Academic Consortium ‘Widens the Tent’ with inclusion of Nursing Schools and Osteopathic Medical Schools

Q&A with Executive Director Dale West

In an effort to create a more collaborative landscape for all members of the healthcare community, the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health, a New Buffalo, MI-based organization comprised of universities and health systems in North America, announced in October it would open its membership to nursing schools and osteopathic medical schools. The Consortium, founded in 1999 by eight academic health centers including Duke University, Harvard University, University of California, San Francisco, University of Arizona, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts and University of Minnesota, now includes 75 institutional members representing scientists, educators, clinicians and other health professionals who share an interest in integrative medicine and health. Because these professions have traditionally remained somewhat compartmentalized, the move is an important step to help bridge the gap. IHPC recently spoke with Executive Director Dale West about the Consortium’s decision and its potential impact on the integrative and overall health community.


IHPC: Why did the Academic Consortium make the decision to expand its membership and why is this important to the integrative health community?

Dale West:  It really was the next step in the evolution of creating a more inter-professional organization. Nurses and doctors of osteopathy have actually been involved the organization for years. They are part of our current membership through the existing members but our bylaws prohibited the schools from being part of the consortium, so we made the decision to make this change as we believe it will take all of us to make the changes we want to see in our health system. We need to widen the tent.

IHPC: What kinds of changes to the health system are you talking about?

DW: Our vision is to see a transformed health system where integrative medicine and health are available to everyone. I know that is a lofty goal and what we are working toward will take all of the integrative organizations and all of the professional groups working together to get increased access to modalities that help save and improve lives.

The thinking is that having more inclusion from different institutions and sharing of resources, in terms of how we are educating our students to include an integrated integrative approach, is important. We have to be able to educate our new medical students and nursing students in a different way to help people live a healthy, fulfilling life– that is our number one goal.

Frankly, trying to make changes in health care without our nurses is never going to happen. They spend more time with patients than anyone else and are an integral part of the system. They have really been focused on integrative health as long as the rest of us, so it made perfect sense that they should be an integral part of the organization.

Doctors of Osteopathy also bring a strong background and understanding of integrative modalities. Their training comes from a more holistic approach in that that they can do spinal manipulation to alleviate pain to help people live a more fulfilling life. So they are already taught this in school, and there is no difference in scope of practice from an MD to a DO. It is an artificial barrier whose times had come.

IHPC: So far what response have you had to this change?

DW: We had had requests coming in from these groups– in fact, it was a request from a faculty member who had a new institute that wasn’t eligible to join.  That alone showed us there was interest.  We have also seen interest from other nursing and DO schools. We will likely see the first application from a nursing school in early 2021. COVID might dampen this somewhat because the focus is elsewhere. But we think it was the right move and the response we have seen so far is good. People are excited and open to coming into a larger tent.

IHPC: Was it a difficult process to shift the organization’s thinking to include these new institutions?

DW: The changes we made this year were unanimous. We made a push to make this happen and everyone involved, who voted to make a change–the board, the membership committee, and others, were unanimous, so it was not difficult to make it happen. It is something we have been thinking about.  We have had conversations over the years, but for many years we had a different focus – the organization was young still and trying to get its footing. We are in a different place now, and we thought this was the right time.

IHPC: What will membership in the consortium mean for these schools?

DW:  It means that they have a larger network to be able to talk to colleagues across the country and around the world about education curriculum, clinical practice, and research. Having a collaborative effort to share resources opens the possibilities for these schools to have a greater network as they work to create change locally and also nationally

IHPC: Looking ahead, how do you envision the impact of this inclusion?

DW: Increasing the number of institutes providing both the education to our emerging leaders in healthcare and providing care to people around the country will allow for this great collaboration– more collaborative research projects and really looking at systems for change that are working. We do have pockets of change that are moving the needle. So as we begin to be able to share these ideas, strategies, and outcomes and bring that back locally is incredibly important.  Increasing the types of organizations that can join will expand this collaboration.