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Integrative Health and Wellness: Well-being for the Whole Person

a doctor does acupuncture on a male patient's ear. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by J. M. Eddins Jr.)
By Vivian Mason

While faculty and staff are providing support to students as they learn to become future providers, and providers are caring for patients – who is taking care of the caregivers?

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Health, Safety, and Wellness Committee, USU’s professional schools, and the university’s Complementary and Integrative Health Interest Group have all come together, along with the USU Wellness and Integrative Medicine Program, recognizing this important concept. Together, they sponsor activities that promote and incorporate wellness, health, and well-being not only for the caregiver, but the entire university community.

hands do acupuncture on someone
Acupuncture is used to relieve back pain (Image credit: Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office photo by Leejay Lockhart)

“If we’re going to help the USU community embrace wellness and be more accepting of integrative health, then we all need to be more knowledgeable about it,” said Sylvia K. Scherr, director of Continuing Education for Health Professionals at USU. Scherr was an integral force behind the establishment of a wellness program at the university, which was created to directly contribute to the well-being of all students, faculty and staff.

And what exactly is integrative health? USU’s Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management explains that an “integrative” approach to care promotes an individual’s needs by addressing all aspects of their well-being – biologically, psychologically, and socially – or as they refer to it, as a biopsychosocial approach, and then integrating various forms of care to address those needs, i.e. yoga, or acupuncture.

Wellness techniques empower soldiers.
(Image credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Provost)
Experts suggest there has been a shift from just looking at organ-specific diseases and illnesses to this integrative approach, looking at the person as a whole, with a new focus on maximizing total health and wellness.

“If you look at healthcare today and then look at what causes illness and suffering, the vast majority of morbidity and mortality is due to lifestyle issues, such as stress, lack of exercise, and inappropriate nutritional choices,” notes Scherr. “If we could get people to live a healthier lifestyle, not only would they live longer, but also the quality of their lives would be vastly improved.”

Holistic and integrative health approaches continue to permeate the workplace, with organizations like USU acknowledging that the enhancement of individual well-being through on-site activities requires a much broader view of wellness.

“This broader approach goes beyond the more traditional approach. These activities aren’t the kinds of things you would have seen at the university 10 years ago. People are becoming much more aware and interested now,” said Scherr.

USU continuously strives to help its entire community develop positive, healthy habits and lifestyles that will endure, offering diverse wellness activities and encouraging the entire community to participate. Some of the activities offered include:
Midweek Midday Meditation
Lunch & Learn Monthly Series
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course
Civilian Human Resources’ Personal and Work Performance Enhancement Training
Brown Bag Discussion Series
Lean-In Circles

In the future, Zumba classes and organized lunchtime walking will be offered to the USU community.

For students who face a number of stressors, and can be prone to burnout, Scherr said that USU also offers a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, which can be scheduled as needed around their busy schedules.

a teacher shows acupuncture on a student's ear
USU’s Bench to Bedside and Beyond (B3) battlefield acupuncture course teaches medical students to properly administer acupuncture by testing it out on their classmates and ear simulators. (Image credit: Sharon Holland)

“What this course teaches them is how to control that part of their mind that’s always thinking. It’s difficult to learn how to simply take a breath and reboot,” Scherr said.

USU’s wellness program is also providing formal courses and activities in integrative health and medicine for all students.

Dr. Laura A. Taylor, professor and director of Clinical Education at the Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing (GSN), explained that the nursing faculty have also designed an innovative course, Integrated Medical Modalities, to introduce military nursing students to integrative medicine.

“Topics include battlefield auricular acupuncture, nutrition, mental and muscle relaxation, physical movement, and guided imagery,” Taylor said. “In addition, an annual GSN Health and Wellness Day offers sessions on yoga, meditation, nutrition, and stress management.”

a student practices acupuncture on another student's hand
USU’s Bench to Bedside and Beyond (B3) battlefield acupuncture course teaches medical students to properly administer acupuncture by testing it out on their classmates and ear simulators. (Image credit: Sharon Holland)

The School of Medicine (SOM), during its annual Integrative Medicine Day, which is one of the components of its Bench to Bedside and Beyond curriculum, also included opportunities for senior medical students to take a breather and learn about acupuncture, “culinary medicine,” yoga, and adaptive sports. The SOM also offers two- and four-week electives in acupuncture and integrative medicine. In addition, instruction is provided in metacognition and motivational interviewing, as well as electives in the healing arts, osteopathic manipulation, and manual medicine. Every spring, the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics presents the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course. Integrative health and wellness training and activities for USU’s Postgraduate Dental College students are provided as well by the military.

These efforts to promote well-being are invaluable.

“It has some really strong effects on people’s functioning, their levels of stress, their memory, and their general measures of happiness and well-being,” said Scherr. “So, when you have a lot of people in an organization embracing these approaches, what happens is that the entire organization becomes much more highly effective.”