Doctors Who Care: Does Alternative Medicine Work?
(Page 10 of 11)
The Future of Modern Medicine
Montori and Amit Sood are not the only voices of support for alternative approaches at the Mayo Clinic, a medical center renowned for the excellence of its medical care and for the relatively low cost of that care. I met with a range of prominent physicians there to discuss their views on the growing presence of integrative medicine in mainstream medical care, including at the Mayo Clinic itself, which houses a program it calls Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
One of them was Morie Gertz, a hematologist, who chairs the Mayo Clinic’s internal medicine department. “Most of the doctors here were top of their medical school class, top of their residency, blah, blah, blah,” he told me. “That’s technical mastery. That doesn’t make them effective healers. Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen hundreds of patients who clearly feel they’ve benefited from alternative therapies. It’s not my job to tell them they shouldn’t feel better. And I wouldn’t tell patients they shouldn’t try alternative medicine if they want to—we need to follow the clues patients give us about what might help them. If a patient chooses to walk away from the therapy I’ve prescribed and go to an alternative therapist instead, that’s not the fault of alternative medicine; it’s because I’ve failed as a doctor to do a good job of making my case in terms that are important to the patient.”
The notion that alternative medicine is a legitimate response to mainstream medicine’s real shortcomings is one I heard, in variations, from everyone I spoke with at the Mayo Clinic. Liver specialist Keith Lindor’s positive view of alternative practitioners was shaped early in his career, when he spent time working alongside a Native American medicine man at a reservation clinic. “I had been trained to aggressively treat patients with drugs that often only made them even more ill,” he says. “But he could often do much better with just a press of his hand.” The beneficial effects of alternative therapies on Mayo Clinic patients, he says, have been observable in shorter hospital stays, lower levels of self-administered painkillers, and reduced tissue inflammation, which is a general indicator that the immune system is better holding its own.
Lindor’s opinion is perhaps of special significance, because he is also the dean of the Mayo Clinic’s medical school. Ultimately, what today’s medical students think about alternative medicine will be more important to the future of medicine than what anyone else thinks of it. Mayo Medical School has woven alternative medicine into its curriculum. And its students seem eager to learn more. Among the dozen or so “interest groups” the student body has set up to arrange further discussion and education outside the normal curriculum is one focused on alternative medicine, attracting about a third of the students, on par with the other groups. “I’m probably not interested in being an alternative practitioner, but I want to learn more about it so I can have a better conversation with patients,” says Lauren Jansons, the ebullient second-year student who heads the group.
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