As new program director for UNM’s online integrative medicine program for residents in training, I now have the privilege of nurturing trainees to shift the medical paradigm toward empowered wellness

In early March I attended a mini retreat in Tucson for national and international faculty from medical disciplines interested in the online integrative medicine program offered by University of Arizona. This groundbreaking program was started by Andy Weil MD about ten years ago for physicians already finished with their residencies but more recently, they have added residents in a variety of disciplines. And as of these past two years, they have started to include psychiatry but only at University of Arizona. 

I have been appointed to be program director at University of New Mexico department of psychiatry as we offer this online integrative medicine curriculum to our residents and fellows for the first time this coming academic year. We are the first site beyond University of Arizona to do so. Noshene Ranjbar is the lead psychiatrist there who has been the driving force to modify the curriculum for psychiatric trainees. (We really enjoyed our time together!) There will be an experiential component as well as didactics offered as part of the ongoing learning for those who chose to take this elective. We will spread the learning over a two-year period as this is an extra component of their training and is voluntary. 

I am excited as this is one of the reasons I had returned to the academic world. I wanted to plant seeds with trainees so as they enter the medical field, they have a broader understanding of integrative options. 

All fifty or so of us were quite passionate about supporting change in the current medical paradigm. Most of us are women with quite a few being immigrants or children of immigrants. We as women are making gains in the world of medicine. It is only about one hundred and fifty years since women were even allowed into medical school. Being a daughter of immigrants, I was exposed to healing modalities with herbs that may have influenced my path. Others spoke of their grandmothers bringing different healing options such as golden milk from Ayurveda as part of their cultural medicinal experience. 

 Quite a few of us already have been trained in acupuncture and different modalities, including herbalism, nutrition and bodywork. There are different training programs available to receive herbal or acupuncture training beyond residency. None of these holistic methods are offered in a medical training at this point. We all sought training beyond what our medical specialty offered. We hope to begin to plant seeds to change this with this type of curriculum. 

Experiencing is believing

Not only did we made great connections for future collaborations, but we got to give trainees the experience of well-being. It was valuable to create experiential ways to share the integrative medicine topics to further water the seeds I am seeking to plant. The trainees will be able to use self-care tools that will not only assist in their own growth, but also will support their well-being through stressful stretches of life—like being in training.

I believe it’s important to instill in trainees the sense of the curious before certain paths are deeply ingrained in them. They will approach clinical situations with a much broader perspective. My hope is to instill in them an orientation toward minimizing a patient’s exposure to medicine as long as possible—instead of thinking of medication as the first remedy. 

Cultural sensitivity

I value being culturally sensitive so that the values and the traditions of the patient as practitioner and patient collaborate on a treatment plan. By allowing treatment to be a collaborative experience, the patient is empowered. 

I believe that’s true for both the practitioner and the person seeking help. True change comes when people are interested in participating in their own health, rather than blaming everyone else. 

Empowered wellness leads to better ways to support growth and healing so that people can change those daily habits that lead to health decline over the years. 

This is ultimately my goal in my educational approach with the trainees. I want to see them walk the talk of wellness as they learn ways to have balance in their own lives. 

That alone will assist in improving quality of their own lives and the lives of those they will see in clinical settings. 

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