Salute to Spouses Blog

We're excited to be blogging about the latest topics in military life. We want to keep you informed on topics such as current events, education, career advice, etc. Feel free to post comments or questions to any of our entries.
Learning to walk the integrative line

By Amy Nielsen

This week I am participating in two vastly different symposiums that neatly bracket my scope of practice. I am an integrative nutritionist, herbalist, and chef.

On Saturday I went to a day-long intensive class learning about the varied uses of one herb given by a visiting herbalist who is an expert in that plant. It was held at a world renowned herbalist’s school. On Wednesday, I will attend an end-of-the-year symposium discussing diverse research on the broader topic of metabolism given at Harvard honoring the graduating doctoral students in the program.

Integrative medicine is the bridge that links Western compartmentalized medicine with the whole person biopsychosocial framework held by traditional systems of healing. Integration of the delicate balance of the healing presence associated with many CAM modalities into the rigors of a double blind controlled clinical study is exactly what we need to learn to do.

So much of what is becoming understood about how molecular structures change is leading the drive to understand how we become us. We become us by what we ingest. However, there is arguably a lot more to healing than electron transport train function or cholesterol ratios.

But this is a lot of specific, technical speak that is pointedly of interest to those in my field and few others. The point here is that students of science are tasked with not only keeping up with the latest and greatest innovations but also finding ways to integrate lessons of the past.

Students learning to be integrative practitioners need to learn to be a walking thesaurus of sorts.

One of the dangers of integrating the old and new into the same research platforms is the distinct probability that the outcomes of the research will inevitably go to the highest bidder. It is the job of the student and practitioner, in my opinion, to give equal weight to scientific breakthroughs and the art of traditional medicine.

My current classes are both discussing how to write evidence based papers on integrative topics. That means big ole research papers supported with cited references. This first half of the term is dedicated to searching only biomedical databases of peer reviewed published data.

That is, understanding what criteria make up good research will come in handy when we move on to the next part, finding supporting data within the traditional modalities where there are no nicely indexed databases to search. Learning to distinguish good research from bad makes evaluating research in more obscure and unindexed realms more reliable.

On the flip side, learning how to design a study that truly takes into account both the compartmental needs of the gold standard clinical trial and the need for individualization of treatment present in many of the systems being studied will prove difficult. Herein the choice of cohort and treatment center will need to be carefully examined to ensure the least number of variables introduced into the study. Intraprofessional bias may be a hurdle to jump as well.

The ability to couple both kinds of research leads to well-rounded and supported changes in treatment that can find a place in both a biomedical practice and a traditional practice. Working in new and traditional research helps more patients in the long run, which is after all the whole purpose of doing research in the first place.

Spending concentrated time in both worlds keeps the flexibility of language moving, allows me to become a better practitioner and researcher.

As we move forward in the light speed realm of medical research, it behooves us to remember that not all gold standard trials result in the best treatment for every patient, nor does every ancient technique stand alone without support for the surrounding system.

Integrating the two takes the ability to speak several profession-specific languages while holding deep respect and compassion for the usefulness and necessity of all to heal the ailments of our collective patient base.

For Military Spouses
Apply for the Salute to Spouses scholarship today and begin your education! You’ll be on the way to your dream career.

Salute to Spouses Scholarship Recipients