You have a stable job. You make good money. You get every other week off?! Why are you starting an integrative medicine clinic? And by the way, what is integrative medicine?

Mary Brittain Blankenship here. I am the founder and physician at Spruce MD, an integrative medicine practice in Greenville, SC. Maybe starting this clinic is a crazy, extreme, lofty (insert adjective) dream, but let me explain the passion behind the vision for Spruce MD.

I am a traditional, allopathic-trained physician in internal medicine, meaning the letters MD are behind my name. I have practiced as a hospitalist for the last six years where I care for incredibly ill patients admitted to the hospital – patients on breathing tubes, receiving IV antibiotics, requiring blood transfusions, etc. For the majority of this time, I worked a typical hospitalist schedule of twelve hour days, seven days on and seven days off. There was no home call, no prescription refill requests, no charting after hours. I worked long days but it was challenging, thought provoking and often rewarding work. Did I mention I had every other week off? Sounds dreamy, huh?

There was something missing though. I was healing patients’ from their acute illnesses but their chronic diseases were worsening and multiplying. Patients were able to walk out of the hospital after massive heart attacks, but in addition to the hypertension and diabetes diagnoses they already had, cardiovascular disease and dyslipidemia were added to their medical problem list. Patients were returning home to their same lifestyles of soda addictions, fast food meals, hours in front of the TV and stress ridden days. This realization was frustrating. I went into inpatient medicine so that I could heal people. That’s every physician’s objective, right? The problem is, while I was treating patients’ acute problems, their overall health trajectory remained poor and unchanged. Despite my attempts at education, I wasn’t making any long-term effect on their overall health.

It was a run that eventually motivated me to shift my focus in how I practice medicine. Running is my primary form of meditation. There is a point when my steps become automatic and habitual that I finally let my mind slow down enough to really reflect. During one particular long run following a tough shift at the hospital, I envisioned my ideal clinic for patients. Prevention was the mainstay of treatment, with a focus on nutrition and fitness. There was a teaching kitchen, a gym and happy patients (it was a big dream).  Following my run I decided to search for this “ideal practice” and see if something similar existed. I discovered a few clinics scattered across the country with a similar approach and an entire field of medicine dedicated to the well-being, prevention and whole-body treatment of patients. It was that long run that catapulted me into a two year integrative medicine fellowship through the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) with the ultimate goal of opening my own practice.

Fast forward a few years and Spruce MD now exists. It is a smaller version of that dream with plans for growth. Spruce MD is a direct primary care (DPC) structured integrative medicine practice. Patients pay a monthly membership fee for access to physician assessments, registered dietician evaluations, advanced lab testing, direct communication with providers, and individualized health plans. Integrative modalities of treating the body, mind and spirit are utilized.

So what is integrative medicine? My favorite analogy is that integrative medicine is a marriage between conventional (allopathic) medicine and alternative approaches to healing. It is evidence-based, stresses the importance of the relationship between the patient and the practitioner, and treats the whole person. The focus is not to simply treat a disease or complaint, but instead to dig deeper into the root cause of that problem. It is personalized medicine with the goal of eliminating diseases instead of simply adding more pills to treat symptoms. Integrative providers still prescribe medications when appropriate, but often focus on assessment of one’s nutrition, stress management or fitness routine as an initial step.

The patient-physician relationship is paramount in integrative medicine. Medical care is a partnership with both sides developing and implementing a treatment plan. This cannot be accomplished in the typical physician office’s ten minute time slot. Instead, initial visits at Spruce MD are often upwards of 45 minutes. By establishing a more complete patient-provider relationship, individualized care can be provided, rather than treatment based simply off symptoms or illness.

At Spruce MD, patients also get visits with our registered dietician/health coach. These visits are incredibly important in keeping patients on track for meeting health goals. Regardless of any patient’s present nutritional state, there is room for growth. Whether the goal is weight loss, improved athletic performance, or decreased inflammation, our registered dietician guides patients through this process using motivation and accountability practices.

Spruce MD is a practice born out of a vision to make a difference in patients’ lives. by empowering patients with healthy habits and treatment to improve their quality of life. We would love to have you as a patient! If you live out of state, we have a place for you too. While the initial visit needs to be in person at our clinic in Greenville, SC, telemedicine visits are an option for follow-up meetings. Come visit and see what personalized medicine is all about!

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Mary Brittain Blankenship, MD is the founder and physician at Spruce MD Integrative Medicine located in Greenville, SC.