The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
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Can acupuncture help quell the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy? Does the herb Echinacea really boost the immune system? Do magnets and meditation have any therapeutic value?

As alternative health therapies become more widely accepted in the United States, physicians will hear more questions like these from their patients. Medical students at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) are already learning the answers to these and other questions about complementary and alternative medicine, thanks to the work of Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, holder of the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Chair in Integrative Medicine. Integrative medicine refers to the blending of conventional health care with alternative therapies that take into account the whole person-body, mind and spirit.

Established in 2003 with a commitment from UTMB alumnus Dr. Dan Nicholson and his wife, Elaine, the Nicholson Family Chair was created in memory of Dr. Nicholson's father and mother. It is the first integrative medicine chair at UTMB and one of only a handful in the country. This endowment is invested in the Long Term Fund.

The endowment has generated funding to help Sierpina establish a biannual integrative medicine lecture series, featuring national speakers like Dr. Margaret Chesney, the deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Open to the public, the Nicholson Integrative Round Table offers the latest information about integrative medicine and evidence-based research on its effectiveness.

Sierpina, an associate professor of family medicine and an internationally recognized authority on integrative medicine, has also used the Nicholson endowment to help support medical resident, nursing student and staff training in integrative medicine. He is currently at work expanding integrative medicine courses in the curricula of UTMB's schools of Medicine, Nursing, Allied Health Sciences and Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

His reason? As more Americans turn to alternative medicine, they need knowledgeable counsel from their health care providers. They need reliable information on the advantages-and drawbacks-of such approaches as herbal remedies, acupuncture and massage therapy. And they need to know which of these may interfere with the traditional medicines they may be taking.

Sierpina puts it succinctly. "With the Nicholson endowment, future generations of students, residents and faculty at UTMB will learn to communicate effectively with patients and advise them about alternative and integrative therapies," he said.

Public curiosity regarding the rational blending of conventional and alternative medicine continues to grow. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports more than 70 percent of U.S. medical schools offer some alternative therapy-related courses, while the herbal and supplement market alone nets $15 billion annually, according to the American Botanical Council.

Sierpina said the Nicholson Family Chair is increasing the prominence of integrative medicine in academia. UTMB is one of 30 schools in the U.S. and Canada that make up the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. "One of the greatest benefits has been to UTMB's reputation," said Sierpina. "We are well-regarded nationally and internationally as leaders in integrative medicine. The Nicholsons' generous gift also promotes research and extramural funding so vitally needed to advance scientific understanding in this area."