A whole different experience
Dr. Opher Caspi compares the goal of integrative medicine to learning foreign languages, and overcoming the typical attitude that doctors are the source of all medical wisdom.
Caspi, one of the physicians participating in the Program in Integrative Medicine, spent time abroad observing Chinese masters of acupuncture, who are not medical doctors.
"M.D.'s are arrogant," and this arrogance "translates into 'We hold the truth,'" he says. "Collaborating with others who are not M.D.s, but are wonderful masters in their disciplines ... that's a whole different experience for an M.D."
He is in his second year of the fellowship program, which includes exploration of new ways to treat illness, including methods like acupuncture, nutritional therapy, visualization, medicinal plants and homeopathy, according to program literature.
Dr. Andrew Weil founded the program in 1997 in an attempt to compliment traditional medicine with experimental techniques.
By opening their minds to new ideas, and admitting that traditional medicine does not hold all of the answers, doctors can work to change medicine for the better, Caspi says.
But some traditional doctors have criticized the ideas behind integrative medicine, saying it rejects scientific theories and focuses on concepts with no proven basis in fact.
Dr. William Johnson, chief of the general medicine section in the University of Arizona Department of Medicine, recently wrote an article titled, "The Challenges of Alternative Medicine," for AZ Medicine, a publication of the Arizona Medical Association. Alternative medicine is the common name given to untraditional forms of treatment.
"Alternative practitioners either do not seem to care about science or explicitly reject its premises," he states. "Their methods are often based on notions totally at odds with science, common sense and the modern conceptions of the structure and function of the human body."
Johnson goes on to state that he is interested in the theories involved in integrative medicine, but remains skeptical about using unproved techniques in medical practices.
Dr. Joseph Alpert, head of UA Department of Medicine, states in an e-mail interview that despite some skepticism, the program has been a success.
"Although there are probably a few faculty members who are not convinced that (integrative medicine) is a 'real' academic operation, I believe that most of our faculty are supportive of this new endeavor," he states.
The program has resulted in interesting discussion and "fascinating" research projects, Alpert adds.
One way the program's faculty hope to increase discussion of integrative medicine is through the newly formed Associate Fellowship in Integrative Medicine.
The original fellowhship program has graduated four physicians, and is training eight others. Through the associate fellowship, the program offers an Internet training to a larger class.
Matt Russell, public relations and public affairs manager for the Foundation for Integrative Medicine - the organization that encompasses and funds the fellowship programs and clinic - states the associate fellowship will allow all health care providers to apply to the program, instead of just physicians.
The program includes 1,000 hours of online training, and three weeks of clinical experience, which is not necessarily consecutive, Russell says.
The original fellowship provides a stipend, including salary and benefits to compensate for physicians leaving their practices. The Internet fellowship charges a $25,000 tuition, Russell says.
The program has received at least 20 applications to the associate fellowship, and the first class, which will be restricted to about 40, will begin in August.
Weil oversees the curriculum, and Dr. Richard Leibowitz, assistant medical director for the Program in Integrative Medicine, runs the staff that supervises the class, Russell says.
Caspi says the associate fellowship will help meet the growing interest in the field. Despite criticism, integrative medicine has a clinical waiting list of about 1,000 patients. Caspi hopes to increase interest in non-traditional medicine when he returns to Israel.
"There is a need for change," Caspi says, although he acknowledges "there is still a way to go before this is implemented."
"This shift cannot occur overnight," he says.