The Varieties of Medical Experience

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Curative medical models and healing knowledge lead the way to sustainable healthcare.
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By John Syme

Wayne Jonas , M.D. ’77 has an inquiring mind, reflected in a favorite quote by psychologist William James (1842–1910): “Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science, there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always proves more easy to ignore than to attend to.”

In medical science there is generally more going on than first meets the eye. So, in the service of exploring the “dust-cloud of exceptional observations” in medicine, Jonas is in his second decade as founding director of the Samueli Institute (www.siib. org) in Washington, D.C., an organization designed to “transform health care through the scientific exploration of healing.”

Western medicine has been very good at focusing on “curing” specific diseases, Jonas says. “But what we’re discovering is that our inherent healing capacity is a powerful force. We should not leave healing to its own devices. We should seek to support and stimulate it.”

Interests at Samueli include brain/mind research and optimal healing environments (OHE), acupuncture, nutrition, person-centered care, and placebo effects. Data flows from mainstream medicine as well as from “alternative” or “complementary” sources. For Jonas, the term “integrative” indicates the emerging wisdom— and market-based practicality—of blending curative medical models with healing knowledge as the way to create a sustainable health care system.

One of Samueli’s most important partners has been the U.S. military. Yoga, nutrition, spiritual support, meditation, acupuncture, and other methods have found application in scientifically rigorous military approaches to pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder, and combat readiness.

“These are skills that can be taught collectively and individually, so service members and their families can deal with the stresses of war and separation that come with deployment,” says Jonas. Before building Samueli Institute, he served as director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, director of the Medical Research Fellowship at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and for 20 years as a military doctor.

Much of Jonas’s work combines research and understanding from seemingly disparate aspects of the health care terrain, from childhood obesity and the anomaly of declining U.S. life expectancies to baby boomers’ looming impact on late-stage medical interventions and changes in health care legislation.

He is excited about the institute’s new strategic plan, with its “translational” focus on the integration of scientific knowledge on curing, healing, and wellness: “How do you take the science of healing and translate it effectively into specific settings?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

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