West meets East…Guest post: Jonathan Black, MD/MPH student

Posted by on Feb 15, 2010 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

I spend a lot of time on Flashfree writing about complementary or Integrative Medicine. This refers to the meeting of the Western versus Eastern minds, combining the best of both worlds, if you will. Hence, I was excited to read my Twitter friend @jonathanblack’s positive experiences with his integrative medicine courses, so much so, that I asked him to write a guest post. I was curious to learn how and if medical schools were starting to slowly incorporate Eastern/Integrative health into their curriculum and even more so, how students felt about it. It seems that there is a huge divide between doctors who are up and coming in the field today and those who have been practicing for awhile. Although it is possible to encounter a physician who embraces integrative medicine, it is probably easier to find those who characterize it as “quackery,” refusing to give credence to the evidence-based studies that exist or consider that perhaps, the way that studies are conducted in Western medicine do not consider the intricacies of Eastern practice. Regardless, because I feel so strongly about integrative strategies and their role in our healthcare as women, I think that it’s imperative that we understand where the bridges and gaps are. Without that understanding, we can never entirely play an active role in our own healthcare. Or become a strong voice for a broader imcorporation of these practices into Western, or allopathic medicine.

Please welcome Jon and show him some love with some great comments!

The exposure that medical students receive to Integrative Medicine varies between medical institutions. It depends on a number of factors, including whether or not the institution has a center for Integrative Health, how progressive the medical administration is at the medical school, and the relationship between practitioners and physicians within the geographical area. Regardless, most of the time, the degree that medical students are exposed to Integrative Medicine is insufficient.

To that end, my medical school dedicates one afternoon during the second year to Integrative Medicine. For students who opt out of an an additional four-week elective, that one afternoon is the only exposure that they will receive throughout their entire education. Considering that over 40% of patients use some form of Integrative Medicine, whether it is Yoga, vitamins, or something else, this is problematic. If you don’t have a solid understanding about Integrative Medicine, it is difficult to talk to patients about it. Understanding this concept, I chose to take the additional four-week elective.

During these four weeks, I shadowed and worked with massage therapists, herbologists, yogis, reiki masters, music therapists, chiropractors, and qigong instructors. Ultimately, I found this experience to be tremendously useful, as it provided me with a new perspective from which I can discuss Integrative Medicine with my patients and it allowed me the opportunity to connect with practitioners who I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. As someone going into Obstetrics and Gynecology, it also peaked my interest regarding how these forms of therapies might be integrated into women’s healthcare.

The more I’ve looked into the blossoming relationship between women’s health and Integrative Medicine, the more I have realized that I am like a small fish lost in open water. From conferences to complete guides on the subject, the materials and opportunities available in this field are endless. There is also a lot that is unknown on the matter and an abundance of research continues to evolve. That being said, I have come to the conclusion that while I will always be able to competently care for women from an allopathic standpoint, this won’t always be the case from an Integrative Medicine standpoint, regardless of how much time I put into learning different modalities. So, on a professional level, it will be important for me to develop solid relationships with Integrative practitioners within the community I am working in, and hopefully, integrate them and their work into my own practice. Collaborative medicine is the wave of the future and I want to be on the forefront and I think that this approach will allow me to be there.

About Jonathan…

Jonathan D. Black is a 4th year MD/MPH student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. He is going into the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology.


  1. 2-15-2010

    Nice post, Jonathan! It is all too easy to call something quackery if we do not have the right tools to study it (see my post from last week on this here: http://evimedgroup.blogspot.com/2010/02/evidence-based-inquisition.html). Also, I personally do not care whether a study finds any beneficial effects of, say, a massage, when I myself feel so good after getting one.

    We definitely need a more open-minded and less parochial approach to integrative medicine.

  2. 2-15-2010

    I agree that anecdotal evidence/experience is very important and should carry significant weight when deciding on therapies. Regarding, integrative approaches, unfortunately the majority of MD’s aren’t willing to accept a lot of the therapies/treatments until there is a standardized approach to research and outcomes. I think more open-mindedness would be great!

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