The practice of medicine continues to evolve as our understanding of health and disease grows. Through a shift in patient preference towards wellness and “new” ways of looking at healthcare through alternative perspectives, the field of integrative medicine has emerged. This article follows Ka-Kit Hui, MD, FACP, through his journey in launching the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine and developing a unique model of integrative medicine that combines traditional Chinese Medicine and conventional biomedicine. The Center aspires to set an example of excellence in clinical care, research, and education in integrative East-West medicine for the advancement of healthcare globally.
In this article:
I. What is Integrative Medicine?
Integrative medicine (IM) is a practice of medicine that combines conventional therapies with appropriate evidence-based complementary therapies to achieve optimal health and healing. Although practices of IM vary, its theoretical construct remains the same. It emphasizes an individualized and holistic approach to medicine, addressing the health of the entire person instead of a set of symptoms or a disease. IM focuses on wellness and prevention, seeking to promote the body’s self-healing mechanisms to improve the general well-being of the patient.
II. Dr. Ka-Kit Hui and His Vision of Integrative Medicine:
“All forms of medicine aim to ease human suffering and improve quality of life; they differ only in their approach to the realization of this goal. The blending of Eastern and Western approaches to health and healing can maximize the safety and effectiveness of care in an accessible and affordable manner.”
- Ka-Kit Hui, MD, FACP
Ka-Kit Hui, MD, FACP, began his undergraduate chemistry studies as an international student from Hong Kong at UCLA in the late 60’s. At the time, his interests already lay within the scope of integrative medicine. His dream initially was to develop new drugs from the herbal pharmacopeia.
During his medical studies, supported by the highly prestigious UC Regents Scholarship, Dr. Hui’s interests turned to building a new medicine based on blending the best of Chinese and Western healing traditions. Around that time, the Chinese government, which already had embarked on East-West medicine integration since 1955, had begun to publicize how acupuncture was being used as a modern analgesic technique for those undergoing surgery during the historic visit of President Nixon to China. This piqued Dr. Hui’s desire to understand what happened in the brain at the neurochemical level when acupuncture was performed on patients.
Dr. Hui went on to pursue internal medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He saw internal medicine as the “most comprehensive way to understand physiology, [to be] hands on, [and] to look at the whole person.” He continued to dedicate a quarter of his time to studying Chinese medicine, seeking to understand how it could be combined with Western medicine.
During the early 1980’s, Dr. Hui mentored David Eisenberg, MD, who did his residency in medicine at UCLA. The two of them shared the belief that integrating Chinese and Western medicine could greatly improve the way medicine was being practiced in the United States. Five years later, Dr. David Eisenberg published the book Encounters with Qi on Chinese medicine, and in 1993 published the landmark paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 entitled, “Unconventional Medicine in the United States – Prevalence, Costs, and Patterns of Use.” The release of these reports stimulated a growing interest among the American public in exploring complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine (IM).
Now an expert of internal medicine specializing in clinical pharmacology and geriatrics, Dr. Hui was ready to realize his dream of integrating Chinese and modern Western medicine under the UCLA Health System (now UCLA Health) with the encouragement of his mentor, Dean Emeritus Sherman Mellinkoff, MD, and the support of the Chairman of the Department of Medicine, Alan Fogelman, MD.
III. The UCLA Center for East-West Medicine
“Most people’s experiences with integrative medicine are like international buffets. Because of the wide variety of choices and limited knowledge, people may consume products that are cross-reacting. One needs to be very careful. In this buffet scenario, patients pick and choose. They try a little yoga, receive some acupuncture, take a little bit of supplemental herbs, and go see their internist, primary care doctor, and specialist. What I am trying to build is a gourmet dinner with the best ingredients so that there will exist one complete approach which can then be customized to the patient’s needs and preference.”
–Ka-Kit Hui, MD, FACP
In 1993, Dr. Hui launched the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine to apply the knowledge he had accumulated over the years. Since the late 1980s, he had been involved in a wide array of research and educational developments. He published articles in numerous journals including Life Science and New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Hui also taught small groups of physicians, lectured in conferences on the proper use of medication, and taught classes in clinical pharmacology for thirteen years. Through his clinical experience, Dr. Hui became more familiar with the gaps in the conventional medical model, which he believed could be compensated for with the integration of other health traditions or approaches.
Dr. Hui saw that the theoretical construct of Chinese medicine, which takes into account the mind-body connection, balance, and flow, could improve the efficacy of modern healthcare if added to Western biomedicine. According to Chinese medicine theory, which developed over 2000 years, natural and social environments energetically influence both the mind and body, which also continuously interact with each other. This understanding drives a practitioner of Chinese medicine to look at a patient holistically rather than at different parts of the body in isolation. Chinese medicine focuses on the pattern of dysregulations within the body, enhancing the body’s reserve, and improving the patient’s quality of life. Western medicine, on the other hand, is effective in managing acute crisis and targeting localized problem areas. Within U.S. healthcare, issues arise when there are “too many healthcare providers looking at different parts of a person and no overseeing conductor.”
In order to help solve these problems, the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine adds the whole-person framework of Chinese medicine to Western medicine, building on Dr. Hui’s vision of “a healthcare model that allows the provider to consider how social situations, natural environment, dietary changes, and other lifestyle choices impact the mind-body system.” At the Center, physicians who are dually trained in both Chinese and Western medicine work with a team of similarly trained healthcare professionals to provide patients with a comprehensive analysis that addresses the root causes behind the manifestation of symptoms and disease.
Dr. Hui sees great necessity and promise in integrative medicine, especially the integration of East-West medicine, to help revitalize primary care and the overall national healthcare system.By acting as a bridge between western biomedicine and Chinese medicine, the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine strives to become an example for a new healthcare paradigm that improves the quality of life of patients through safe, effective, accessible, affordable, and personalized care.
For more information about the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, please visit https://cewm.med.ucla.edu.
- Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare
- Interview of Dr. Ka-Kit Hui on Integrative Medicine at Stanford University
- East Meets West: How Integrative Medicine is Changing Healthcare
- A Safe, Cost-Effective, and Affordable Model for the Cultivation of Health
By Tatyana Rem, Anthropology B.A., UCLA 2014
UCLA Center East-West Medicine, Staff Writer
Linxin Zhang, MPH, Boston University School of Public Health
UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, Staff Research Associate
Vivianne Chang, Human Biology and Society B.S., UCLA 2014
UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, Administrative Assistant