No one has done more to champion the field of Integrative Health and Medicine to facilitate the shift toward a wellness-based health care system at a policy level than Senator Tom Harkin.
Among his countless achievements, he:
• Founded the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine;
• Facilitated the formation of National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine;
• Convened The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy;
• Was responsible for inserting key language in the Affordable Care Act to mandate non-discrimination of licensed integrative health care providers and practices; and
• Established The National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council.
On September 29, 2014 leaders representing organizations working to advance the field of integrative medicine, including the AIHM, the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the Academic Consortium for Complementary & Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC), Georgetown University Medical Center, the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, the Institute for Integrative Health, Life University, the Samueli Institute and NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, among others, gathered for a symposium at Georgetown University in Washington, DC to celebrate and give thanks to Senator Harkin for his achievements and to express our commitments in advancing his legacy.
Serving as our Chair, it was a joy and an honor to represent the Academy, along with fellow AIHM Board members, Wendy Warner, John Weeks (also representing ACCAHC) and Nick Jacobs and Len Wisneski (both also representing IHPC).
The symposium culminated with a report to the larger group of the discussions we had at each of our tables about the commitment each of us, and our respective organizations, would make to Senator Harkin to further advance the field of integrative medicine.
One of the ironies in the field of integrative medicine is that we have been fragmented — each of our respective organizations has tended to work in silos in our efforts to advance the cause. At our table, we discussed the commitment of the AIHM to bring together under one umbrella all stakeholders in integrative health and medicine to leverage our powerful collective voice to shape the future of health care for humanity and our planet.
Just before I got to the microphone to report back to the large group, one of the leaders in the field of homeopathy asked a question about what is “the minimal effective dose” to cultivate healing.
This question crystallized the inspiring discussion we had at our table. I began by sharing with the group how we had discussed the major challenge to creating a big tent: the natural inclination for each organization to also be concerned about furthering its own needs.
We then posed a key question, asking, what compelling vision was most needed to inspire organizations to rise up above individual stakeholder orientations and galvanize our entire integrative health community?
The answer arising in unison at our table is that the core of this vision – “the minimal effective dose” that was needed – is love.
Love serves as the foundation or source for healing and connection. If, as health care professionals, we come from a place of love and caring, we can form bridges ourselves and find the inspiration and strength to transform health care together. Love serves as a core value of the Academy, which recognizes love as life’s most powerful healer.
But we also recognized a significant challenge that tends to sweep us away from coming from a place of love. A major threat to love and healing is stress, something with which healthcare providers and patients struggle.
Within the healthcare system today, about one in every two physicians is suffering the downstream effect of overwhelming stress, manifesting concerning symptoms of burnout. Further, health care providers care for patients who themselves are stressed out (75-90 percent of visits to health care professionals are either directly or indirectly related to stress). But the patient is only the second most stressed out person in the room – because the doctor is more stressed out than the patient is!
And this can have profound impact on healing of patients. I further shared a personal story about my mother’s experience with the healthcare system to illustrate this.
In 2000, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. When I took her to see her first oncologist, he was clearly burnt out and completely disconnected from his patients. Speaking in a harsh tone he bluntly said to my mothers, “Tell me, what do you want? Do you want chemo or not?” It rattled my mom. She was shaking. She was worried about losing her hair and nervously declined. He said, “Fine. No chemo then.” He gave her four months to live.
Rather than feeling a sense that we were in a place of healing, we felt stressed by the complete absence of caring in the face of the daunting road ahead. I told Mom that this would be the last time she would ever see this doctor.
After battling with the insurance company, I then took my mother to see a wonderful physician and oncologist, Dr. Lori Frakes, who met my mom with arms wide and enfolded her in a loving, healing embrace. She said, “Around here, we’re a hugging kind of people.”
I watched how my mother’s face immediately softened and her body relaxed. After the visit my mom turned to me and exclaimed with joy, “That woman is a pill!” In this context, my mother expressed how the empathetic care she received was a major part of the therapy itself.
Indeed, under Dr. Frakes’ care, Mom experienced not four more months to live (which was her first oncologist’s prediction), but nearly 18 months of high quality life that was the richest year and a half of her life. A powerful testimony to the healing power of love!
Much of what is needed in health care (and to honor the full intent of these two words) is a greater focus on creating loving and healing systems in which healthcare providers engage in their own self-care and healing to optimize the compassionate delivery of heart-centered and science-based care that facilitates the creation of health for the patients they see.
In sharing this with the group, it crystallized what the Academy’s mission is. It boils down to creating a loving, healing community in which all of us can work together to further transform ourselves as we transform health care together.
That evening, at the dinner I had the opportunity to personally thank Senator Harkin, and share our vision and commitment.
In written follow-up to Senator Harkin we also expressed our mission more formally, “The Academy is committed to engaging a global community of health professionals, health seekers and all integrative health-related organizations in innovative education, certification, leadership, inter-professional collaboration, research, and advocacy that embraces all global healing traditions, to promote the creation of health and the delivery of evidence-informed comprehensive, affordable, sustainable person-centered care.”
As part of the commitment to creating a big tent to advance the field of integrative health and medicine, the Academy has also extended to all the associations and organizations an invitation to meet the day before the inaugural Academy Conference in San Diego,Oct. 25.
If you would like more information about this meeting or would like to participate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are also interested in participating in our conference, “Science and Connection: A New Era of Integrative Health and Medicine” that will be taking place from October 26-30 in San Diego this year, please click here for more information.