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NCCAM Responds to Integrator Open Letter to Incoming Director Josephine Briggs, MD PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

NIH NCCAM Responds to Integrator Open Letter Regarding Briggs Inexperience

Summary: The Integrator Open Letter to NIH NCCAM's incoming director, Josephine Briggs, MD, stimulated many comments. Many asked me to share any response from Dr. Briggs. On February 9, a response arrived, not from Briggs, but from NCCAM's public liaison, Chris Thomsen. The letter references Briggs' perceptions and plans relative to her taking over a position of tremendous influence for the field despite having no background in complementary or integrative medicine. Here is the letter, some musing on hope, and on colonization.

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Jospephine Briggs, inexperienced in integrative medicine, CAM, NIH
PR department responded to Integrator Open Letter to incoming Director Briggs
On January 24, the National Institutes of Health announced the appointment of Josephine Briggs, MD, as director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). 18 hours later I posted an open letter to Dr. Briggs (Oops, They Did It Again: Open Letter to the New NCCAM Director, Josephine Briggs, MD, January 25, 2008). My deep concern was that NCCAM would be led, again, by a director who, as one holistic medical respondent put it, "just doesn't get it."

On February 6, I published a powerful set of responses from a dozen Integrator readers, including a few that were not for attribution (
Your Comments: 12 Voices on NIH Appointing, to Direct NCCAM, a Scientist Inexperienced in CAM). Many asked for Dr. Briggs' response, if it came.

Chris Thomsen, director of the NCCAM Office of Communications and Public Liaison, sent a letter of response which was mailed prior to my publication of responses, and which arrived February 9. The letter touches on areas of Briggs' experience which may be useful to her in her new post. According to Thomsen, Briggs is in a period of "intense listening" and is "interested in hearing from all concerned about the future directions of
CAM research."

Take it in, consider becoming one of Briggs' teachers. Then consider your next steps.


Letter from NCCAM/Dr. Briggs on Her Plans for NCCAM

NIh NCCAM, BriggsDepartment of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
31 Center Drive
Building 31, Room 2B-11
Bethesda Maryland 20892-2182

February 6, 2008

John Weeks
3345 59th Avenue Southwest
Seattle, WA 98116

Dear Mr. Weeks:

I am responding to your letter regarding the new director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Dr. Josephine Briggs, and her experience with complementary and alternative medicine.

As you know, the mission of NCCAM is to conduct rigorous research on CAM. Dr. Briggs brings to her new position a depth of experience in conducting research into complex problems and an enthusiasm for exploring the potential of CAM.

As she introduced herself to our Advisory Council last week, she described how her background as a kidney specialist who has treated patients with severe, chronic illnesses has shown her firsthand how depersonalized the high-tech systems of modern health care can be, how the focus on the whole patient is often overlooked, and how patients are seeking practices that promote health and wellness. There are needs that are often met better by CAM practitioners and the growing programs of integrative medicine and are important aspects of health that need to be examined.

Her plans for the next 6 months include intense listening. She will be talking with many of our stakeholders, including representatives from professional and consumer organizations and especially from the CAM community. From these conversations, she will establish a set of priorities for moving the NCCAM research portfolio forward.

Dr. Briggs has asked me to express her interest in hearing from all concerned about the future directions of CAM research.


Chris Thomsen
Director, Office of Communications and Public Liaison.



Comment: In some of the responses to the Integrator Open Letter, there was deep sadness, resignation even, that we might not see inspired NCCAM leadership in our lifetimes. Yet hope festers eternal. In this letter from Thomsen, there is a constellation of experience constructed by Briggs' public liaison which, if the stars are connected just right, might allow Dr. Briggs to shift the course of her experience and provide NCCAM with enlightened leadership.

One response is to give
Briggs the benefit of the
doubt and suspend, for
this time of Briggs'
"intense listening," any
accrued disbelief in
NCCAM's potential


There is also evidence against hope. First, Briggs chose to have her PR department respond. A direct letter would have been nice. I can overlook this, in my fits of hopefulness, but have found colleagues more likely to dismiss the letter as pure PR flack. Yet they still urge that we give Briggs a chance.

What stood out to me as a negative was that there is no reference to any plans on Dr. Briggs part to actually experience any of the therapies or practitioners which she'll be charged with exploring. As Michael Cohen pointed out in his response to the Integrator Open Letter - dragging Rene Descartes into the picture as he did - experience may be a necessary requirement for exemplary leadership.

Your Chance to Mentor Briggs

Thomsen's letter leaves me with two thoughts. One is to give Briggs the benefit of the doubt and suspend, for this time of Briggs' "intense listening," any accrued disbelief in NCCAM's potential contributions to taking a led in exploring the value of whole-person practices in human health. Assume common sense rather than rutted reduction. Have your professional associations and institutions weigh in on where there may be gold in integrative, holistic, whole person health care, Share with Briggs how NCCAM can help unearth it. Let Briggs know how she can make NCCAM an exciting center of contribution to health care by promoting freedom of expression and action among those who she, if wise, will accept as her mentors. Write to her. Meet with her.


Colonization: More than a Metaphor?
    Meantime, allow yourself
to consider appropriate
action if "our"
NIH Center
is led, again, by an overlord
who cannot understand
our native tongue.


Meantime, allow yourself to consider appropriate action if "our" NIH Center is led, again, by an overlord who cannot speak our native tongue and refuses participation in our practices. The most appropriate metaphor for NIH's appointment of leaders who refuse to empower the population and ideas they are charged to manage is colonization.

Given the potential duration of Briggs' appointment, we must begin to ask: Do we want to spend the foreseeable future in subjugation to an ethos and rulers foreign to us? If not, what are our options?

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for inclusion in a future Your Comments forum.

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