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Medical school adds new fellowship in integrative medicine

Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor
Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

A new fellowship in the medical school will allow students to be officially recognized as top professionals in integrative medicine.

The fellowship was approved by the American Board of Certification last month, and students are now able to apply for the program. Twenty-four institutions offer the board-approved fellowship, which is awarded to physicians with exceptional expertise in a speciality field. GW is the only university in the country to also offer a master’s degree in integrative medicine.

Andrew Heyman, the director of the integrative medicine program at GW, said that health professionals who study integrative medicine examine all aspects of individuals’ health and consult on cases of diet, stress management and traditional healing therapy. He said that at the core of many chronic illnesses is lifestyle, stress and self management, and that integrative medicine solutions are complementary to standard medical care.

“It was time for a major academic center like GW to offer academic credit for this particular area and, at the time, not only was there a lot of institutional interest but clear growing enthusiasm among medical professionals,” Heyman said. “It was a recognition that the field had matured.”

Students in the fellowship must complete more than 1,150 hours of online curriculum, supervised clinical training, personal self-care projects and experiential modules on the practitioner-patient relationship.

“We have done a very good job of understanding and treating disease, but we have not nearly done a good enough of job of how to support individuals taking better control of their own health,” Heyman said. “That is where many of the strategies in integrative medicine really show their value.”

Heyman said he came to GW about four years ago to begin to grow the integrative medicine program. The 18-credit graduate degree program and 30-credit master’s program launched last fall, and current students are grandfathered into the fellowship if they choose to take the additional curriculum requirements on top of the master’s degree.

Heyman said that the American Board of Certification established board certification for integrative medicine about a year ago. The fellowship was developed at GW to meet the expanded curriculum requirements the Board set, including more in-person training and clinical experiences.

“This was a big deal,” Heyman said. “It signaled a real change in the perception of integrative medicine. Basically having board certification means that you are officially distinct as a specialty in your medical area.”

Heyman said anyone can take the exam to become board certified, but the individual is also required to complete advanced education in integrative medicine before sitting for the test.

About 30 graduate students are currently enrolled in the integrative medicine program, Heyman added. He said that while the degree is most popular among physicians, nurses, health coaches, yoga instructors and speech pathologists have also joined.

“We have a wide variety across the spectrum, which is great because the program is designed to be interprofessional and cross-disciplinary,” Heyman said. “We embrace the plurality of not only the content but also who might be attracted to this speciality.”

The curriculum for the fellowship was developed in collaboration with the Metabolic Medical Institute, which contributes expert faculty and content to the program at GW, Heyman said.

Doreen Brown, the CEO of Tarsus Medical Group, which houses MMI, said in an email that the institute’s mission is to provide clinicians with advanced medical education that focuses on disease prevention.

“The acknowledgement of this subspecialty has an impact in the ability of the health care community to address chronic disease states with far-reaching effects on patients, communities and society as a whole,” Brown said.

She said developing this fellowship with GW puts both institutions at the forefront of medicine’s shift toward more recognition in integrative medicine and better overall patient care. Staff from GW and MMI have been working on the program since 2014.

“Increasing the number of well trained, certified specialists in integrative medicine will significantly provide access to better patient care,” Brown said.

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