Dr Lise Alschuler is a naturopathic oncologist, one of today’s most influential people in integrative medicine. She's a prolific author and an educator, and she co-created the Five2Thrive.com platform and co-hosts a radio show on the Cancer Support Network with Karolyn Gazella.
Dr Alschuler is a true visionary who has developed an innovative, practical, evidence-based approach to integrative medicine. In her work, Dr. Alschuler incorporates her own experiences with cancer and has become a leading authority in naturopathic oncology and integrative medicine.
She sat down with us to share her personal story, her work with cancer patients and her bright, new vision for an integrated, patient-centered healthcare system.
The Day Dr Alschuler Had To Tell Her Dad She Was Quitting
It was Dr Alschuler's father who inspired her to become a medical doctor. She worked very hard to get into Brown’s seven-year medical program, where she took a course in medical anthropology. People who had been diagnosed with cancer talked about their experiences. It had a profound impact on her future.
Later, after an uncomfortable encounter with the reality of the operating room, she decided that the interventionalist aspect of medicine was not something she felt called to do. Literally, on the threshold of medical school, she pulled out. She joined the Peace Corps, working in rural health and as an EMT.
Meanwhile, her father remained patient. He was an Educational Psychologist, so he had a lot of empathy for her situation and was very supportive. Good news for Dr Alschuler and good news for us.
When Cancer Gets Real
Her first encounter with the reality of cancer was in that medical anthropology class, where people diagnosed with cancer shared their experiences. They each had a profound sense of the value of life and living. They talked about the transformational aspect of their disease. Dr Alschuler calls it the “clarifying mirror” of cancer.
Then in her early forties, she was diagnosed with cancer, which gave her a much more profound sense of what it means to live with cancer. Cancer taught her to align herself with what was most meaningful: her values, community, family and friends.
Cancer is a harsh blessing for those who suffer from it, since it allows people to understand better who they are.
When Your Patient’s Treatment Options Start To Run Out
As a practitioner, our job is not to be false cheerleaders. Patients are too savvy for that, especially those approaching their life's end. So we must be honest but always sensitive too.
Many of them want to keep fighting, but they can't do it. Dr Alschuler finds that acknowledging that is helpful to patients. Most of the time, patients will, at some point in the discussion, reframe where they want to put their energies.
A Bright New Vision For Healthcare
Dr Alschuler is a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Arizona where she is the Associate Director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine.
Her role gives her the good fortune of supporting the education of hundreds of physicians who got burned out of the conventional system but have not lost their desire to partner with patients in the healing process.
The doctors come through the center, and then when they finish, they go back into the medical system bringing a fresh integrative approach into their work. Slowly but surely transforming medical practice from within.
She is increasingly finding doctors willing to partner with natural health practitioners on behalf of the patients. And it's a two-way street. There are open-minded naturopathic doctors and other integrative providers who are ready and willing to partner with conventional physicians to everyone’s benefit.
That's where her vision for the future lies: creating an integrated team of providers that is based on mutual respect - with the patient at the center.
The Biggest Challenges Facing Natural Health Practitioners
Naturopathic medicine needs universal regulation, universal licensure, and better reimbursement for professionals so they can provide care to patients who may not have insurance while also getting into underserved communities.
Complacency is the antidote to progress! It's very important for every integrative practitioner, particularly naturopathic doctors, not to be complacent, to not take for granted the gains we've made, and to support the professional associations moving this sector forward.
The Sacred Time That Keeps Dr Alschuler Living Her Best Life
Mornings are sacred for Dr Alschuler. She wakes up early and takes twenty minutes to relax, read, plan, write or just be in nature in my backyard. She is committed to her high-intensity workouts, which she does for thirty minutes each day.
Then she’ll take her dogs for an hour-long walk, which gives her a chance to get outside and connect with her partner. Then it's home for breakfast and time to start the work day. Only then will she pick up her phone.
After a busy day, she comes home to her partner after taking the dogs for their evening walk. She loves cooking which is a creative outlet. They sit down after dinner and sometimes enjoy a show or go through some coursework together. Dr Alschuler is doing an MBA program. Then it's to bed early… after another action-packed day.
The Healing Power Of Introspection
Making time for introspection is key for Dr Alschuler. It's needed in order to manage stress, be healthy, and feel gratitude. It's very helpful to prioritize reflective time regularly and try to be in the moment as much as possible.
She regularly walks her dogs, which she sees as a form of walking meditation. It puts her in nature, which helps her recenter herself. For that reason, Dr Alschuler limits her exposure to social media.
“Complacency is the antidote to progress. It's very important for every integrative practitioner, particularly naturopathic doctors, to not be complacent, to not take for granted the gains we've made and step in to support the associations which are moving us forward.
The other important component are specialty societies that focus on, you know, say, integrative oncology. Those organizations not only deepen knowledge and skill, but they create opportunities for new partnerships and new opportunities”.
Dr Lise Alschuler ND, FABNO
“Do we spend time talking with patients about what's going right for them, not just what's going wrong? Or are we dwelling in what's wrong all day long? How present are we with our patients? Do we have a practice that we engage in before each patient to clear ourselves and to be present with the patient? And are we grateful for our patients?”
Dr Lise Alschuler ND, FABNO