In 2001, Mayo Clinic received a transformative jolt of integrative energy at a fortuitous moment. The institution was about to celebrate the opening of the 21-story Gonda Building. What a Minnesota news account called a “transformative project” was funded originally with a $45-million bequest from Southern Californians Leslie and Susan Gonda. Their daughter, Lucy Gonda, then an activist and philanthropist in the emerging integrative medicine field, recognized an opportunity. There would likely be no better time to stretch herself for her most significant integrative grant. She piggy-backed onto the celebration of her parents’ gift to throw in the spotlight a struggling, nearly invisible integrative medicine operation. This article examines what has been built since the injection from the “god-mother of integrative medicine at Mayo.”
“Integrative light.” The term began to be used in the late 1990s by some community-based holistic, integrative, functional, and naturopathic medicine practitioners to discount and dismiss actions in the then emerging field of academic integrative medicine. I was reminded of this knee jerk tendency toward disparagement recently when a past president of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) sent an email query asking for names of any medical schools that “really support integrative medicine and have legit programs.” The question fell within days of receiving an annual report from one such center born in that period 23 years ago, now the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago’s downtown. It struck me that it might be useful to examine the myriad ways that at least one such entity is at work to shift medicine toward a healthier model.
The early “integrative medicine” period clearly was one of “non-integrated integration.” The hospital or insurer wanted to throw the consumer an integrative bone in the competitive marketplace. They produced stand-alone integrative clinics or a carve-out insurance products. Offerings, in these forms, serve dual purposes. The medical delivery organization or insurer pleases patients by offering a little yoga, or acupuncture, or manipulative therapy or massage. At the same time, the non-integrated nature of what is offered pleases medical leadership: they are not asked to take the integrative methods seriously. They needn’t cross the medical-cultural divide to weigh whether the integrative approaches may be better than usual care. For most of the past decade, the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) has been building bridges across the chasm. Twice they’ve developed integrative oncology guidelines with mainstream oncology organizations. Now, through an unrestricted grant from the Samueli Foundation, SIO and the influential American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are commencing a project to raise three additional girders to bridge treatments.
Caught up in a movement, one likes to assign causality to explain advances. A pressure applied in one place brings movement in the other. The set of collaborating entities manage to get to a policy table and push something positive through. A story begins to accumulate. Yet a close reading finds also influences of what that ancients might have called fate. The New Age may associate these with intention. I enjoy thinking of these as serendipity. I have accumulated a few favorites for the integrative health and medicine field. They begin with the circumstance of my own connection. None is more striking than that which I encountered in a new publication on the influential Wilk vs. the AMA trial that muzzled the AMA’s worst bigotry toward non-pharma approaches. It turns out that L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, may be credited with opening the integrative era.