graduation from the program, there were about 20 physicians, three in Illinois, who had completed the program.
In 2012, the Program in Integrative Medicine boasts almost 900 graduates, 37 Illinois and 64 from foreign countries. California has the most graduates with 122.
This program now offers opportunities for medical students, interns and residents to learn about nontraditional medicine. Through the program, more than 32 family practice medicine programs in the U.S. and Canada, including the St. Joseph family practice residency in Chicago, are offering physician training in integrative medicine. In a few days, five pediatric residency programs will offer extensive training in integrative medicine. The goals with this type of training are to educate and truly integrate effective nontraditional therapies into everyday medicine.
The U.S. population has been enthusiastically using nontraditional therapies for decades. It's good to see that traditional medicine is finally catching up.
An increasing number of corporations are realizing the health benefits to their employees by actively preventing disease and illness rather than simply early diagnosis. Corporations such as IBM, Cisco, Ford, Pepsi, Pfizer, NASA and others are looking to integrative medicine to reduce medical costs, improve employee health and productivity.
This update on the Program for Integrative Medicine is not meant to be an advertisement. It is tangible proof that the way we physicians practice medicine is changing for the better and that our improved health will ultimately benefit from this change.
• Dr. Patrick B. Massey is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Health System. His website is www.alt-med.org.