When I entered medical school in 1966, I had no idea that I was going to practice alternative medicine. I trained traditionally at Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and its academic teaching affiliates. This foundation in conventional medicine has served me well.
Treatment failures paved the way for expanding my medical horizons. One problem was my own medical condition. I have been an asthmatic since childhood and unfortunately have tried prescription medications periodically for years. The side effects were awful. Rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, and then the worst of all side effects for me, insomnia. After irritability lying awake night after night, I decided to look for alternatives. The internet was not invented then, so I did the next best thing; go to my medical school library and read everything I could about asthma. Fortunately, I came upon a textbook of natural cures that had been gathering dust in Hahnemann’s library for years. Good fortune and persistence allowed me to find natural help for my asthma. I found that vitamins and, for me, the mineral magnesium would control my asthma without the terrible side effects of prescription medicine.
After realizing that there were alternatives to traditional medicine, I joined the Academy of Environmental Medicine and the American Association of Otolaryngic Allergists. I learned everything I could about alternative medicine and with this information I had patients able to stop powerful and dangerous drugs and live a more fulfilled life. I continue to try and help patients get off of prescription drugs and avoid surgery by using safe, proven alternative therapies.
What is Alternative Medicine?
I specialize in alternative medicine. I dislike the name because there is really no such thing as alternative medicine. There is only medicine; of course there are different approaches and philosophies. The alternative approach is in the eye of the beholder. When I practiced in the Philadelphia area I needed a nutritionist to work with me, a radical concept in 1974. Amongst the applicants was a women born and raised in China who was the head of the Division of Nutrition at The University of Pennsylvania. President Nixon had just started to ease diplomatic relations at the time and there was a new interest in acupuncture, which gradually gained acceptance in the United States. Thirty plus years have passed and Chinese medicine is much more common in the US.
I will never ever forget the single sentence that so focused me on alternative medicine. The nutritionist from Penn told me, “You know, doctor, in my country you are the alternative medical care system.” A sudden exciting awakening engulfed me. At that time most Chinese patients were treated by so-called “barefoot doctors”; these were actually highly-skilled practitioners in Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. If the patient did not get better, they were referred to other Physicians’ skilled in Western medical practices such as: surgery, radiology, cardiology, neurology, and ophthalmology. Doctors perform care our culture considers conventional medicine, yet to the Chinese it is their alternative system. Alternative medicine is thus culturally defined.
Alternative medicine is also defined by lack of patent protection. You cannot patent (copyright) a mineral like magnesium or an herb like ginkgo biloba. My specialty does not include a 14 to 18 year non-compete patent clause, meaning no one else can sell that brand name drug for up to 18 years. There is tremendous bias to use patented drugs by physicians. The reasons are at times obvious because they can work and be lifesaving. There is an absolute place for pharmaceutical companies (companies that make prescription drugs) to continue to produce helpful products. Pharmaceuticals are useful at certain times for certain patients with certain diseases.
Most of my career has been spent in academic institutions. For many years I had medical students in my office. I made morning hospital rounds with medical students, interns, and residents. I often devoted my mornings to supervision of residents in family medicine at Bryn Mawr Hospital, an affiliate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. I helped younger doctors learn my profession. I am quite proud of this and still keep in contact with many of my former students. I really got to know how academic medicine works.
In medical school, professors need to support themselves financially via research grants from either drug companies or the government. Medical school professors do part time research, and their other duties include teaching. They teach medical students and residents about research and the drugs that they are knowledgeable about. It is human nature that you will say nice things about the drug company and its products if the money for your research is coming from the drug company. Physicians are then biased towards the medications that the companies funding their research are producing. Unfortunately it has become a revolving door; physicians leap from medical schools to lucrative jobs in the pharmaceutical industry either to get away from academia and politics, or for the promise of more income or professional clout. I am not against these dedicated physicians, but unfortunately there are not enough “hands-off” grants from private sources or government to change the bias of the system.
Respected, hard-working staff physicians teach the young physicians their ways and beliefs, and with that come biases; young students and residents are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn and help. The bias for drugs and surgery enters into the young doctors’ minds in a subconscious, almost hypnotic way.
In many Medical schools the teachings still mostly focus on patients as diseases. It is assumed the patient already has a disease then the students study the anatomy, physiology and pharmacology of the problem and look for a solution. Looking back, it is truly amazing that I never had a course in preventative medicine or nutrition; the subjects were rarely mentioned in medical school.
Alternative medicine is a movement away from the bias of medical schools and conventional funding from pharmaceutical companies. Alternative medicine is an orphan of insurance companies, medical schools, and most physicians. Many doctors have their hands so full of taking care of the avalanche of the sick, that they have no time or energy to do wellness counseling or learn about many of today’s alternative, optional treatments.
Remember there is only one medicine. I am grateful for my conventional medical training. How could I not be since it has helped so many of my patients? However, I am disappointed that most of my profession remains locked in a closed-minded approach to alternative natural treatments without giving patients options.