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East Meets West in UCLA Medicine


By Scott Fields

Published Jul 1, 2012 8:00 PM

Over the past decade, UCLA's vaunted health-care system has established itself as a national leader in the integration of Eastern ideas and approaches into mainstream Western medicine. Eastern traditions prevent disease and maintain health. Western ways aggressively fight illness. The trick is finding the delicate balance between the two.


Illustration by: George Bates.

On the ground floor of a hospital, 30 health-care professionals participate in a guided meditation. In a classroom, a fourth-year medical student presents a study on the use of Chinese medicine to relieve migraines. In a conference hall, 75 health-care practitioners are trained in tai chi, Reiki and essential oils therapy. In a lounge area, 30 students and faculty participate in a drop-in yoga class.

Does this sound like a typical day at UCLA? In 2012, it does.

A whole new age in medicine is blossoming across the UCLA Health System. By blending the best that Western and Eastern traditions have to offer, UCLA is leading the nation in integrative medicine practices.

"There's no place else that offers as many opportunities to research, teach and practice integrative medicine than does UCLA," says Woodson Merrill, executive director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing, part of Beth Israel Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "They're the leader in the U.S. in that the medical center and the medical school are so in synch with each other."

"Other programs around the country are strong in clinical, or in research, or in education, but UCLA is the leader in integrative medicine because we're strong in all three," adds Anne Coscarelli, director of the Simms/ Mann–UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology. What is emerging is a model of integration across the UCLA health-care system where Eastern traditions are used to maintain health, prevent disease and treat chronic conditions, and Western medicine is used when aggressive intervention is necessary for acute care. The trick is finding the right balance between the two.

Integration: Containing Costs

"Integrative medicine has more of a problem-solving approach," said Lawrence Taw, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine. Read more about the advantages of integrative medicine here.

When Worlds Connect

Eastern modalities first appeared in Westwood with the founding of such institutions as the Center for East-West Medicine in 1993 and the Simms/ Mann center in 1994. Initial resistance from mainstream medicine practitioners began to ebb as Eastern modalities became more accepted by the general population, especially in West Los Angeles, where UCLA draws much of its patient base.

By 2004, so many such institutions had formed that the UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine (CCIM) was founded as an umbrella for 11 organizations and their subsidiaries. CCIM joined the national Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (CAHCIM). Last October, CCIM sponsored a national CAHCIM conference at UCLA attended by hundreds of medical professionals.

Now, with new research supporting the effectiveness of many alternative modalities, acceptance of integrative medicine is reflected in both outpatient and inpatient care in specialties ranging from family medicine, oncology, internal medicine and primary care to rheumatology, gastroenterology, head and neck surgery, and thoracic surgery.

"Certainly the fact that the administration is getting behind this makes a big difference," says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, about the aggressive support given to integrative medicine. Such leaders include A. Eugene Washington, dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine and vice chancellor of health sciences, and David Feinberg, associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System.

Feinberg was recently responsible for bringing the Donna Karan Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program to the campus. Instructing nurses and other health-care practitioners in Eastern modalities, the present goal is to train a force of 300, enough manpower for at least one practitioner to be stationed on every floor of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center 24 hours a day.

Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee, the famed yoga masters who run Urban Zen at its headquarters in New York City, travel to Los Angeles to head up the training. "These health care practitioners are the champions who are constantly on the front line," Rodney Yee says. "We teach them the tools to deal with the stress, so it doesn't have to be lodged in their pelvis, in their shoulder, in their jaw. … So that every day they wake up and have the practices they need to restore themselves back to clarity.

"It's the total hospital that matters; it's not just the physician or the nurse," he continues. "Yes, heal one person at a time, but from a holistic point of view, we all have to arrange ourselves in the right way so that the whole health-care paradigm rises up."



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