Does Medical School Inspire an Integrative Medicine Philosophy?

The information below comes from our Integrative Physician Market Landscape 2017: A RealPersona Segmentation Study of U.S. Integrative MDs and DOs.

The transition to adopting an integrative medicine philosophy typically occurs after medical school. While a significant amount of these doctors (35%) had an integrative philosophy prior to entering medical school, 55% adopted the philosophy after leaving school.

Of note is that DOs (60% of them) are far more likely to have adopted an integrative medicine philosophy before they went to medical school. This explains why they are also more likely than MDs to join an integrative practice right after residency.

Personal life events intersect with the adoption of an integrative medicine philosophy

One doctor made the decision to pursue a healthier lifestyle not only “for [his] own sanity,” but for the health of his family. “[We started to] look into eating organic, which both my wife and I never did in the past; looking into household cleaning products and household beauty products and this synergy of these things with my son and his health, as well as our lifestyle and me not finding personal satisfaction in the hospital work I was doing. It all kind of came together.” This led him to his aha moment while he was watching an online presentation from Dr. Mark Hyman — “from there it was like ‘this is what I want to do.’”

One doctor we interviewed felt so frustrated by western medical practices that he wanted to leave the field of medicine altogether. His personal spiritual journey “guided [him] to come back to medicine and do it in a different way. Do it on [his] terms.”

Integrative philosophy & medical school training

Only 10% of physicians adopted an integrative philosophy while they were in medical school, which highlights the lack of support and training for integrative medicine within the conventional medical school environment.

One DO we interviewed shared that he started an integrative medicine club while in school, and “encountered a lot of resistance at the university level. You would think that at an osteopathic school they would have a more openness to that, but I didn’t find that was the case at all,” he remembered.

Another young doctor went out of her way to gain the training while in medical school: “When I was in residency, I took opportunities when I could to do other rotations that other people probably wouldn’t want to do. An acupuncture rotation here and there, or a rotation with a doctor of osteopathy who would do chiropractic, that sort of thing. I’ve always been interested.”

Why is it important to know when the evolution to integrative occurs?

In several complementary and alternative medicine credentials (like chiropractors, acupuncturists, and naturopaths), companies that are involved with dietary supplements, botanical or herbal medicines, and medical foods, have student programs in place at educational institutions. In the future, as functional and integrative philosophies become more a part of medical universities, there could be a rationale for setting up programs that introduce brands to students. But, right now, the data indicates that these efforts would be futile.

So if a dietary supplement brand can’t use the structure of a medical institution as a way to reach students, what is the next most important way to capture the 55% who make the transition after medical school?

There are places where companies can reach integrative physicians (e.g., conventions, seminars), but they will compete with all of the other companies selling the same types of products. Understanding what motivates doctors to make the transition will help, but that requires a degree of knowing when they are ready to make the switch.

This leads to wanting to investigate how many years it takes, on average, for an MD or DO to make the transition. We will be writing about this in a future article.

Find out more about our groundbreaking research study and purchase the report here.