Labor of Love: Building a Vet School Integrative Medicine Department from the Ground Up

Veterinary Medicine

Story at-a-glance -

  • This week as we support the fundraising efforts of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF), we thought our readers might want to know how some of the money the Foundation raises is allocated.
  • One crucial function of the AHVMF is to support integrative medicine training in veterinary schools across the U.S. One shining example of such an effort is the wonderful work being done in the Integrative Medicine department at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM).
  • Dr. Becker talked with Dr. Donna Raditic of UTCVM about how the program got off the ground, its growth over the last five years, its acceptance by other departments at the college, and the fact that it is a “must do” rotation for a growing number of veterinary students.
  • Between now and March 17, 2013, every $1 donated to the AHVM Foundation will be automatically tripled. That’s right – Mercola Healthy Pets will contribute $2 for every $1 donation to the foundation from March 11 through March 17, 2013.

By Dr. Becker

Many of you are probably curious about what kinds of projects the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) financially supports with the proceeds from its ongoing Be One in a Million fundraising efforts.

In 2012, the AHVMF Board of Directors awarded $10,000 to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM) for its response to a Foundation survey. Following receipt of that award, UTCVM contacted the Foundation with an interest in creating the first two-year Fellowship in integrative veterinary medicine. The Foundation and the university worked out a matching grant that allowed the program to be supported by a larger sphere of people. Through the development of this private-public partnership, the Fellowship achieved approval and full, sustainable funding.

Recently I spoke with Dr. Donna Raditic who heads up the UTCVM integrative medicine service. My goal was to be able to share with Mercola Healthy Pets readers some of the exciting things that are happening in veterinary schools with regard to offering complementary and alternative medicine training for vet students.

Dr. Raditic’s background is impressive. She received her DVM from Cornell University, her certification in Chinese and Western Herbology from Tuft’s University Veterinary College, and she completed her veterinary chiropractic training at Colorado State Veterinary College. Dr. Raditic is also certified in veterinary acupuncture. Her specialty and passion is the healing power of good nutrition.

Q&A Session with Dr. Donna Raditic

Before I get into the questions I asked Dr. Raditic and her answers, I thought it would be a good idea to offer a quick refresher on the meaning of “Integrative Medicine.”

Integrative Medicine can be defined as an approach to the practice of medicine that makes use of the best available evidence taking into account the whole patient, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationships and makes use of both conventional and complementary/alternative approaches.

Dr. Becker: Who came up with the idea to create an integrative veterinary medicine department at UTN? Who got the ball rolling? How long did it take?

Dr. Raditic: In 2008, I was asked by the head of the small animal hospital here at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM) if I would be interested in starting an integrative medicine department. I initially came onboard as “adjunct” faculty, but as the IM service grew, I was able to add a vet assistant, and then two years ago, another DVM, Dr. Cheryl Cross.

I don’t think UTCVM had any idea how much need there was for an IM department, and the university was also surprised to see such positive student response when we became an elective rotation for seniors.

By the time we became full faculty members, our caseload had doubled each year and students considered the IM service a “must do” rotation.

Today, our client load continues to grow as does the number of student rotations. We now have students from other colleges, UTCVM residents, vet techs and interns asking to do rotations in integrative medicine. We are moving forward with the Fellowship and plan to add another vet assistant. Our goals are to maintain the same level of quality veterinary care, provide educational opportunities, and add research into our program.

Dr. Becker: Do you think other schools will follow your lead?

Dr. Raditic: We hope to be a model for other schools, because we can be a source of real numbers with caseloads, student reviews, and financials for other veterinary colleges to consider. We also feel strongly IM programs need to be integrative and not just about using alternative modalities. We do not do just acupuncture, we do it all: nutraceuticals, supplements, botanicals, massage, chiropractic, nutrition, and preventative health programs for puppies and kittens. Similar to what is happening in human medicine, for us, integrative veterinary medicine is a lifestyle approach to staying well and regaining wellness after illness. People want this type of health care for themselves, and they also want it for their companion animals.

Dr. Becker: How has your integrative medicine service been received? Are other departments offering support and referrals?

Dr. Raditic: We have received a warm welcome. We currently treat the head orthopedics surgeon’s dog not only for his osteoarthritis, but his chronic skin and GI disease. I recently did an orthopedic consult with him (for another dog) and he said to me, “Why don’t you put this dog on the same stuff you put my dog on … he is doing great!”

We receive referrals from almost all the other services and now with so many students rotating through they are discussing in rounds what they have seen on our rotation and how we approached this or that problem. One of our second year students explained to the professor teaching his surgery class the neurophysiological mechanisms we believe work in acupuncture! Our patient caseload is now expanding from within the university, whereas initially it consisted almost entirely of external clients.

Dr. Becker: What benefits do you see unfolding as a result of this new department?

Dr. Raditic: We believe it is really about lifestyle changes that need to be made for better healthcare in people and animals. We see integrative medicine as a way of thinking about a problem and solving it with perhaps a bit of different perspective rather than the traditional “mg/kg dosing for all” approach. We tell students that “holistic” can and should be done for every patient, because medicine is not a one-size-fits-all science. You can use antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, etc. for patients in a personalized way.

We hope to turn out veterinarians who remember why they wanted to become veterinarians in the first place, and it wasn’t to sell heartworm pills, vaccines, etc. … but to learn how to help their clients provide better care for their pets.

I had one of my clients tell my students she travels two hours for me to see her two dogs because when she leaves, she receives a written letter explaining everything that was done and why. She has three years of my letters she saved that she refers back to.

When she leaves her regular vet, she has an armful of products, and is not even sure what they are for or why she bought them. She explained that she pays her vet a lot of money for that stuff. She told the students she knows their education is expensive, but she is happy to pay twice the going rate if they will just talk to her, educate her, and provide the kind of care we provide for her two little ones. I wish I could have taped that whole discussion … she provided an incredible lesson for my students.

We also see integrative medicine as a way to connect with owners and a way for veterinarians to realize these are not “just pets,” but family members. And the circle is completed when you become part of the bond that an owner shares with his or her companion animal.

I have a client that travels from North Carolina with her 17 year-old Golden. When the students went in to ask her why she was here and get a history, she told them, “We came to see Dr. Donna … she is Goldie Girl’s doctor and my sister.” The students were confused until I got my big hug from my client and lots of kisses from Goldie Girl who then promptly laid down for her “spa care” as her mom calls it. It is wonderful to be part of something so pure, and something so powerful that we believe it will pull people together to be more human. It helps people to care for each other, the environment, and our world. Very simply … animals make us better human beings.

Integrative medicine … a holistic approach … another perspective … a lifestyle choice results in a very powerful message. We need to live together in peace, share our lives with each other and the world we live in. We think that is the ultimate healing of the human spirit and animals, through their love, devotion, and service, give us this opportunity every day.

A final thought from Dr. Raditic...

“All veterinarians share a common goal -- we want to make our patients healthy. What makes holistic and integrative veterinarians different is not just the types of treatments we offer, but how we approach our patients.

“In the integrative health movement we are constantly seeking therapies and approaches that are outside the box of conventional veterinary medicine. And there are many reasons we need access to these therapies, as many of our patients have failed to respond to standard medical approaches. They come to us with hope of finding help not available elsewhere.

“It is the love we all feel that unites us in this effort that is veterinary medicine. Whether it’s a new puppy or kitten, or a hospice patient with terminal cancer, we approach each patient with thoughtfulness, a gentle treatment plan, and a lot of caring. We are vested in our patients. And once you become vested, willing to travel a different path to investigate all the options, there is no turning back.

“The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation represents all of us; it is our voice and a source of support in this challenging effort.”

How can you make a difference?

I’m tremendously excited to announce that now through March 17, 2013, all donations will be automatically tripled. That’s right! For every $1 donated, Mercola Healthy Pets will donate an additional $2. So please, take a moment right now to be one in a million and make a donation to the AHVM Foundation.

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