Ever since high school, Vanessa Noelte ’16 has wanted to discuss integrative medicine — an approach that combines alternative medicine and conventional biomedicine — in an academic setting. This semester, her wish is about to be realized.
On Feb. 1, approximately 70 students attended a screening of “Escape Fire” — a documentary exposing flaws within the American health care system — organized by Noelte as a way of promoting discussion of integrative approaches to health care on campus. After the film and a panel discussion, which featured three integrative medical professionals, Noelte said she was approached by many students who told her the film had changed their lives. Now, she and several other students are launching a new campus organization: Integrative Medicine at Yale Undergrad (IMYU).
Noelte, who hopes to someday practice integrative medicine, said the group’s goal is to spread the word about different health care options which may be used instead of or in conjunction with standard western methods. Premedical students should be familiar with different approaches to medicine, and the various paths they can take to becoming medical practitioners, she said.
“[Yale currently doesn’t] have anything to educate younger people,” Noelte said. “They’re not even going to know that there are these integrative medical programs that they can get into.”
But Noelte said the group is not just intended for aspiring doctors. Although the group has not had an official meeting yet, Noelte said she hopes IMYU will hold biweekly meetings to discuss documentary film clips, controversial topics or academic papers pertaining to medicine. The idea, she said, is to create a safe space for students to learn and express themselves.
Ather Ali MPH ’06 — who co-directs the Integrative Medicine at Yale Program at the School of Medicine, is faculty member in Pediatrics and at the Yale Stress Center and sat on the Feb. 1 panel, praised the organization’s founding principles as an intellectual forum and not just as an advocacy group. The group aims to bring together students with different interests and opinions — a goal that reflects the reality that complementary or integrative medicine and mainstream medicine are not mutually exclusive, he said.
“There’s a lot of interface [between mainstream and complementary methods],” Ali said. “Patients don’t necessarily choose one or the other.”
Though interest in integrative medicine has increased over the past couple of decades, Ali said this does not suggest the decline of conventional medicine.
Noelte — who works as Ali’s research assistant at the Integrative Medicine at Yale Program — said she first became interested in integrative medicine during her junior year of high school, after learning about the toxins present in common foods and pharmaceuticals. Disturbed by our “pill-popping society,” Noelte said she looked to the preventive techniques of integrative medicine.
In addition to her classroom studies, Noelte said she was partially inspired by her Native American cultural background, which emphasizes naturopathic healing. Since she also works at the Native American Cultural Center, Noelte said she hopes to get more Native students interested in the organization.
“This is medicine that their tribes believe in … [and] something that they’d be interested in,” Noelte said.
Nicole Feng ’16, the group’s treasurer, said she had similar reasons for joining the organization and expressing interest in integrative medicine. Growing up as a dancer in an area of Los Angeles with a high Asian-American population, she said she has seen and sustained many injuries that regular doctors could not heal. She recounted once pulling her neck and being taken to see a Chinese medical practitioner, who used cupping therapy to promote blood and “qi” flow.
“The next day, lo and behold, I could move my neck,” she said. “There are many different experiences I’ve had with Chinese medicine that have helped me get back on my feet and pursue what I love to do.”
Before the film screening and panel, Feng said she had previously met Noelte during a summer program and discussed the potential for a student group exploring integrative medicine with her.
In addition to the biweekly meetings, which will begin this Friday, the organization plans to hold a few larger events each year, which may include more screenings, workshops with massage therapists and acupuncturists and research presentations, IMYU vice president Yumiko Nakamura ’15 said in an email to potential group members.
The Integrative Medicine at Yale Program began in November 2006.