I sometimes think of modern healthcare as being a bit like organized religion. There is so much good to be derived from shared worship and community. And yet over the centuries, the power of spirituality has also been an opportunity for conflict, violence, corruption, abuse and politics.
It felt crazy to walk away from the world that I had navigated so well
Healing traditions have been with us since the beginning of civilization, and our collective history has been punctuated by episodes of war and contagion, which have in turn spurred medical innovation. In many ways, modern medicine is a miracle of human imagination and as such, it has become a commodity that has the potential to cause conflict. The pandemic has shown us many examples of political maneuvering, inadequacies in healthcare infrastructure and societal inequities in the world these past two years.
I spent the first part of my career teaching and working on the business end of academic medicine because I wanted to create systems that could help other doctors, thereby helping more patients. And while we did do a lot of good, I was acutely aware of the limitations of conventional biomedicine. Our whole orientation was towards illness and disability, “sick care” rather than “health care.”
In many ways, I knew that I was living my dream of being a successful physician and executive, but there was a small part of me that began to realize that my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. And that was scary because I was so used to being inside my box that I didn’t know how to step outside.
There was definitely a sense of safety and familiarity to the box. And it felt crazy to walk away from the world that I had navigated so well. To all outward appearances I was thriving, but deep inside I knew that I was fighting a battle between my own values and those of the prevailing gender and racial patriarchal frameworks in the workplace.
I had to prove to myself that being brave is hard but worthwhile
I could rationalize that I was doing more good by staying in a high ranking position of influence as a woman of color, by serving as a role model and advocating for others. But I knew in my heart that I could no longer ignore the strong institutional contempt for what we used to call Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).
So I left at the top of my game, grieving my Women’s Health practice and fellow foot soldiers, and feeling burned out and defeated by the crisis in primary care. It was probably one of the most courageous things I have done, and it allowed me to prove to myself that being brave is hard but worthwhile.
I describe my journey into self discovery, including training in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), In my conversation with Dr Rahi on her podcast Modern Eastern Meets Western Medicine. We talk about how we learned to prioritize our own needs through our training Integrative Medicine fellowship and how that has served us in coaching our patients to do the same.
It’s been a long and winding path, but I know now that I was called to Integrative Medicine and coaching because I wanted to be able to “walk the walk” of brain health care, and to share that journey with other caregivers.
The Treatment Podcast by Dr Rahi Raheleh
Dr Em’s Take:
Dr Rahi and I met while doing the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Integrative Medicine Fellowship. She and I have a frank conversation about the limitations of modern medicine, and why we think that integrative medicine is a more honest and informed approach to care.