Holistic health comes to Wilson College.
By Darrach Dolan
Holistic health is a new course option for students interested in pursuing a career in a fast-growing industry or simply learning about alternative forms of self-care. Exercise and sports science professor Tonia Hess-Kling and nursing professor Jennifer Buffenbarger have teamed up to co-teach this innovative course.
“In 2020 alone,” Hess-Kling said, “the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) market was estimated at $82.7 billion and is estimated to grow by 22% by 2028. There aren’t many programs that are offering this sort of education to their future healthcare professionals.” She said it puts Wilson on the cutting edge of healthcare innovation.
CAM is an umbrella term for medical products, techniques, and practices that don’t fit easily into a definition of standard, Western medical care. However, this does not mean they are unproven or snake oil solutions being sold to gullible people. Some, like acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, have been refined and studied for hundreds if not thousands of years. Others, like chiropractic and massage therapies, are increasingly considered mainstream treatments.
Buffenbarger put its importance and relevance in more concrete and human terms, “A simple thing that has gone out the window is the back rub. It’s rarely done these days, yet it means a lot to patients. So, we’ve lost that connection with patients. That’s the sort of connection we need to bring back.” She explained that the holistic approach to health treats the whole person, not simply a set of symptoms. In this context, the back rub may not treat a specific symptom. But by relaxing the patient and helping them feel connected to the medical staff and vice versa, the patient is more likely to respond positively to specific treatment protocols.
The course introduces students to a variety of treatments and techniques, including Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, yoga, faith, and energy healing, and chiropractic, massage, and even aromatherapy. “Lavender or chamomile is being used as an adjunct to aid sleep in hospitals,” Buffenbarger said. “We are trying to break down the stereotypes and misconceptions about these modalities.”
“We want our students — nursing, health science, exercise science — to be open to and exposed to some of the most common, researched, and evidence-based non-Western modalities that exist,” Hess-Kling added. “We want our students to be open and understand all that there is on offer to individuals.”
This fall, exercise, and health science students can take a concentration in holistic health, and nursing students can take it as an elective. The two professors have been working on developing a rigorous pathway to a minor in the subject and hope to have this approved in the near future.
Buffenbarger has recently earned board certification in holistic health recognized by the American Holistic Nursing Association. This is an essential first step towards establishing a holistic nursing program at the College. As well as teaching, Hess-Kling is a practicing chiropractor, which she described as “a field that has not been accepted until maybe the last ten years.” Together they are a formidable and dynamic team, and their enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.
In addition to their expertise and experience, they are reaching out to other disciplines across campus. Rev. Derek Wadlington has agreed to teach a couple of modules on faith, prayer, and how they impact healing. They are talking to Megan Mizanty, the assistant professor of dance, about what movement means for health. The hope is to incorporate environmental science, art, and perhaps the Fulton Farm into their courses.
Julie Beck, the director of Wilson’s nursing program, sees great potential in this course and its expansion into a recognized minor for our students. “This treats the whole person. Holistic is mind-body connection, and we’re looking at things that are readily available that might help the situation. For example, there are numerous studies that show that people who pray or meditate prior to their surgeries do fifty to seventy percent better than those who don’t,” she said. “It’s perfect for Wilson because we’re building upon what we already have — the liberal arts, the Fulton farm, dance, art, environmental science, and more — we have all of that already here.”