Holistic Medicine – You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

It is interesting to see the establishment of Centers for Integrative Medicine at some of our great universities. Duke University’s Bravewell Collaborative Clinical Network is a consortium of member medical schools focused on developing what some call “Integrative Medicine” and others “Complementary Medicine.”  Both terms describe the inclusion of holistic health principles and practices within the curriculum.

music_during_operationsOne of the important roles these centers play is to conduct research and clinical trials that support the holistic approach as part of medical care. When I started out as a surgeon, forty years ago, my ideas about playing music in the operating room and talking to people while they were under anesthesia got me labeled as, well, “an explosion hazard and crazy!” The usual argument I encountered was “You haven’t done any research.” But the seed was planted and the results made visible…then research funding from the government did materialize to support these studies. For example, research studies demonstrated that patients need less anesthesia, have less pain, and recover more quickly when music is played and “personhood” is preserved, even in the sterile environment of the operating room. Similarly, a UCLA study was able to show the healing effects of transcendental meditation for controlling heart rate and slowing or stopping bleeding from wounds.

While I welcome the prospect of these new university programs graduating care providers who practice integrative methods for healing and wellness, I will continue to advocate for programs with the depth to develop physicians as people relating to their patients heart-to-heart, understanding and treating the patient’s experience and not just their diagnosis so they are not tourists treating natives. I believe that physicians can keep from being overwhelmed not by distancing themselves from patients, but rather embracing the patient as a full partner in care and maximizing the power of that mutual support; and when needed, to let the patient embrace you. I spent many years saying “I need to hug you” before I realized the first two words were, “I need.”