The Creation of a New Specialty

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Integrative Holistic Medicine is an emerging medical specialty that incorporates (1) caring for the whole person — body, mind, and spirit — to treat and prevent disease; and (2) empowering patients to create a condition of optimal health. Both outside and inside the medical profession, this concept of medicine of the whole person is gathering increasing support. The body-mind-spirit approach integrates many disciplines and modalities, including physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, exercise, environment, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, social relationships, manual medicine, herbs, homeopathy, energy medicine, prayer, acupuncture, meditation, spirituality, and biofeedback.

Holistic Medicine is based on the core belief that unconditional love is life’s most powerful healer. At its essence, the practice of integrative holistic medicine embraces a spirit of interdisciplinary and physician-patient cooperation, balances the mitigation of causes with relief of symptoms, integrates conventional and complementary therapies, and facilitates the experience of being fully alive.

As these concepts are incorporated into American medical practice, medical education, health planning, and research, reasonable standards must be established regarding the application of the body of knowledge which encompasses the field of Integrative Holistic Medicine. The American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM) was incorporated in 1996 to certify physicians through a psychometrically validated examination process. Since 2000, when we provided our first exam, we have certified over 2000 physicians. The process of educating physicians through our Annual Conference and our extensive Core Curriculum has established a grounding and common knowledge base for those seeking board certification in integrative holistic medicine. Over the last few years, our Board of Directors has proposed more stringent criteria for board certification in Integrative Medicine. The path of all medical specialties and subspecialties, as they gain more widespread acceptance and growing professional acknowledgement, is to require formal training as one of the conditions of sitting for a board certification examination.

When the ABIHM was incorporated, educational opportunities in integrative holistic medicine were scarce. The past 15 years have brought tremendous growth to the field, and training programs in integrative medicine now abound. Many residency programs are offering integrative opportunities, and fellowship training programs in integrative medicine are becoming increasingly available.