Next-Gen education opportunities in integrative health – at Philly’s fingertips

Momentum is building in the field of integrative medicine. Can you feel it? Both patients and healthcare practitioners are becoming increasingly interested in this evolving field. The whole-person approach to care that focuses on prevention through lifestyle management and innovative solutions to chronic health challenges is beginning to take root.  

Academic integrative medicine uses precision testing that includes genetics, genomics, nutrient profiling and gut microbiome testing. Therapies are informed by this testing and integrate conventional medicine with targeted nutrition, lifestyle management, hormonal balancing and much more, all with the goal of improving overall function, performance and health-related quality of life. Health professionals, including physicians, nurses, physician assistants and pharmacists, among others, are recognizing a gap in their traditional education regarding the critical elements of this integrative model.  

The good news is that the leaders in integrative medicine at Thomas Jefferson University have created a Master of Science in Integrative Health Sciences for licensed healthcare practitioners. The program is offered through the College of Health Professions and much of the curriculum is developed by faculty of the historic, first-of-its-kind Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at Sidney Kimmel Medical College. 

Natalie G., a 42-year-old full-time homecare nurse who is a current student in the program, says she was “tired of not having answers.” Her patients were often riddled with both acute and chronic illnesses and she was determined to pursue the pressing question: “What more can I do to help them?” 

Despite learning the basics of nutrition, diet and lifestyle in nursing school, Natalie was limited in her capacity to answer the frequently asked questions her patients had, such as: “What should I be eating?” “Why am I sick all the time?” and “Is stress playing a role here?” Her old textbooks did not provide the answers, and she realized she needed more information, and from a credible source. 

The reality is that traditional curricula for most health professions programs offer cursory information on topics like dietary planning, specific nutrient therapies, effective stress-reduction tools, the importance of the gut microbiome and lifestyle factors that impact chronic health issues. While this is slowly changing, many health professionals like Natalie are actively seeking the tools of next-gen health care. 

In Jefferson’s master’s degree program, Natalie is getting foundational training in nutrition, mind-body health, advanced healing and wellness strategies and other crucial areas. The program’s approach is to train healthcare practitioners to be evidence-based, patient-centric and integrative, with compassion and prevention at the center. Students in this program include physicians with many years of experience, medical students who are looking to fill a gap in their current training, chiropractors and physician assistants, as well as nurses like Natalie who are looking to advance their skillset. 

Now more than halfway through the program, Natalie reports feeling better equipped to answer her patients’ questions within her scope of practice. She has a newfound excitement in her approach to patient care and is incorporating what she is learning into her own health journey and with loved ones.  

“As a nurse, it became apparent that I could not continue to practice in a medical model that does not treat from a root cause perspective,” says Natalie. “This is when I came upon Jefferson’s MS in Integrative Health Sciences and was delighted to meet clinicians from all fields, ranging from MDs to registered dieticians. After completing just three courses I already feel confident that I can start meaningful conversations with patients about their health and wellness from an integrative perspective. I’m excited to continue in the program and expand both my personal and professional life because of the education I am getting in this program.” If you or someone you know is a healthcare professional looking to change the way patients’ lives can be impacted through integrative health practices, you can learn more here

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