By Janice Neumann, Special to the Tribune
December 14, 2011
After a stressful day of seeing sick and sometimes dying patients, Dr. Aaron Michelfelder doesn't reach for a beer to decompress. Instead, this family medicine doctor at Loyola University Medical Center opts for acupuncture or self-hypnosis.
While doctors are schooled in traditional Western medicine, a growing number like Michelfelder are turning to complementary and alternative medicine to stay healthy, then integrating the techniques into their medical practices. Michelfelder is board-certified in family medicine, acupuncture and medical hypnosis.
Alternative therapy also includes herb therapy, deep breathing, massage and yoga. Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, combines the methods with traditional medicine.
Michelfelder, who is also associate professor of family medicine, bioethics and health policy at Loyola's Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said in addition to their stressful profession, doctors often have anxious or obsessive personalities, which serve them well in their quest to heal but "can easily tip over into a health disorder or interfere with our lives," said Michelfelder. Sometimes they witness traditional health care gone wrong.
About 300 to 400 physicians commit suicide each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted Michelfelder.
"Physicians really need strong coping mechanisms," said Michelfelder, who also uses herbal therapy and supplements and has gone for Reiki therapy, a Japanese technique that uses touch to reduce stress, and chiropractic treatment. "We see a lot of bad things," he said.
A study published in the online version of Health Services Research in August found that 76 percent of health care workers and 83 percent of doctors and nurses used CAM, compared with 63 percent of the general population. The study used data from the 2007 Alternative Health Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey, which is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other studies have found more nurses than doctors using CAM, according to the article.
Christy Brave, a nurse in Loyola's pediatric intensive care unit, said she uses regular Jazzercize, which incorporates yoga and Pilates moves, to relax and take her mind off a stressful job. She teaches the exercise/dance and has offered it free to her fellow nurses.
Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple uses alternative medicine for wellness, getting acupuncture, doing yoga and taking various Chinese herbs. Temple, who directs the NorthShore Integrative Medicine Program, which is part of the NorthShore University Health System, prescribes acupuncture combined with herbs and supplements for patients with sinus infections.
"Now is the best time for me to work on these things because I have to be healthy for them, to be around for a long time," said Temple.
Dr. David Bilstrom, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation and is on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, uses acupuncture, massage, healing touch and chiropractic therapy to maintain his good health.
"Physicians tend to be terribly unhealthy people who die at a younger age than others, have terrible stress, work bad hours and eat on the run," said Bilstrom.
Bilstrom also uses the techniques on his patients with chronic diseases who failed to obtain relief from traditional medicine.
"The interesting thing with this form of medicine is the same things you do to help treat a person with a well-established problem are exactly the same things you want to do for prevention," said Bilstrom. Many medications only target symptoms and not the disease or illness, he said.
Physicians who are experts in CAM are also providing an important resource for other doctors.
Dr. Gustavo Rodriguez, who directs the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at NorthShore, said he refers some patients with numbness in the fingers and toes caused by chemotherapy to the Integrative Medicine Program for acupuncture and others with nausea for herbal therapy. He said integrative medicine specialists can also spot harmful interactions between certain CAM therapies and standard treatment.
"I want to get patients to somebody who can sort of sift through all that and say what is OK to take and what is not," said Rodriguez.
More doctors should know the benefits and drawbacks of CAM, according to Dr. Chun-Su Yuan, an expert in herbal medicine. Chun, who is the Cyrus Tang professor in the department of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago, researches commonly used herbal medicines and says that 50 percent of medications are botanically based.
Doctors who work in hospital integrative medicine departments or use CAM methods in their own practices say their referrals from other physicians have been steadily increasing, though many physicians are still reluctant to suggest it. But doctors agree that patients themselves are the ones who have pushed much of the change in health care.
"This cultural change has happened from the bottom up," said Michelfelder of Loyola. "Physicians are always the slowest to change."
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