The challenge was this: The movement for mainstreaming transformed “complementary and alternative medicine” into something called “integrative medicine.”
Biases in the culture, including those of philanthropists, promoted leadership by the last and most reluctant stakeholder in the game: medical doctors inside mainstream academic medicine. Since the mid 1990s, literally millions of philanthropic dollars have poured into the creation and support of something called the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (CAHCIM) and the development of the 51 medical school members with integrative medicine programs. Seven figures of investment went into creating an MD fellowship in integrative medicine that is now on a course to becoming a medical specialty.
Many of the stakeholders most knowledgeable about integrative care, including naturopathic medicine, appeared to be lagging behind.
The Gift and the Donor’s Reasons: Bridging and Collaboration
Now a breakthrough $100,000 grant from the Westreich Foundation to a parallel consortium is providing hope for expanded influence for the collaborative voices, perspectives and projects led by educators and institutions associated with the licensed integrative health disciplines and non-MD physicians, such as the naturopathic medical profession.
The Westreich grant empowers these licensed professionals to play a more significant role in shaping how whole-person healthcare reaches the public.
The grant was given to a not-for-profit entity formed in 2004 and incorporated in 2008, the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC). Among ACCAHC’s 16 national organizational members are the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), and the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE).
What if these educators declared a shared vision and mission and collaborated on an agenda to stimulate better access to whole-person, health-promoting, integrative healthcare?
Westreich Foundation president Ruth Westreich explains that her decision followed “getting to know the ACCAHC organization and the bridging and collaboration [they] are striving to accomplish across all fields of quality care.”
“I believe that ACCAHC has played, and is continuing to play, a significant role in breaking down the dreaded silos of individual groups and is able to envision the greater, larger picture of a preferred patient-centered care model," Westreich says. "I am hoping that this grant will allow [ACCAHC] even more time to create even more collaborations between CAM [complementary and alternative medicine], integrative and palliative medicine.”
The Back Story: A Team Strategy for Change, Influence, and Access
The back story to the Westreich grant to ACCAHC involves a good deal of naturopathic leadership. A multidisciplinary group—including former AANP physician of the year Pamela Snider, ND; Marcia Prenguber, ND; Christa Louise, PhD; Morgan Martin, ND, LM; past AANP executive director Sheila Quinn; and past AANP president Michael Traub, ND, DHANP—began to think strategically about the potential value of academic collaboration across all of the licensed integrative healthcare disciplines.
What would be possible if the councils of colleges, accrediting agencies, and certification and testing organizations for chiropractic, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, massage therapy, direct entry midwifery, naturopathic medicine, and national organizations of such non-licensed fields as homeopathy, yoga therapy, and Ayurvedic medicine were corralled into the same room?
What if these educators declared a shared vision and mission and collaborated on an agenda to stimulate better access to whole-person, health-promoting, integrative healthcare? Better support for its colleges, workforce, research, students, and faculty? Full access to whole disciplines, not just therapies? Could collaboration open doors that are otherwise shut, including to philanthropic support? Are there, for instance, aspects of naturopathic medicine’s mission that might be advanced as part of a collaboration linking academic entities tied to 350,000 licensed practitioners?
The Strategy at Work: Brickwork of Collaboration
In truth, the ACCAHC strategy was not rapidly embraced by some leaders in each of the disciplines. Each profession has leaders who continue to view close association with other professions as extra baggage or even as a political misstep. Yet ACCAHC is showing evidence that the strategy for opening up the dialogue to new voices and influences that represent a broader picture of integrative services is working. Here are examples.
- In 3 separate projects, ACCAHC has given the natural healthcare fields their lone voice in Institute of Medicine projects to shape. This includes successfully nominating Rick Marinelli, ND, LAc, to participate in a committee that created a national blueprint for a pain strategy that promoted an integrative approach.
- ACCAHC’s Research Working Group, cochaired by Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH, had a hand in moving the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011–2015 strategic plan toward a more real-world, whole-practice focus.
- ACCAHC’s Clinical Care Working Group, now cochaired by Marcia Prenguber, ND, and Jennifer Brett, ND, LAc, provides leadership in creating a place for these disciplines in the national movement in academic medicine for interprofessional education and team care.
- CAHCIM, the 51 medical school consortium, and ACCAHC are jointly sponsoring the first International Conference for Educators in Complementary and Integrative Medicine October 24–26, 2012, at Georgetown University. ACCAHC strongly supports the advance of MD-involved integrative medicine in collaboration with respectful involvement and integration with other disciplines. A remarkable group of conventional leaders are on the ACCAHC Council of Advisers.
We are pleased to be making some headway in these and other areas. (For more examples, check: www.accahc-accomplishments.org.)
Taking on the truly game-changing projects that ACCAHC members have identified means breaking the “glass ceiling” that has kept significant philanthropic investment from integrative health projects run by non-MDs. Other than ongoing support of ACCAHC’s founding philanthropic partner Lucy S. Gonda, ACCAHC’s work had no single financial commitment of more than $30,000 until the Westreich Foundation grant.
Has the glass ceiling broken? We can’t be sure. Yet we are hopeful that ACCAHC’s ability to advance mutual respect and understanding among the professions—and strengthen the ability of naturopathic medicine and other ACCAHC disciplines to serve human health—will have many more such boosts in the months and years ahead.
**This article has not been approved by the ACCAHC board and member organizations and represents the author's own views.