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Holistic Medical Association's "Transition" Leads to Meeting with Naturopathic Convention in 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Holistic Medical Association's "Transition" Leads to Participation with Naturopathic Convention in 2008

Summary: The board of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) has chosen to link up with American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) for their 2008 convention. The 30th anniversary of the AHMA will affirm the potential value of alliance between the two physician-level organizations. The AHMA move is also a sign of AHMA's efforts, under the leadership of Hal Blatman, MD, to modernize and "transition" the organization to create present value for it members, and for the healthcare system.
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1.    Background: The Potential Value of an AHMA-AANP Alliance

AHMA, American Holistic Medical Association, AANP In recent years, the potential value of inter-relationship between the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) has been an ongoing area of discussion and action among boards of both organization. Each held multi-disciplinary panels at their 2006 conferences to educate and explore shared interests.

Stimulating the action has been Bill Benda, MD. Benda is an integrative medical doctor with a strong interest in public policy. Benda is a member of the board of each of the two organizations. In an Integrator interview in June of 2007 (
"Healthcare Reform Clout from an AHMA, AANP and AHNA Collaboration? The Vision of Bill Benda, MD, the Interlocking Director"), Benda, an Integrator adviser, described the potential as he saw it:
"My personal goal is to unify large numbers of licensed, credible, thoughtful practitioners who hold the public trust to advocate for change towards more humanistic healthcare. Each organization’s strengths offset the limitations of the (others), all the while holding very similar goals and ideology. The potential for communal impact is enormous."
Benda has promoted a joint convention as one way to build relationships between the two organizations. On August 13-16, 2008, the AHMA and AANP membership will each gather at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. While not formally a joint conference - the AANP invited the AHMA members to participate in the AANP meeting - the gathering will create some of the shared energy Benda has advocated. For the AHMA, the decision to join with the AANP was a pragmatic way to both mark it's 30th year and keep the organization's energy moving during a time of significant change.

2.    Proximal Cause for the Joint Convention: "Transition" at the AHMA

AHMA, Americna Holistic Medical Assocaition, AANP
Hal Blatman, MD, AHMA president
News of the conference plans reached me through an early December 2007 electronic newsletter which AHMA president Hal Blatman, MD sent to members and forwarded to me. Blatman presented an honest look at the landscape and AHMA's transitional place in it.
"The AHMA is in the midst of a transition – an essential and unavoidable prerequisite for any organization engaged in our rapidly evolving healthcare system. What was once a sparse landscape for the holistic practitioner has become a forest of academic programs, legislative policies, research publications, and local clinics."
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the AHMA was the home and retreat for holistic medical doctors. The AHMA provided a voice through a journal and a meeting place through an annual conference. Unlike the emerging complementary health care disciplines, like the naturopathic profession the AANP represents, the AHMA had no clear guild interest such as expanding licensing. AHMA tended to stay out of policy action. 

But the environment has changed. Holistic thinking, organics and natural healthcare were once radical practices which called out for the kind of support which AHMA provided. But now the culture itself is increasingly supportive. What should the AHMA's function be? Wrote Blatman: "
It has become clear that the original purpose of the AHMA as a source of support and education has been supplanted by the multiple for-profit, governmental, and non-profit organizations that have sprung up over the past two decades." Some inside the AHMA argued that the organization should say "mission accomplished" and disband. Some, by non-renewal of membership, registered their own opinions. Here is Blatman, again: 
"The structure and function of the AHMA has not kept pace with these changes, necessitating a rather uncomfortable and relatively rapid address of them now. Our membership and conference attendance has declined over the past few years, taking with them our primary source of funding.  In response, we voted at our June 2007 Board meeting to cancel plans for our 2008 conference, as monies were unavailable to reserve facilities, and repeat sparse attendance would have proven fiscally fatal."
In this context, and through Benda's work, the AANP decided to "invite (AHMA members) en masse" to the AANP annual conference. This fall, the AHMA board decided to accept - allowing them to hold their 30th annual meeting without incurring financial risk - and buying some time for potential regeneration.

3.   MD/ND Integration at the Biltmore Conference

AANP, AHMA, natruopathic physicians, collaboration
ND organization provides venue
Blatman notes that the invitation came from an organization
"undergoing transition, as well, albeit from a place of fiscal strength." AANP's budget, membership and programs have grown steadily under the recent leadership of outgoing president Jane Guiltinan, ND, and executive director Karen Howard. Wrote Blatman: "[The AANP] Board has come to the understanding that holism means more than combining therapeutic approaches; it must by definition include coalition and integration at the organizational level in order to truly foment change in the status quo."

While not formally a joint convention, the set up will be remarkably integrated, but with some separate, organizationally-oriented time:

  • All keynotes, breakout sessions, pre-conferences and meals will be completely open to all attendees, MD or ND.
  • Both AHMA and AANP members are will invited to submit abstracts for lectures and poster presentations.
  • Both organizations will have input on keynote speakers.
  • Fees for members of either organization will be the same. 
  • Medical doctor attendees will be awarded CME credits.
  • AHMA will have separate conference rooms for our membership meetings and other organizational functions, as well as physical space for a 30th anniversary celebration. 

Writes Blatman: "The result will be that for the first time the doors of collaboration and collegiality will open between two professions that share the same vision, mission, and goals."

I asked Bill Manahan, MD, a former president of AHMA who is now serving in a kind of an elder statesman capacity for the AHMA board during its transitions, for his perspective. Manahan, an Integrator adviser, wrote:
"There is a glimmer of hope that a bit of systemic integration and collaboration may be occurring in integrative medicine ... I believe that the two organizations have much to offer each other and learn from each other.  I see it as a positive development in our journey toward a health care system in which each practitioner will be able to do what he or she does best.  Who knows?  Maybe five years from now, we will have many more organizations working together to promote health care that is truly healthy, holy and whole."
4.   Tough Transitional Decisions: The Future of the AHMA

AHMA, AANP, holistic naturopathic
Bill Benda, MD - promoting the alliance
Blatman's letter concludes with open commentary on the AHMA's future. The board has concluded that, despite the growth of other organizations, "t
here is, however, no MD or DO entity that holds the foundational principles of the AHMA. Without such a crucible, the field of holistic medicine will default to either academic or free-market institutions whose structure cannot support the belief system we have historically represented." 

The new direction recommended is policy:
"We believe we must join the movement towards advocacy for our membership and education of our public." Blatman is not specific in the letter as to what kinds of advocacy will be prioritized. One direction which AHMA leadership has recently been involved is related to recognition of integrative and holistic practices by state boards. (More on that soon.) Blatman urges both patience, input and support: "The way is not perfectly clear at the moment, but as the sages advise, one must lose sight of land in order to discover new countries."

Comment: One can view the AHMA decision to join the AANP at the AANP's scheduled 2008 convention as one based in weakness or of strength.
The former: How else can we, financially on the ropes, create a gathering and have a conference on our 30th anniversary?  The latter: Let's get out of our box and extend ourselves in a new direction as few organizations of medical doctors have ever done.

I agree that there is a role, yet, for AHMA which the academically-oriented "integrative medicine" doctors are not likely to fulfill. Thus far, no other professional association has yet emerged to define and shape the meaning of the discipline of holistic-integrative medical doctors. Here is hoping that the AHMA membership and other holistic-integrative doctors will be curious to open up their own experience to the typically robust AANP annual gatherings. All comers will also get to experience the beauty and pleasures of the Arizona Biltmore. Meantime, the openness of this MD group to this relationship-building with a distinct discipline is a great first step in the kind of inclusive orientation which bodes well for future AHMA policy actions. 

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