By Eric Swedlund –
Gift Advances UA Center for Integrative Medicine
The father of integrative medicine is making a major commitment to ensure that Tucson and the University of Arizona remain the epicenter of the growing health and preventive care movement.
Dr. Andrew Weil, surrounded in March by UA officials in the new Health Sciences Innovation Building, announced his $15 million donation that will establish two endowed chairs and an endowed fund to support integrative medicine, which emphasizes health and well-being with a personalized focus that combines conventional medicine and alternative methods.
Founded in 1994 by Weil, a Harvard-educated physician, the UA Center for Integrative Medicine will now be known as the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. Weil’s gifts, which add to his previous donations of $5 million, will establish the Andrew Weil Endowed Chair in Integrative Medicine, the Andrew Weil Endowed Chair for Research in Integrative Medicine and the Andrew Weil Endowed Program Fund for Integrative Medicine.
“I’m very happy. This is a wonderful day and it’s been long in coming. I’ve been working at this for most of my life,” Weil said. “We’ve become the world leader in integrative medicine education and for a long time we’ve wanted to have a home and financial stability.
“I firmly believe that integrative medicine is the way of the future. Through its emphasis on lifestyle modification and bringing in less expensive natural therapies to mainstream medicine, I very much believe we can lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes. I feel confident that one day we’ll be able to drop the word integrative and this will just be good medicine.”
To announce the donation Weil – the Lovell-Jones endowed chair in integrative rheumatology and clinical professor of medicine and professor of public health – was joined by UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins, UA Senior VP for Health Sciences Dr. Michael D. Dake and Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine Executive Director Dr. Victoria Maizes.
Both Weil and Robbins, a cardiac surgeon by training, talked of meeting before Robbins started as president. At dinner, Robbins told Weil that he was a longtime fan and couldn’t understand why the university had never seen what it had in the Center for Integrative Medicine, but that he was committed to making this a top priority.
“I just wanted to meet him and come see this great center. Where does it all flow from? Well, the center of course is the spirit and the program,” Robbins said. “All of what Andy has thought of and built upon over the years – you should eat the right foods, you should exercise, you should not smoke, you should get enough sleep, you should manage stress – if we all follow the guidance of our sage leader here, we’ll end up living longer, healthier lives that will be more productive and more fulfilling.”
Since 1994, when the UA made medical history by creating the world’s first program in integrative medicine, the center has directly or indirectly impacted an estimated 8 million patients worldwide. More than 1,800 fellows now work in medicine around the world.
“To have the University of Arizona be the epicenter for this movement around the world, we have derived incredible benefits as a university,” Robbins said. “Andy is right. When you train others to go out all over the world, you can go to any city, any region of the world and find one of your fellows and they’re evangelizing your message all over the world and it came from the University of Arizona.
“I hope this will be not only validation, but a celebration of your life’s work. Having the whole team that you’ve built, we couldn’t be more proud and pleased and happy that we can finally get the program to where it needs to be.”
Weil said a portion of his donation will start the process of raising funds for a new, dedicated facility for the center, with the university committed to raising the rest. Weil said he hopes to be able to break ground on a showcase facility within a year.
“Since we’ve been in existence, we’ve had visitors from all over the world come to see our center – and it’s very embarrassing for them to come to this little shabby house,” Weil said of the center’s current location at 1249 N. Mountain Ave. “We have this reputation and now I look forward to having a physical presence as well.”
The center launched with the strong support of Jim Dalen, then VP for health sciences, the College of Medicine and the Tucson community, Weil said. Current health sciences leadership remains committed, Dake said.
“Obviously Andy has been a change maker and I think today’s announcement certainly cements his legacy and the commitment to integrative medicine at the University of Arizona,” Dake said. “This is something we’re really looking forward to developing at even a higher level.”
The inaugural holder of the Andrew Weil Endowed Chair in Integrative Medicine will be Maizes, who has been the center’s director since 2004. Maizes received her medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, completed her residency in family medicine at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her fellowship in integrative medicine at the UA.
Weil said Maizes has carefully nurtured the growth of the center in her tenure as director.
“When our program started, we had a residential fellowship and we took four fellows at a time. The main criticism I got all the time was ‘How are you possibly going to change anything in medicine by training four people a year?’ But there was a method in what we were doing,” Weil said. “Over the years that fellowship existed we graduated about 35 people and many of them are now in influential positions, they direct centers at other universities, they’ve written textbooks and so forth. But more importantly, it gave us a chance to develop a really solid curriculum that we could translate into a distributed learning format and reach many more people.”
This UA Center of Excellence trains more than 500 residents and fellows annually. The center has alumni leading integrative medicine programs at the Tufts Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, the University of Southern California Institute for Integrative Health, the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and the University of Kentucky Integrative Medicine & Health program, among many others, including international programs in Israel, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Pakistan and other countries.
Yet Weil has even greater goals. The center has taken the basic elements of its 1,000-hour online fellowship and developed a condensed curriculum of 200 hours, designed to be embedded in residency training.
“That’s where we feel we can make the most difference,” Weil said. “Residency is where attitudes and practice habits are formed. This curriculum is now in 74 programs around the country and Canada, Taiwan and Germany. Our goal is to have this be a required, accredited part of all residency training in all fields.”
Though education was the driving focus at the inception of the center, research has become an equal mission.
Dr. Esther Sternberg, director of research for the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine since 2012, will be inaugural holder of the Andrew Weil Endowed Chair for Research in Integrative Medicine.
Internationally recognized for her research in brain-immune interactions and the effects of the brain’s stress response on health, Sternberg is founding director of the UA Institute on Place and Wellbeing, an interdisciplinary institute linking health professionals and design professionals to research and create spaces that support health. She received her medical degree and trained in rheumatology at McGill University in Montreal.
The third focus area for Weil’s gift will be funding the Andrew Weil Endowed Program Fund for Integrative Medicine, which will support the center’s teaching and research mission in perpetuity.
Today, Weil is among the most recognizable faces in healthcare, both at home and abroad, but in its early days, the center was alone in its aim of “redesigning the education of physicians, physicians-in-training, and allied health professionals.”
“We believed we could impact our nation’s struggling healthcare system by providing it with doctors trained to focus on the innate healing potential of patients. In addition to the best practices of modern medicine, we emphasized nutrition, a healthful lifestyle, natural therapies and mind-body interventions, and spirituality,” Weil said. “Perhaps those concepts were seen as radical in some circles, but today they are accepted as mainstream by most practitioners.”
Weil encountered skepticism in regards to natural and preventive medicine, but built a body of scientific evidence to support the use of botanical remedies, mind/body therapies, acupuncture and other treatments once considered “alternative.”
His successes extend beyond the UA. Weil is also a best-selling author and has made good on his goal of being the “Paul Newman of integrative medicine,” with his after-tax profits from Weil Lifestyle commercial products going directly to the nonprofit Weil Foundation.
He is also a founder and co-owner of the growing group of True Food Kitchen restaurants. A frequent lecturer and guest on talk shows, he is an internationally recognized expert on medicinal plants, alternative medicine and the reform of medical education.
Directing his business success directly back to his integrative medicine vision was always part of Weil’s plan.
“It makes me very happy to be able to do it and I hope it will stimulate other giving and really establish the University of Arizona as the place to learn about integrative medicine,” Weil said.
Having trained more people than any other institution, the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine has an impact that spreads worldwide, but each innovative step reverberates first in Tucson.
Next up for Weil is a clinic, slated to be open in early 2020, where community patients can receive the type of integrative care that Weil has long sought.
“I’m very happy to announce that in partnership with Banner Health, we will be opening an integrative primary care clinic here in Tucson,” Weil said. “We believe we have a model that will be sustainable, profitable, replicable, and if we can demonstrate, as we think we can, that integrative medicine produces better outcomes at lower costs than conventional medicine for the management of common health conditions, I think Banner will be enthusiastic about replicating this throughout its system and eventually this could be a new model for healthcare in the country.”
Another potential way to capitalize on the reputation of both Weil and his namesake center would be to coordinate the integrative medicine message with the tourism industry and market Tucson as a city of wellness. The building blocks for such a move already exist, so the next step is to share the vision and bring stakeholders together for planning, Weil said. A consortium of travel agents, restaurants and hotels could come together to create wellness packages, which would include a visit to Weil’s clinic.
“I’ve proposed over time making Tucson the national destination for health and wellness,” Weil said. “It would make so much sense because health tourism is big business around the world. We are positioned to be the national wellness destination.”