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Pooja Shankar, MS, MD (student): Reflections on an Entrance into Integrative Health and Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Pooja Shankar, MS, MD (student): Through the Looking Glass into Integrative Health and Medicine

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Pooja Shankar, MS: MD student and IM intern
I first encountered medical student Pooja Shankar, MS, when I was a guest lecturer at the Masters in Physiology-Complementary and Alternative Medicine program at Georgetown University. The program, co-founded by Hakima Amri, PhD and Adi Haramati, PhD, is a rare feeder program to health professional education. Students are opened up to engaging a broad array of potential tracks. Those attracted to the program are a bright group that I've had an opportunity to address for three years running.

I had a secondary reason for liking the ongoing relationship. All of these students must complete an two-month capstone project. As a leader of the
Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC), an organization that always has more project ideas than funding, such free-labor passionate students was attractive. ACCAHC had scored one such graduate and converted her into a very productive retained employee who has principally developed and manages the Project to Enhance Research Literacy.

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Host of Shankar's internship
While Pooja Shankar did not choose us for this, she did so after she entered medical school at the University of South Florida
Morsani College of Medicine. She spent an internship with ACCAHC as part of a leadership program called SELECT (Scholarly Excellence. Leadership Experiences. Collaborative Training). Her focus was to dive into patient-centered care. She went integrative and had a core task to help locate and develop an emerging list of integrative Federally Qualified Health Centers and Patient-Centered Medical Homes. (Plug here: If you know centers or clinics that belong on the list, let us know: )

Shankar made it clear that she saw her future as a leader in integrative health and medicine. After she completed her stint with us, she shared that she'd been keeping some reflective notes on her experience. I suggested that if she'd like, I'd like to see them. Perhaps the might be assembled into a posting in The Integrator. Here are her reflections.
_______________________________________________

Finding the Right Fit as a "CAM-Scanner" - Reflections on Entering Integrative Medicine

Pooja Shankar, MS, Medical Student
University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine
Select Class of 2017

"I feel I have been honing a particular skill in my summer interning with [ACCAHC] and the past few years of my life spent researching the field of integrative medicine.  I call this skill 'the CAM-scanner.'  It is the ability to find the right fit in an integrative world, and I assure you that you can do it as well! 

"The realm of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) seems daunting at first.  You are stepping into 'hippie territory.'  As an outsider, I looked in and asked myself: 'Where do I start?'  Where does someone even learn (or rather unlearn) that dandelions aren't simply weeds and that pharmaceuticals are actually based in a rich phytochemical history?

   
  "The realm of complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM) seems daunting at first.  You are stepping into
'hippie territory.'  As an outsider, I looked in and asked
myself: 'Where do I start?'

Once I stuck my foot into the door of my program,
the door was actually blown off its hinges."
 
 
"Enter, stage far left, the perfect graduate program for me, a stepping stone that lured me in with the mysterious mix of evidence-based CAM and rigorous science classes at a highly accredited institution.

"Once I stuck my foot into the door of my program, the door was actually blown off its hinges.  My mind was opened up to an entirely new way of thinking. A new lexicon filled with words like 'energy fields,' 'qi,' and 'mindfulness.'  Not to mention the numerous, ever-changing acronyms: CAM, MBSR, NCCIH, etc.  My head is still spinning from all that I was exposed to in such a short period of time. But it was the catalyst - the spark - from which the rest of my search for healing knowledge has stemmed.

"But do you need to have a master's in CAM to be a part of the integrative world?  Absolutely not.  As part of my summer internship with John, I ended up researching all types of 'integrative clinics' across the country in order to set up a mini-database for a project we were working on. The act of simply looking up these practicing clinics was as informative as my entire year spent at my graduate program.  I was able to appreciate on a very practical level, what it felt like to be in the position of those who are seeking healing.  I was overwhelmed with options and I did not feel as though I was knowledgeable enough (even with a degree on the topic) to make an educated decision.  I documented what I knew and what I wanted to learn more about - clearly one list was much longer than the other. 

"However, the more time I spent exploring, the more easily patterns started to emerge. Through the experience I realized how seemingly impossible this task must be to someone who is truly in need of some immediate healing attention. What is the right CAM fit for them?  What was the right CAM fit for me?


"These were all questions that I mulled over in my head for the past six months.  In looking at integrative options, it came down to a sort of algorithm when evaluating websites for clinics and determining where they landed on the CAM scale.  Key questions to consider: Who are the key practitioners? Where were they trained? How is the experience integrative? What services are being offered? Is there a scientific or historical basis behind these offerings? Does the clinic offer mind, body, and spiritual healing? Is payment addressed in an appropriate manner? Are there affiliations with medical institutions?  Is any research being conducted? Is evidence-based research provided (and how does this compare to research in the Natural Standard database)?

   
"I came to see the diversity of options
as the true beauty of CAM, that it isn't
simply one size fits all.  And as our waistlines
often fluctuate in life, our CAMfit does as well."
 

    
"After compiling all of these questions to take note of when looking at a new integrative clinic, I realized the biggest question of all was simply: 'How does this make me feel?' I realized it was an innate gut instinct that drove me to realize the appropriate amount of 'CAMness' for me, my unique fit, my individualized medicine. 

"A beautiful and appealing aspect of integrative medicine is that it is a coalition between providers and the patient to work towards the same goal.  When looking at health in this aspect, this puts the patient in an active role.  Although it may be easier to be a passive patient in the allopathic world, it is an important part of the healing process that the patient is involved.  This means from the very beginning.  Therefore, even though the process of finding the right 'CAM-fit' might seem overwhelming, it is a process that is necessary.  It will become important in the sorts of modalities you will be more likely to be open to and as a result the higher chance this technique might work for you!  The more committed and involved you are in the process, the more you are helping yourself.

"So until there is a reliable Yelp for CAM, I have decided to check my frustration at the door.  I came to see the diversity of options as the true beauty of CAM, that it isn't simply one size fits all.  And as our waistlines often fluctuate in life, our CAMfit does as well.  Experiences in life open you up to even newer ideas of healing, while others impart the importance of safety and efficacy. Hopefully these tips will help you discover the CAMscanner in you and I encourage you to enjoy the unfolding process!


"Now, fully immersed in my second year of traditional allopathic medical school, I find myself smiling as I reflect on this once daunting world of possibilities.  I am excited to see where I, a hybrid of CAM-biomedical teachings, will find my niche in the world and the sorts of individuals who will seek my care in the future.  I find comfort in the fact that I don't have to accept all of the offerings of either world. I can choose what I choose to embrace and enjoy discovering newer tools to add to my healing repertoire."

Comment: One of the necessary outcomes of opening oneself to the diversity of the world's healing traditions is that one learns that there is not just one way, to use an inappropriate metaphor, to skin a cat. One aspect of this opening is applying a diversity of whole person therapies amidst respect for theimportance of individualizing care to the biases and readiness for change of the person being treated. The other is that practitioners have the opportunity to continuously reinvent themselves, explore new modalities, other traditions, previously unexamined approaches and practices. Pooja Shankar captures this beautifully in this reflection. In her fresh telling of these discoveries, I am drawn to re-connect to core tenets that wedded me to this work 30 years ago. Here's to your present and future leadership in health and medicine, Pooja!




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