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Treating the whole person

Bringing integrative healthcare into the mainstream

October 05, 2023 | UCI Health
Dr. Shaista Malik stands at the entry door for the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute's clinical wing.

The Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute plans to expand research at multiple sites across the nation to assess integrative health outcomes, says Executive Director Shaista Malik, MD. Photos by Kimberly Pham

For more than 20 years, UCI has received National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for integrative medicine studies. In 2001, a $5.7 million gift established the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine.

In 2017, the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute was created as part of the transformational $200 million gift for the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences to combine scientifically informed integrative approaches such as acupuncture and meditation to improve healthcare. The institute's new home opened on the UCI campus in October 2022.

Today, it is setting national benchmarks for integrative health research, training and clinical care. As of fiscal year 2021-2022, its reach has become widespread and impactful:

  • $11.97 million in NIH grants for integrative health research
  • 92% of UCI Health nurses trained in integrative nursing
  • 207 UCI School of Medicine students trained
  • 7,822 inpatient acupuncture treatments
  • 12,492 integrative nursing interventions

We asked Shaista Malik, MD, PhD, MPH, the institute’s executive director, to describe the progress in integrative health over the last five years and how treating the whole person is becoming an important part of the UCI Health approach to patient care.

What was the goal in founding the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute five years ago?

In 2017, when Susan and Henry Samueli made this transformative gift, it was to establish integrative health as an important mission for health sciences at UCI. Our partnership with UCI Health enables us to deliver the nation’s highest volume of integrative healthcare.

The aspiration was to bring all the things we’ve learned in integrative health over the years into current clinical practice. The best of integrative health that we practice daily is a real differentiator — not only in Orange County, but regionally and nationally.

How has the institute evolved in the last five years?

Exercise physiologist Efrain Cerrato talks with Dr. Shaista Malik in the new cardiac rehab space.
Exercise physiologist Efrain Cerrato talks with Malik, a leading UCI Health cardiologist, at the institute’s new cardiac rehabilitation facility.

We didn’t realize five years ago how much interest there would be in integrative health, not only from patients who come to UCI Health, but also among our clinicians and healthcare practitioners who want training in integrative approaches. That has led us to create more training programs, including integrative health tracks in medical residency and nursing programs.

With the support of UCI Health, we launched integrative nursing in 2020 — a month before the pandemic began — hoping that 20% of the workforce would be interested. More than 90% of our nurses completed integrative training modules because they found the material to be so relevant to bedside care.

Many of our primary care doctors offer care enhanced with integrative medicine and our specialists are embracing integrative health as part of a team-based approach. Our integrative health programs for medical students and residents attract trainees from a wide variety of primary and specialty care disciplines.

And our culinary medicine and other integrative health electives now draw students from all disciplines within the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences.

How does the new building support your programs and goals?

Dr. Shaista Malik, Dr. Miki Purnell and acupuncturist Heather Rice admire herbs and flowers in the garden.
Malik admires the herbs and vegetables growing in the institute garden with acupuncturist Heather L. Rice, left, and integrative family medicine physician Dr. Miki Purnell, right.

Our new flagship location offers unique spaces for interdisciplinary teaching and research collaborations, community education and innovative, whole-person care.

Under one roof, patients learn how to improve their health in one-on-one appointments with our clinicians and health practitioners, group medical visits and a variety of classes in mindfulness and food as medicine.

All our indoor and outdoor spaces, including our herb garden and cooking kitchen, were designed to provide a calming environment and promote wellness.

How do you support patient education?

To support patients on their health journey, we provide resources to assist them with behavioral and lifestyle changes. We offer group medical visits in integrative cardiology, integrative cancer care, healthy weight and long COVID-19. Our wellness coaches also partner with patients to help them achieve their health goals.

What initiatives are you planning for the future?

In coming months, we’ll be offering biometric and functional assessments to support our patients on their journey toward whole health. These high-touch exams may include body composition analysis, balance, cardiometabolic and cognitive testing to develop personalized health plans.

We’re expanding our team of clinicians and caregivers and partnering with specialty services to incorporate integrative health approaches for all UCI Health patients. Our research team is growing and we are recruiting endowed chairs within the schools of medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

Have your initiatives influenced the UCI Health approach to healthcare?

Yes. It is exciting to see the innovative models UCI Health is using to adopt a whole-person approach as an integral part of patient care. Integrative health is about seeing patients as unique individuals and recognizing that their health is affected by many things, including emotional, mental, physical, social and environmental factors.

It won’t be long before integrative care is incorporated across all UCI Health services.

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