What is Integrative Medicine?

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What is Integrative Medicine?

What is integrative medicine and what careers are available in integrative medicine? This is a growing approach to healthcare which is gaining popularity among both patients and providers of all types.

Lisa P. McDonald is the owner of Integrated Connections, a firm which specializes in search and placement of medical professionals in the field of integrative medicine. Over time, she has grown a passion for integrative medicine based on its effect on her own personal health and well-being.

She then decided she wanted to help others have access to this type of care, which she feels is empowering for patients and enables them to be more involved and proactive in their own health treatment.

Integrative Medicine (IM) is a standard of healthcare that focuses on the individual and addresses the whole person - mind, body, spirit and environmental influences that impact a person’s health, according to Lisa McDonald.

Integrative Medicine combines Western modern medicine with appropriate natural medicine therapies to achieve optimal health and healing.

IM care uses an integrative approach that is tailored to the individual and is focused on health maintenance, prevention, education and healing, while recognizing the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

Why would someone want to work in integrative medicine?

Two main reasons:

  • Job satisfaction - IM professions are very rewarding because the practitioners are able to dramatically improve patient’s quality of life. They form a healing partnership with a patient in which they educate and empower them to proactively manage their own health and well being.

    It truly is gratifying to work in a field that educates and supports people in achieving optimal health, vitality and happiness. The practitioners are not only directly impacting the quality of life for individuals, they are major influencers of the transformation of our healthcare system from disease management care to health promotion. They are healers and teachers, and they experience rewarding results daily.

  • Strong market demand - Integrative medicine will become the mainstream standard of healthcare. IM is becoming more valued in healthcare because of its focus on prevention and education, and careers in integrative medicine are increasingly in demand. Integrative Medicine will support the needed transformation in the U.S. from a disease centered focus to a patient-centered approach that educates on prevention and wellness.

    The demand is increasing for integrative medicine, because chronic illnesses are very costly to US healthcare, costing more than $1 trillion annually. The majority of chronic illness is preventable, according to the CDC, and currently they are a leading killer in America.

    Furthermore, the government is on board with integrative med, posting jobs for licensed acupuncturists (LAc) on usajobs.gov, and the NIH (National Institute of Health) has funded an entire agency of 65 employees to study complementary and integrative medicine.

    Even the Affordable Care Act includes IM language, in that it speaks to covering licensed and credentialed integrative practitioners. Four of the healthcare professionals appointed to the Federal government's Advisory Group to the National Prevention Council are specialists in integrative medicine as well.

    The U.S. military has incorporated integrative medicine into its healthcare system, including acupuncture and stress management therapies to manage chronic pain and PTSD for warriors, veterans, and their families.

    Additionally, the number of privately owned integrative clinics/centers opening is on a steady increase and conventional practices are revamping their business models to include integrative therapies to remain competitive.

    Some of the most respected medical centers in the nation have established integrative medical centers, including Mayo Clinic, Duke University Medical Center, Scripps, and Beth Israel Deaconess. Fifty-one academic medical centers now include CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) programs.

    How does integrative medicine work? 

    Sure. Integrative medicine combines therapies and treatment approaches to ensure the best results for patients. These great results will keep the field growing.

    First, an Integrative Primary Care Provider (MD, DO, Naturopath, PA, NP) will meet with a patient with an increased level of attention and time to understand the whole person and review their medical history, lifestyle choices, symptoms and create a personalized plan based on the patient’s specifics needs.

    This personalized plan would include education for healing and to develop healthy patterns of behavior with possible referrals to integrative practitioners for recommendations on diet, exercise, supplements, pain and stress management techniques.

    What careers are available in the field of integrative medicine?

    Integrative MDs, DOs, NPs, PAs and CNMs, naturopathic physicians, acupuncturists, chiropractors, Reiki practitioners, healing touch, nutritionists and massage therapists. This is not an all-inclusive list, but those are some of the most common professions associated with integrative medicine.

    I see a steady increase in positions for practitioners specializing in integrative medicine. Also, NDs (naturopathic doctors) are being recognized as a solution to assist in the current shortage of primary care providers. NDs are also increasingly being employed in research and administration positions for academia and health supplement companies. Additionally, many hospitals and cancer care clinics are more commonly hiring Reiki practitioners and health touch practitioners as part of their provided services.

    What are the challenges of working in the field of integrative medicine?

    Insurance coverage is one current challenge, but I'm optimistic about the progress with the Affordable Care Act giving more people access to integrative healthcare services from licensed IM practitioners.

    Perception is another challenge. Skeptics and those referring to integrative med as "woo-woo" medicine prevent others from being more receptive to learning more about the value of integrative med and experiencing the benefits of integrative therapies.

     How and where do they go about finding jobs in this field?

    First, decide which profession interests you the most in practicing. I think it is critical to love what you do every day for your own well being and because you will perform best doing what you enjoy. Experiencing the benefits of one or more integrative therapies is a great way to start exploring, and interview integrative practitioners to understand what their practice involves.

    Next, I also think it’s also critical to obtain licensure/certification from accredited institutions. Refer to websites of national professional societies that provide you with comprehensive information and direct you to accredited institutions for licensure.

    Medical professionals who are already licensed in a field and wish to expand their skill set to include integrative medicine can pursue a fellowship in Integrative Medicine at Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM). AzCIM offers a residency in integrative medicine as well. There are many other educational opportunities to study integrative medicine with online courses or onsite learning for anyone. Several are offered through the American Board of Holistic Medicine.

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