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Molly Roberts, MD: On Mending of the Town-Gown Split in Integrative Medicine and AHMA's Role PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Molly Roberts, MD: On the Mending of the Town-Gown Split in Integrative Medicine and the Holistic Medical Association's Role in I.M.

Molly Roberts, MD is the president of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA). She responds here first to comments in the December 2013 Integrator Round-up on the growing collaboration between two components - town and gown - in MD-led integrative medicine. One, the "townies" is the pioneering, community based alternative/holistic/integrative medical doctors such as those in the AHMA, founded in 1978. The other is the "gownies" from the 15-20 year-old movement in academic integrative medicine led by the Consortium for Academic Health Centers in Integrative Medicine.

Subsequent dialogue led
Roberts to respond to comments in the January 2013 Integrator Round-up on the positioning of the AHMA amidst the array of integrative medicine organizations. These include CAHCIM, the Integrative Medicine Consortium, the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine and the emerging American Board of Integrative Medicine. She calls her second contribution, below,"How A.H.M.A. Frames It's Role in the Zeitgeist of Integrative Medicine." 


Regarding the Sometimes Acrimonious Nature of Relations inside "Integrative Medicine"

Molly Roberts, MD
Institute for Health and Healing
President, American Holistic Medical Association
Vice-Chair of the Board, Integrative Medicine Consortium

Molly Roberts, MD
I would like to comment on the "sometimes acrimonious" nature you described for the Integrative MD community. It seems that for many years, there had been a focus on how each Integrative Medicine organization was different and unique from each other, and I do believe that this was a necessary part of our field's evolution. This is actually a very common phase in any group's evolution and is to be expected during the growth of a new way of thinking. However, being separate and unique also diminishes our collective strength. We each do better individually when our profession as a whole is healthy and strong.

 Being separate and unique diminishes
our collective strength. Working together
for the common good resonates with our holistic
proclivities and the time is right to do so.

Working together for the common good resonates with our holistic proclivities and the time is right to do so. There is a real movement afoot for us each to recognize how much we agree on instead of focusing on those smaller areas where we differ.

One piece that had been missing was the open communication needed to avoid continually recreating the wheel, and that is what both the IMC and CAHCIM are now doing amongst themselves and increasingly with each other. We are each reaching out to our Integrative Medicine brothers and sisters to see if we can help each other to thrive and are finding that this is healthy in more ways than one. I am sure we will have our growing pains with this, but it is a very positive trend and one that is worth the effort to see how far we can go when we do so together. This is the next phase of our evolution and one that I personally greatly prefer.

A clear basic need for both the "townies and the gownies" (cute designations by the way) was to lay some protective legal and insurance groundwork. Being a townie does not preclude someone from practicing evidence-based medicine and being a gownie doesn't insulate someone from being pulled before a medical board that doesn't understand their methods of practice. At those times, it helps to have people in your corner who understand the work that you do. The IMC took on the task of compiling this list of expert witnesses and are inviting its own members, CAHCIM's members, and others in the field to be included on the list if they have the experience and expertise for this type of consultative work.


Some Key Areas of Collaboration

 - Malpractice insurance for integrative MDs
- Developing an expert witness resource
- Development of board certification
- General synergies in advancing the model

The IMC also coordinated with Fairway Insurance to create the country's first Integrative Medicine malpractice insurance offering.

Another collective need was to create a formal Board certification process and the IMC was exploring this when CAHCIM decided that they wanted to take it on as a project. We stepped back and wished them well with their efforts and have been pleased with the inclusivity of their grandfathering guidelines. As we all accumulate successes in these ventures, we will likely branch out to find other ways to collaborate and to advance our field for the good of us all.

Integrative Medicine is at its best when we are all working together to bring this more holistic way of practicing medicine into the mainstream, and each organization is doing its part for that cause. There is a lot of potential synergy within and between these two organizations and I hope that we continue to find ways to work together. There may also be other organizations in the Integrative Medicine world who want to "come in from the cold" and are tired of trying to do it all on their own. If so, then we will welcome those discussions as well. There is a Kenyan proverb that says, "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable." May we all bend together.
Comment: These developments are exciting, challenging and healing. I join in celebrating them with my integrative medicine colleagues. At the same time, I have in mind the concern - sometimes paranoid and sometimes evidence-based - among many of my colleagues in the licensed so-called "CAM" disciplines that the growing organization of the integrative MD community can be felt as a move toward hegemony rather than inclusion of them. The CAHCIM definition of integrative medicine is interprofessional and seemingly inclusive. Some speak to integrative modalities or therapies but not other health professionals and disciplines. This makes the licensed CAM folks nervous. Are "they" stealing the family jewels?

More explicit assertion in the integrative medicine community that integrative medical doctors support the "egalitation" characteristic of inter-professionalism would be useful in creating an even wider circle.


How A.H.M.A, Frames It's Role in the Zeitgeist of Integrative Medicine

Institute for Health and Healing
President, American Holistic Medical Association
Vice-Chair of the Board, Integrative Medicine Consortium 

ImageIn the comments on [AHMA executive director] Steve Cadwell's article, you asked about how the AHMA frames our place in the larger zeitgeist of Integrative Medicine so I thought I would address your question.

The American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) has been in existence since 1978 and our founders include some of the original pioneers of this field like Norm Shealy, Gladys McGarey, Bob Anderson, Bernie Siegel, Christiane Northrup and others. They were some of the first to venture into adopting a different and more holistic mindset to the practice of medicine and they still support the work of the AHMA.

The American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABIHM) grew out of the AHMA when it was recognized that there was a need for both a professional member organization (the AHMA) and a Board certifying body (the ABIHM). Over the years, we have watched this field go through all of the ups and downs along its path toward becoming more mainstream in our culture and have been thrilled to watch how it has evolved.

We are here to help you walk your talk -
to find health, joy, vitality, love, balance,
and sustenance in your own life and work
so that you can more authentically
teach these skills to your pa  tients.

Several years ago, we as an organization took the time to acknowledge that the field had grown up well and to ask whether the AHMA had outlived its own usefulness. There were now a lot of other Integrative Medicine organizations out there, each one focusing on a different modality, so what did we bring that was unique?

That soul-searching was well worth the time and effort, as we realized that the AHMA is still the only Integrative Medicine organization that purposely doesn't subscribe to any particular modality but instead focuses specifically on the health and well-being of the health practitioner. We are here to help you walk your talk - to find health, joy, vitality, love, balance, and sustenance in your own life and work so that you can more authentically teach these skills to your patients.

We do hold educational medical conferences but believe that the heart needs to be as engaged as the head and so we also offer retreats for medical professionals to rest, rejuvenate and maybe to do some soul searching themselves. Some of these are part of the educational conferences we offer and others are stand-alone retreats throughout the country. Some are a part of other organizations' conferences by invitation, as this message of internal healing seems to have struck a chord with the larger medical community.

In coming back to our roots as an organization, we have experienced our own renewed vitality and this movement is gaining momentum. There are many other parts to this, including creating more opportunities for people to join a supportive community on the local, regional and national levels, but I will keep this discussion to our main message of offering opportunities to tap into the Healer Within. We look forward not only to this next phase of our own AHMA story but also to being integral to our collective Integrative Medicine evolution.
Comment: Not thoroughly described here, because of Roberts' focus, is AHMA's uniquely inclusive positioning relative to the other integrative health disciplines. As noted here, diverse sets of licensed and certified practitioners can be members. The current board includes a licensed acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner and a nurse, together with medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy. That is practicing the integrative health that we preach. There's a little healing in that, as well.

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