When people hear the term “Integrative Medicine” they often think of some alternative quack doctor who burns sage in their office, doles out tiger phallus soup or believes in bloodletting and snake venom?”  Unfortunately, they don’t think of Stanford or Duke University trained practitioners of healing. Luckily this is changing.


Modern medicine, or conventional medicine, is what most people think of when envisioning doctors and healthcare today.  With it comes the dogma of rigorous medical school training, homogenous patient evaluations, institutionalized protocols, and standardized therapeutic interventions mostly relying on invasive procedures and pharmaceutical medications.  Fortunately, America’s current medical model is especially adept at treating emergencies and acute medical problems.  Dr. Andrew Weil MD, a modern-day pioneer in integrative medicine, agrees with modern medicines attributes and has an appreciation for conventional medicine’s strengths. “If I were hit by a bus,” he says, “I’d want to be taken immediately to a high-tech emergency room.” (1)

Unfortunately, modern medicine has become great at the business of diagnose and treat, diagnose and treat, diagnose and treat.  Yet it falls miserably short on focusing on and achieving lifelong wellness for patients. This is where the integrative medicine doctor comes in.  As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, integrative medicine “involve(s) bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way.” Per the NIH website, if a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”  The University of Arizona, Center for Integrative Medicine defines it as “…healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies. (2) To me, this is the real essence of integrative medicine, and this is the model I follow in my office.

The integrative medicine doctor discusses with his or her patients the essential details that make up one’s wellness such as diet, lifestyle, exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, stressors, social and community support, relationships, and even spirituality.  The basic tenets of integrative medicine are those that reflect caring for the entire patient, not just a disease process. It includes forming a doctor-patient team to make shared decisions, using natural, effective, and less invasive treatments whenever possible, and limiting the number of pharmaceutical drugs needed, as well as trying to help the body heal itself.

Good integrative medicine doctors do more than just check labs, make diagnoses, and write prescriptions.  They look for the cause of the disease process and address underlying issues such as chronic infections, genetic defects, environmental toxin overload, nutritional deficiencies, and metabolic abnormalities, just to name a few. The integrative medicine doctor blends the best of different evidence-based modalities including conventional medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, Rolfing, therapeutic massage, Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and many more into a functional medical model aimed at procuring wellness.  Because as Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD states, “When you address the root cause, there’s a much better chance of reversing or eliminating the condition altogether.” (3)

Remember, we are designed to be fit and well and healthy, and an integrative medicine doctor can help you achieve this.  But if you are having chest pain and feel you may be having a heart attack or if you are having stroke-like symptoms—go to the nearest Emergency Room immediately. And yes, snake venom IS actually used in homeopathy.


Top 10 reasons you should see an integrative medicine doctor

1-They will form a partnership with you and use shared decision making with regards to your treatment options
2-They will spend more than 15 minutes with you
3-They will discuss diet, lifestyle modifications, exercise, and nutrition with you and often have good recommendations regarding these topics to help you reclaim your wellness
4-Many have additional training in alternative/complementary modalities such as acupuncture, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, or functional nutrition
5- Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically
6-They are often open-minded and willing to learn from patients
7-Their goal is not to treat the disease but to treat the cause of the disease focusing on disease prevention, not disease management
8-They will often recommend supplements and nutraceuticals before starting prescription medications
9-They will personalize your healthcare
10-Many try to be role models of health and healing and are committed to the process of self-exploration, self-development (4), and lifelong learning always striving to learn more so they can share the most up to date and relevant information with their patients



1. DrWeil.com, What is Integrative Medicine? Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/meet-dr-weil/what-is-integrative-medicine  Accessed  4/20/18

2. Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Retrieved from https://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/about/definition.html  Accessed  4/20/18

3. Jill Carnahan, MD. How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor. Retrieved from https://www.jillcarnahan.com/2018/01/16/how-to-choose-a-good-integrative-and-functional-medicine-doctor/. Accessed 4/18/18

4. Duke Integrative Medicine.  Retrieved from https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/about/what-is-integrative-medicine/ Accessed 4/19/18

View our Glossary Of Terms: https://themedicinewheel.org/glossary-of-terms


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