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Commentary: Integrative medicine is 'new way of healing'

  • Story Highlights
  • Med student sees integrative medicine as an important means of healing
  • Integrative combines conventional care, complementary and alternative medicine
  • He urges fellow med students to work to preserve idealism, humanity
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By Justin Laube
Special to CNN
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Justin Laube is a second-year medical student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- In a recent column, Emily Breidbart, a second-year medical student at New York University School of Medicine, expressed concerns about her medical education and the frustrating health-care system she will soon enter.

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Justin Laube says medical school has strengthened his idealism.

What deeply troubled me was her passive viewpoint and lack of resolve to practice the medicine she dreamed of when she entered medical school. She spoke of limited time with patients, fears about insurance, practicing defensive medicine, and the transformation of medical students who begin as idealists but eventually "start taking off [their] rose-colored glasses." Is this truly the "reality" of where medicine is headed?

This past year of medical school has been the most incredible and rewarding period of my life. I have emerged from my first year at the University of Minnesota excited by the infinite possibilities of my future, with a new appreciation for human life, and a strengthening of my idealism.

Like Emily, we are taught a medical interview format that includes 10-15 minutes for the medical history and additional time for the physical examination. This format has its strengths and weaknesses. For some acute clinical needs (e.g. cold, rash) it may be efficient and satisfying to the patient. But, what about a patient who presents with symptoms of a cold, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg? What if the patient is chronically stressed, overweight and dealing with anxiety about an uncertain future? The lines of acute or chronic care blur and the complexities of our lives are revealed, all aspects interacting and affecting one's health and wellness. This medical interview will be merely one of the tools in our physician handbag. Is this the only way to practice medicine? I strongly believe the answer is an emphatic "no."

Juxtaposed against this "limited- timeframe" medicine is a more humanistic medicine also emphasized in our training. The patient-physician interaction should be viewed as a relationship of equals, not a hierarchy. It is in this partnership that positive life change can be fostered. This is perhaps what Emily was referring to in her longing to "go back to simply learning the art of healing." But what is the art of healing? Are we as medical students and physicians truly healers?

For me, health is more than the absence of symptoms or disease -- it is the embodiment of wellness. It is this belief that led me to integrative medicine and a new way of viewing healing.

Integrative medicine combines the best of both conventional, allopathic care and complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. Examples of CAM include traditional Chinese medicine (e.g. acupuncture, herbs), naturopathy, chiropractic, and mind/body medicine (yoga, meditation). Integrative medicine is based on the incredible power of our bodies to heal themselves. From this viewpoint, we as future physicians are facilitators of each patient's innate inner-healer. The beauty of integrative medicine is that it takes into account all dimensions of the individual: mind, body and spirit. Integrative medicine empowers patients with new choices and promotes preventative care.

Integrative medicine was also woven into my education as a first-year medical student -- which included an immersion experience in traditional Chinese medicine -- so that we would be exposed to other approaches to healing. This past summer, I participated in research on mindfulness-based stress reduction for family caregivers of dementia patients. I attended a weeklong seminar on integrative medicine in Portland, Maine, and I am also on the steering committee for the creation of a student-run integrative health clinic to bring CAM to the underserved.

All of these experiences, as well as connecting with the university's Center for Spirituality & Healing, local holistic practitioners and experiencing the power of complementary and alternative medicine have been integral to my excitement as a future physician. I urge fellow medical students to watch the PBS documentary titled The New Medicine (2006). The film examines the many medical schools, health-care clinics, research institutions and private practices integrating new and "alternative" approaches into their work.

I want to tell Emily and all the other medical students to never lose their idealism. The ideals at the core of one's reason to enter medicine should be continuously fostered throughout our training. I do not expect this path to be easy, but it is not impossible. We will have to deal with time limitations, insurance issues and family pressures; but that should never affect the way we care about our patients. Embody the belief that we are active players in our future and present-day life, and practice a kind of medicine that preserves and connects with your idealism and humanity. The only "reality" we face in the future is the one which we create. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Alternative Health Care

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