When members of Congress established what is now the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, they cared about whole things. Eight times in two pages, the new Center was charged to examine not just basic research or reductive trials on individual modalities. They pointedly sought to turn the NIH’s attention to the value of complementary and alternative “systems and disciplines … in health care delivery systems in the United States.” This shift of focus was resisted. The first director Stephen Straus, MD famously shouted down his former NCCIH advisory council member Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH when Calabrese courageously asked for research whole disciplines and whole practices like those of licensed naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. All integrative disciplines urged Straus’ successor Josie Briggs, MD to focus her 2011-2015 strategic plan on “researching the way we practice”. Briggs showed interest but showed no one the money to engage these questions. So when the NCCIH’s current director Helene Langevin, MD opened the NCCIH 2021-2025 strategic planning process with a February 18, 2020 video-cast webinar by focusing on “whole person health,” there was, among many, a great deal of anticipation and pent-up-demand. What might this mean?
The transformation of acupuncturists from things to beings as subjects of research – from modality to whole system professionals – got a big boost at the June 26-29, 2019 Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) conference. The alchemical stew for which SAR board member Robert Davis, LAc, MS was master chef began with the conference’s real world, policy, and payment focus. A Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)-funded process for which Davis’ conference co-chair Remy Coeytaux, MD is primary investigator focused attention on implementation and dissemination. Past SAR board president Helene Langevin, MD, who stepped down from the SAR board when she began service as director of the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), announced intentions for a precedent-setting initiative on whole systems research. In this mix, the acupuncturist as a whole professional flowered both as research target and as a potentially more valued participant in a reformed system for health care.
In early 2008, the leadership of the National Institutes of Health for the second time caused concern among many in the integrative health and medicine field by naming a director of what is the now National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) who had zero experience in the field the director was to oversee. Imagine a head of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute with no experience in any cardiology, pulmunology or hematology.