Special Report: Strategic Change in Direction as Weil’s Arizona Center Commits to Creation of American Board of Integrative Medicie

Summary: In a major strategic shift, the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (ACIM) has announced that it will lead the creation of a formal specialty for medical doctors in integrative medicine. ACIM, founded by Andrew Weil, MD and directed by Victoria Maizes, MD, is in dialogue with the American Board of Physician Specialties toward establishing an American Board of Integrative Medicine. They are collaborating with leaders of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABIHM). Here is the ACIM announcement, a statement from two ABIHM leaders, a brief interview with Maizes and the list of 18 founding Board members. Is this the right strategic choice? What impact will this have on integrative medicine and the broader integrative healthcare movement?


Strategic change to back board certification

Should “integrative medicine” be a separate MD
specialty within the field of medicine? Or should integrative medicine
proponents target a broader shift toward integrative medicine as a model for all conventional care, whether primary care of oncology or pediatrics?

The debate has been significant, if relatively sub rosa, over the 15 years of the emergence of integrative medicine. A town and gown divide has existed. The townies, typically practicing holistic MD/DO clinicians, formed the American Board of Holistic Medicine (ABHM) as a certifying body in 1996. Yet those on the “gown” side of the divide, led by the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, did not and has not promoted Board certification. The ABHM requirements were less rigid than most medical specialties.


ABIHM leaders prominent on new ABIM board

Dialogue began to link town and gown. In 2008, the former ABHM changed the name and focus of the board to the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM). As noted below, efforts were made to raise standards. Roughly 1500 MD/DO/DDS applicants have been board certified and can currently put ABIHM after their names. Yet neither CAHCIM nor any leading academic integrative medicine program stepped in to back this board process.

This month the single most important academic medical center came down on the side of not only supporting, but leading a drive to establish integrative medicine as a formal
medical specialty. On September 15, 2011, an-e-note arrived from Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (ACIM). ACIM is in dialogue with the American Board of Physician Specialties toward establishing an American Board of Integrative Medicine.

This step is huge for the field, and for the broader integrative healthcare movement. Arizona Center is the leading educator of academic integrative medicine leaders. Over 800 have completed their Fellowship in Integrative Medicine. ABIHM leaders are also backing this direction.

This is a momentus shift. It such times, the declaration of the founders are especially important. So here are, in full:

  • Announcement from the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
  • List of the founding members of the new American Board of Integrative Medicine. 
  • Statement of support from ABIHM board members Victor Sierpina, MD and David Rakel, MD.
  • Brief interview with ACIM’s Maizes.


I close with a few comments and invite yours. What do you anticipate will be the impacts of this development?


Statement from the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

“Strategic Change” Toward Leadership
to Establish Board Certification in Integrative Medicine

–  Andrew, Weil, MD, Founder/Director

and Victoria Maizes, MD, Executive Director


Weil: ACIM founder

We are writing to let you know about an important decision that we
recently made – a decision that represents a strategic change in direction for
our Center.  For many years we have
resisted the idea of board certification in Integrative Medicine (IM).  We have always believed that the principles
and practices of IM should inform all specialties, rather than be developed
into a new field.  In other words, that
dermatologists, surgeons, and family physicians alike all need to learn the
principles of nutrition and mind-body medicine, and to value the innate healing
capacity of the body.  We still hold that

 “We have always believed that the

and practices of IM should
inform all specialties, rather than
be developed
into a new field.”


Earlier this year we approached the American Board of Physician Specialties
(ABPS) to discuss creating a board in IM. We did so for many reasons; chief among them was to help patients
discern who truly has training and expertise in IM.  It is now popular in the marketplace to say
you practice IM – yet anyone can say so, whether they studied for an hour, a
weekend, or ten years.  

The American Board of Physician Specialties has been providing national
board certification since 1953.  They
have boards in 17 different specialties including emerging ones like urgent
care, hospital medicine, and disaster medicine, as well as more conventional ones
like family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and


Maizes: ACIM executive director

Unlike the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which would
require approval by every single specialty board, ABPS is interested in
creating a single pathway, recognizes fellowship training, and is an
innovator. We had hoped the ABMS would
consider a Certificate of Added Qualification in IM – such as exists for
geriatrics -which can be applied for by different residency specialties; but
ABMS is eliminating that concept.

  “It is now popular in the marketplace
to say
you practice IM – yet anyone
can say so, whether they studied for
an hour, a
weekend, or ten years.”


Our goal is to have all graduates of our 1000-hour fellowship become
board certified. At the same time we
have not relinquished our goal of bringing IM training to all physicians. The success of our Integrative Medicine in
Residency makes us comfortable and confident that IM will become a part of all physicians’ basic training. This 200-hour program is being used in 22
family medicine and two internal medicine residencies.
In 2012 we will
begin a pilot in two pediatrics residencies.

This is an exciting step for the field of Integrative Medicine
(IM).  Board certification is widely recognized
by physicians and the public alike as a critical step in establishing a field.  The first meeting of the American Board of
Integrative Medicine will take place in Tampa, Florida, October 10-11.  Over a two-year period, we will set criteria
for sitting for the board exam and develop a validated exam.

Below is the list of the founding members of the American Board of
Integrative Medicine.

We so appreciate your support!

Warm regards,

T. Weil, MD                                            Victoria
Maizes, MD

Arizona Center                                      Executive
Director, Arizona Center
Integrative Medicine                                       for
Integrative Medicine

Professor of Medicine                                Professor
of Medicine,
Endowed Chair in                             Family
Medicine and Public Health


Founding Members, American Board of Integrative Medicine

Donald Abrams, MD*                                    

Brian Berman, MD*
James E. Dalen, MD, MPH#

Mimi Guarneri, MD^
Patrick Hanaway, MD^
Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD
Benjamin Kligler, MD, MPH*
Misha Kogan, MD*
Patricia Lebensohn, MD#

           Roberta Lee, MD*
Tieraona Low Dog, MD#

Victoria Maizes, MD*#
McClafferty, MD
Gerard Mullin, MD*
Kenneth Pelletier, MD(hc), PhD *#
Scott Shannon, MD^

Sara Warber, MD*
Andrew Weil, MD*#

The following, which may have missed some connections, were added for this Integrator article:
^ Board members of ABIHM
; * CAHCIM leaders; # ACIM leaders


Statement from ABIHM Leaders on the American Board of Integrative Medicine

–  David Rakel, MD and Victor Sierpina, MD

Note: The following statement was sent in a September 2011 newsletter of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. ABIHM board members Rakel and Sierpina are each members of the CAHCIM steering committee. This was presented, effectively, as an ABIHM statement.


Rakel: ABIHM board member

The American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM)
was incorporated in 1996 to certify physicians through a psychometrically
validated examination process. Since 2000, when we provided our first exam, we
have certified nearly 1500 physicians. The process of educating
physicians through our Annual Review Course and our extensive Core Curriculum
has established a grounding and common knowledge base for those seeking board
certification in integrative holistic medicine. Over the last few years, our Board
of Directors has proposed more stringent criteria for board certification in
Integrative Medicine (IM). The path of all medical specialties and
subspecialties, as they gain more widespread acceptance and growing
professional acknowledgment, is to require formal training as one of the
conditions of sitting for a board certification examination.

“The ABPS and the U of A have invited

several current ABIHM
board members

to participate in developing this
newly formed organization.”



A number of educational institutions now offer fellowship
programs in IM, and the leader in Integrative Medicine fellowship training has
been the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine. The ABIHM had
previously approached the University of Arizona (U of A) to explore the
possibility of board certification. Although the U of A was not ready to move
forward at that time, they have now taken a leadership role in the formation of
a new board to explore this opportunity, and they recently announced that they
have contracted with the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) to
develop a new board and certification process for those with formal IM

   We recognize that the
for certification of physicians without

formal training in
Integrative Medicine
will end soon.”

The ABPS and the U of A have invited several current ABIHM
board members to participate in developing this newly formed organization. This
new board, with membership derived from the leadership of academic IM programs
from across the US, will meet for the first time on October 10

th and
11th in Tampa, Florida. At this time the specifications for eligibility
in this new certification process have not been created. An important goal of
the ABIHM is to support our current active diplomats and to advocate for their
eligibility in certifying with this new board. We recognize that the
opportunity for certification of physicians without formal training in
Integrative Medicine will end soon.


Sierpina: ABIHM board member

We support this process and view it as the logical extension
of our efforts over the last 15 years to bring credibility and acknowledgement
to this emerging specialty within medicine. As this process unfolds, we will
post updates on our website.

Though we have little further information, if you have
questions or comments on this new development, please write to our Executive
Director, Nancy Sudak, at



Brief Interview with ACIM Executive Director Victoria Maizes, MD 

I reached Maizes for a brief interview on September 20, 2011. She mainly reiterated key points in the announcement letter. Here are a couple of extractions from that interview.

Integrator: How long have you been mulling this?

Maizes: We have been thinking about this for a very
long time. We first contacted the American Board of Medical Specialties in 2003
when we initiated our Integrative Family Medicine Program and received approval
for a 4-year family medicine residency-integrative medicine fellowship.

Integrator: This is a significant change from your former position that your charge was to make integrative medicine the model for all medicine.

more of a both/and strategy rather than either/or. We are very excited that our
200 hour Integrative Medicine in Residency program for family medicine and
internal medicine is now in 25 residencies and we’re expanding it pediatrics in
2012. Then, hopefully, to other
specialties. Our
belief is that everyone should learn integrative medicine. It needs to be part
of the training of all physicians. Things like mind-body medicine, nutrition,
when to refer to a naturopath or for acupuncture, for instance. We believe
there is a body of knowledge everyone should be aware of. Integrative Medicine
in Residency
is a great mechanism to keep that philosophy moving. 

Integrator: The statement on the American Board of Integrative Medicine notes the issue of how anyone can call his or herself an integrative medical doctor. There is a guild aspect to this move too.

It is
becoming very hard for the public to discern what it means to be an integrative
medicine doctor when someone can take a weekend course and hang up a shingle
and declare that they are an integrative doctor. Our Fellows have been asking
for this for many years.

Integrator: What does the program cost now?

The fellowship tuition is
$30,000. We have graduated 800 fellows and now educate about 130 each year.

Integrator: What is the time frame for the Board to be established?

says its 18-24 months to complete the process of setting the criterion,
grandfathering, developing validated exam questions.  We’re happy to be
partnering with the ABPS. They’ve done this successfully with 17 other

Integrator: Funny coincidence of numbers. In the late 1980s when I was working with the re-birth of the naturopathic medical profession as they were engaging their formal recognition processes. Numbers flew around about how many naturopathic doctors there were. 1500? 2000? A board member, Harry Swope, ND, an accountant in his prior life, contacted all of the then 6 licensing boards to see exactly how many licensed naturopathic doctors there were.  The number? 763.

: That’s a really interesting similarity.

Integrator: Good luck!


Comment: The issue of credentialing is among the great ironies in the politics of “integrative medicine.” Questions are frequently raised with great concern by conventional medical directors. How can we possibly credential these CAM practitioners? Yet clear educational and testing standards were and are in place for chiropractic doctors, acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners, naturopathic physicians, massage therapists and direct-entry midwives.

Meantime, the elephant in the room: What the heck is an integrative medical doctor? Presently, a doctor simply needs to self-declare. Forget about the weekend course. And some do, more and more as the “integrative medicine” has greater cache. Here are two experiences in the last 2 days.

  • My younger sister passed a clinic advertising a new integrative medicine MD on a jog and asked if I knew her. I Googled her. Took an herb course in England, a respected one. Involved with the American Herbalist Guild. Hmm, didn’t say she was certified. No other evidence of training. Has in her office a variety of body-workers and energy healers, and one licensed acupuncturist. I wrote back: Limited education. Could be good. Who knows.


  • Today a local list-serve in Seattle popped out an announcement of a new integrative medicine practice opening in the north end. I checked it. She noted that she’d completed the ACIM Fellowship. I knew something more, felt some reassurance.  

Of course, one can’t be sure which of these integrative medicine practitioners might help a given person to the most health. My colleague Carlo Calabrese, ND, MPH expressed a truism to the US Department of Education panel that was reviewing the standards of naturopathic education in 1990: “Any time you create standards you create pain.”

This strategic decision by ACIM has many dimensions. There are clear public health implications. The ACIM-ABIHM alliance represents a significant new alignment. Grassroots access to the “integrative medical doctor” title or at least board certification may disappear. There are guild dimensions here, ground claiming, and not just for IM doctors. My naturopathic doctors and acupuncturists and chiropractors use the term. The brand “integrative medicine” may become even more closely associated with, and effectively owned by, medical doctors. New clarities will emerge, new boundaries will be drawn, new possibilities empowered.

This is a major moment. Curious what any of you think. I look forward to a multi-voiced Integrator forum on this. Send your comments to


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Written by John Weeks

Explore Wellness in 2021