Enrollment in GW’s integrative medicine programs has tripled over the last four years.
Since 2015, enrollment in integrative medicine programs at GW has increased from 17 to 52 students, according to institutional data. Faculty and integrative medicine experts said the program’s steadily climbing enrollment will help fulfill an increasing public demand for integrative approaches to medical treatment.
“Diverse experiences and thought add fuel to the learning experiences and discussions in the integrative medicine programs, leading to better prepared and highly adaptable graduates,” Leigh Frame, the program director for the integrative medicine programs, said in an email.
Integrative medicine professionals examine how factors including nutrition, exercise level and mental well-being influence human health. Patients are encouraged to make lifestyle changes, like increasing exercise levels or eating a more nutritious diet, to prevent the onset of disease, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Frame said the growing frequency of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity increases the desire for students to learn about integrative medicine so they can learn to effectively treat illnesses.
“Today, the key is a strong foundation in whole-person, patient-centered, evidence-based, personalized and lifestyle medicine to focus on prevention, treatment, and cure — not simply treating symptoms,” she said.
Frame said the University’s relationships with “established partners” solidifies GW as a national leader in integrative medicine, which has also encouraged more students to join the program.
She said the medical school also partners with nonprofit groups like the American Integrative Medicine Health Institute and Integrative Medicine for the Underserved, groups aimed at decreasing financial barriers to integrative health care. Frame said working with “niche” groups allows the medical school to connect with a wider group of students who may be interested in the program.
She added that current students and program graduates have referred medical students to the program through “word of mouth.”
“Through these partnerships, we have been recognized as an authority on evidence-based, personalized, patient-centered, whole-person care – the integrative medicine approach,” Frame said.
The medical school instituted an integrative medicine fellowship in 2016 to distinguish medical students as top professionals in integrative medicine. Frame said the fellowship contributed to increased student enrollment in the program because similar fellowships are unavailable at other medical schools around the country.
She said administrators in the integrative medicine program will work to further grow the program and better educate medical students about how poor nutrition can lead to disease. Health care providers previously felt “unprepared” to provide patients with advice about proper nutrition, Frame said.
“The GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in conjunction with leading practitioners, is exploring ways to fill this knowledge gap through future programs,” she said.
Integrative medicine experts said increased student enrollment in the program indicates that more students will enter the field with the necessary medical expertise to work with patients interested in alternative treatments.
Belle Minshall, a physician at Seattle Integrative Medicine, said patients’ preference for integrative medicine approaches has been growing because “conventional” health care is seen as ineffective in preventing and treating disease.
“You interact with different individuals all day and you interact with their suffering,” she said. “When you offer a remedy or treatment and they come back and say they are not better, that can be really disheartening and discouraging.”
Edward Rosick, a physician in the osteopathic college of medicine at Michigan State University, said growing enrollment in integrative medicine programs will meet public demand for integrative medical treatment for illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Rosick said approaches to integrative medicine sometimes have “no basis in any type of data,” and increased enrollment in integrative medicine programs will train more doctors in evidence-based practices.
“I think there is more of a need for physicians to be trained in it because of the public’s desire to have it,” he said. “In my mind, the more docs that we have properly trained in integrative medicine, the better it is for the public at large.”
Ed Prestera contributed reporting.