Recognizing the growing role of alternative medicine with Integrative Health and Medicine certificate

By September 16, 2019Student Perspectives

Monika Nuffer, PharmD

Eight people earned the first certificates awarded in Integrative Health and Medicine (IHM) by the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in spring 2019.

The IHM certificate is a nine-credit-hour, online program developed to provide any practicing health care professional or pharmacy student with a greater understanding of herbal medicines, non-botanical dietary supplements, and other related modalities in the treatment of human disease.

“It’s exciting to have the first class graduated,” says Monika Nuffer, PharmD, senior instructor and program coordinator of the IHM program. “I’ve been very impressed by our students. They are really focused on the knowledge (covered in the program) and applying that in practice and in their personal lives.”

David Thompson, PhD, associate dean for Academic Affairs, acknowledged the help of Henry Strauss, a 1951 graduate of CU Pharmacy and recipient of an honorary doctorate from CU, and Strauss’ friend, Leonard Wisneski, MD, in the creation of the program.

“Recognizing the growing role complementary and alternative medicines are playing in health care, Henry provided the critical support to get the program up and running,” Dr. Thompson noted.

CU Pharmacy launched the IHM Certificate Program last fall. It can be completed in one academic year or up to four years. It teaches the safe and effective use of IHM — and potential interactions and pitfalls to avoid for specific patient populations — and exposes students to the wide variety of products available and the evidence-based skills to evaluate and make recommendations about them.

It grew out of CU Pharmacy’s popular IHM elective. According to a federal report, 59 million Americans spent about $30.2 billion on alternative medicines and treatments in 2012.

The IHM program is unusual in the breadth and depth of information it provides about complementary modalities and natural health products.

“Our program really gives students the tools to address patients’ questions,” Dr. Nuffer says.

That’s part of what drew certificate recipient Tracey Garone, a student completing her third year at CU Pharmacy. Garone first took Dr. Nuffer’s IHM elective and wanted to learn more.

“The world is changing so much. More and more people are using natural medicines. … I wanted more information,” she says.

So did certificate recipient Brianna Zerr, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist at Craig Hospital, which specializes in rehabilitation of brain and spinal cord injuries.

“I have patients, as well as my family, asking all the time” about IHM, Dr. Zerr says. She says she now is better prepared to answer those questions and also is able to recommend mind-body modalities, such as aromatherapy or massage, to Craig patients.

Dr. Zerr recommends the IHM certificate for all pharmacists. “This could benefit any pharmacist, no matter where they practice. I think it’s valuable to pharmacists across the board,” she says.

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