A Pioneer in Integrative Health

By Carol Schadelbauer, February 13, 2018


Dr. Wayne Jonas believes that integrative health is the path to well-being for people with chronic conditions. Now he’s on a mission to tell the world.


As a ten-year-old Army brat in Vietnam, Wayne Jonas watched a doctor use acupuncture to relieve pain for his friend’s dying grandmother. That treatment helped the woman die peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

Inspired by his childhood experiences, Wayne Jonas became a primary care doctor. He trained in the US, and for decades he followed the conventional standard of evidence-based medicine, performing procedures and prescribing medications to cure his patients’ chronic ailments.

But over time, he realized that those treatments not only failed to heal his patients, but in some cases hurt them.

Western medicine was obsessed with procedures and prescriptions, but what patients really needed was help getting healthy—to heal.

Dr. Jonas noticed that non-conventional approaches, not yet acceptable in the US, appeared to help patients struggling with problems like chronic pain and fatigue, depression and diabetes. And guiding patients toward behavior change empowered them to improve their own health.

Dr. Jonas was interested in how non-conventional approaches could help patients get healthy, but he also knew that US medicine would not accept anything that wasn’t scientifically proven. This challenge set him on a course to research alternative medicine at the National Institutes of Health. After years of research, he can tell you that many approaches are proven—including acupuncture, yoga and meditation, for example—but much of the public and many doctors do not yet know or believe it.

Today, Dr. Jonas’ practice is very different than it was 30 years ago. He uses proven conventional and non-conventional methods, and, most importantly, he partners with patients to tap into their own ability to heal.

Dr. Jonas is a pioneer in the emerging field of integrative health, a patient-centered approach that helps people pursue health and wellness with team support and self-care. Integrative health is quite different from the conventional disease-driven approach that aims to treat and cure the illness but not the person.

Dr. Jonas believes that integrative health is the path to healing for people with chronic conditions. Now he’s on a mission to tell the world.

In a recent STAT op-ed, for example, Dr. Jonas writes that the tragedy of the opioid epidemic is in part due to the mismanagement of people in chronic pain—the types of patients he treats each day. He says that doctors must stop relying on drugs as the first method of treatment, and instead treat patients as whole people. That means seeking to control patients’ pain with proven non-pharmacologic approaches to improve their overall health and wellbeing.

Dr. Jonas is traversing the country, speaking about integrative health care at hospital grand rounds and meeting with doctors and other leaders in the medical field. He shares how it is possible to practice this approach now and explains that the next generation of doctors are eager for integrative health. He’s written a book for the public, How Healing Works, in which he describes how integrative health activates your body’s ability to heal.

Once a curious boy in Vietnam, Dr. Jonas has become a nationally known researcher and clinician who has pioneered integrative health along with other leaders in this field. His message is that integrative health can and must happen now. His book offers ways doctors and patients can make it so.

One can only hope that integrative health will become the standard of care in the US—our health may depend on it.

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