Nick Jacobs |  Change in the health care system |  columns

Having spent almost 30 years as an insider in nonclinical healthcare, the wealth of knowledge I have amassed has been both fascinating and frustrating.

It’s quite clear that those who chose healthcare as a career path did so with a very real goal in mind – to help those around them. I also realize that there is no absolutely unique path to this goal.

When we explore the history of Western medicine, we see numerous influences: the discovery of antibiotics, the advancement of military medicine, handwashing, vaccines, and awareness of drug interactions.

But there was another important milestone that decisively influenced modern medicine that is not so well known.

This was a 1910 report by Abraham Flexner, PhD, on “Medical Education in the United States and Canada” (the Flexner Report for short) for the Carnegie Foundation and the American Medical Association.

As Flexner researched for this extensive report, traditional medicine was being challenged by several competing modalities, including homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, and osteopathic medicine.

Flexner noticeably distrusted the scientific validity of all forms of medicine that are not based on purely scientific research.

Because of his personal beliefs, he advocated only science-based medical practices. Any drug that did not promote the use of double-blind, scientifically-documented treatments to prevent or cure disease was viewed as synonymous with fraud and deception.

Medical schools that offered training in other world health modalities had to discontinue these courses or did not receive their accreditation and financial support. Eventually, all schools either agreed to the report or ceased to exist.

The whole irony of the Flexner report was that despite his flaws and blemishes, he accomplished some incredible things for which we should all be grateful. Quack doctors were driven out of the profession, the curriculum was standardized, and the quality of doctors rose as licensing standards became more stringent.

On the other side of this proverbial coin, virtually every other type of care that had been practiced internationally for hundreds or even thousands of years has been eliminated from medicine in the United States and Canada. (As an aside, Flexner also recommended negative admissions standards for African Americans and women.)

It has been a very special and special pleasure for me to be first an observer, then a participant, and now an advocate for some of these evidence-based modalities that were literally thrown out with the bathwater all those many years ago.

We now know from definitive scientific research that many of these banned treatments are not only effective, but also make amazing additions to standard western medicine and can work extraordinarily well. Energy medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, traditional Chinese medicine and osteopathy all play a role in the healing arts.

Over the years I have often referred to a poem by Samuel Walter Foss entitled “The Calf Path” in which he describes a primeval calf’s journey that led to a path followed by a dog, a guide sheep, and eventually humans followed until it became a road that curved and curved and curved again, but was blindly followed by all who ventured down it. This trail made about 200 years ago and never checked again. We’ve all traveled these roads.

Well, the work of Abraham Flexner created a calf path that we are still following today. Yes, it helped us get there, but now we’re so caught up in the cure-on-the-pill mentality that we’ve become complacent in our exploration of wellness and prevention.

Diet, exercise, stress management, social support, unconditional love, and a dozen other things can help us stay healthy. Open your mind and open your hearts.

Windber’s Nick Jacobs is a healthcare consultant and the author of Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare.

Windber’s Nick Jacobs is a healthcare consultant and the author of Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare.