Forty years after opening as a mom-and-pop acupuncture clinic in Columbia and a dozen years after morphing into an acupuncture school and moving to North Laurel, the Maryland University of Integrative Health has begun offering some of the first doctoral programs in the country in the field of alternative medicine.
MUIH leaders say it’s another pioneering step for the ever-changing school formerly known as the Tai Sophia Institute.
“Academically, this is huge for us,” says Judith Broida, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at MUIH. “Lots of schools don’t get to be universities, and they don’t get to offer doctoral programs. … It’s the highest degree anyone can be awarded in the world.”
The doctoral degrees will be in fields in which the school already offers master’s degrees: acupuncture, Oriental medicine and clinical nutrition. While the master’s programs are intended to provide students with basic clinical skills, the doctoral programs are designed to provide more advanced knowledge in the field that will allow graduates to work with more difficult and complex cases, according to MUIH administrators. Doctoral programs also are meant to advance knowledge in the field rather than simply teach what is already known, the administrators say. To that end, MUIH doctoral students will conduct research and be required to publish in academic journals.
Broida says students from across the country have expressed interest in the programs. MUIH President and CEO Frank Vitale estimated that a total of about 60 students would enroll in the three programs by January, when the first semester for all three Ph.D. programs begins.
Integrative medicine is commonly defined as the use of complementary or alternative medical practices, such as acupuncture and massage therapy, with traditional Western medicine.
It’s an increasingly common mix.
“It’s the way of the future, I think,” says Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, a medical doctor and director of education for the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, part of the UM School of Medicine in Baltimore, who has no affiliation with MUIH . “It’s approaching people from a mind-body perspective and supporting prevention and wellness, in addition to simply treating diseases.”
Vitale says the doctoral degrees “will put students [of alternative medicine] in a better position to work within the traditional medical system environment, where credentialing is so important.”
Tina Krupczak, who is enrolled in the clinical nutrition doctoral program, already has a master’s degree in the field from MUIH and a private practice offering nutrition education and consulting for businesses. But the 28-year-old Arlington, Va., resident believes an advanced degree will lead to new opportunities.
“Eventually I would love to teach, and maybe create nutrition programs and implement them,” she says. “I also look forward to publishing my own original research … and think the doctorate program will definitely open the doors to things like that. … There are just so many different areas you can go into with this degree.”
Joseph Schibner has similar hopes. Schibner, 45, owns and is president of the American Institute of Massage, a massage clinic and school in Richmond, Va. He recently earned his master’s in Oriental medicine from MUIH and this month begins working on his doctorate.
“I kind of hit a plateau with massage therapy after 20-some years,” he says. “I wanted to open a new field of study for myself and a whole new area where I could bring in some new ideas for the school.”
Schibner says a doctorate will boost his credibility with potential clients. “I believe having the credential will allow me to get to a different segment of the population, will open up what I do to more people,” he says.
Dr. Molly Roberts, a physician at the Institute for Health and Healing in San Francisco and board member of the Minnesota-based Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, an umbrella group for integrative health practitioners, says the academy itself is looking to create more advanced degree programs for people in the field.
“The thought of having doctoral programs in those specialties sounds great to me,” Roberts says of the MUIH offerings. “It depends on who’s running them in terms of quality, but in general, it’s always a good idea for there to be opportunities for people to hone their craft.”
A doctoral degree, she says “has a different connotation in this society. There’s a sense of legitimacy that comes with a doctoral program. … Anything that creates more of an understanding of the legitimacy of these professions, which really are older than Western medicine, … I think it’s worthwhile.’
The three new doctoral programs are only the latest academic additions at the fast-expanding MUIH, which won designation as a university two years ago. In 2010, the school offered four academic degrees and certificates. Now it offers 21. Over the same period, the number of students ballooned from 420 to more than 1,000.
Administrators attribute the expansion to a number of factors, including the federal Affordable Care Act, which supports alternative therapies and requires insurance companies to cover many of them; increased evidence of the effectiveness and affordability of those therapies; and MUIH’s innovative academic programming and faculty.
Many of the North Laurel school’s programs are unique, according to Broida — or at least among the very few in the country. “Our philosophy is another huge draw,” she says. “We call it ‘healing presence,’ and it includes aspects of empathy, compassion and respect. It assumes that healing is relationship-based, not patient-centered, and our approach always considers the whole person.”
MUIH officials say the growth of the past few years is just the start, and they are already looking at more doctoral programs, in such fields as mental health and naturopathic medicine. (Just last year, Maryland adopted a law to license naturopathic doctors.) At the same time, school officials are planning a major physical expansion, which would include a new class building, a welcome center and auditorium and, perhaps, a student services center.
By 2018, MUIH expects to double enrollment again, to about 2,000 students.
“We used to be a school, a nonprofit, that had its primary mission in acupuncture,” says Broida, a former associate dean at Johns Hopkins University who, like Vitale, was brought in several years ago to help the school evolve. “And now it’s completely changed. We’re a comprehensive university within the field.”