Integrative Medicine Is Getting Hotter at Med Schools, and the Money Is Getting Bigger. Just Ask Vanderbilt

While some skepticism persists around integrative medicine, which involves unconventional treatments with an emphasis on wellness and prevention, the field has come a long way since the 1990s. Bernard Osher is one of its champions, and a $5.5 million grant from his foundation has established a new Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, the fourth in the funder’s collection.  

The newest addition will link up a program at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine with the three other existing Osher Centers, expanding the Vanderbilt program and allowing it to collaborate with the other universities involved. The other centers are at Harvard Medical School, the University of California, San Francisco and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.  

The original Osher Center founded in 1998 in San Francisco, now boasts a five-floor, $37 million building that opened in 2011. The branch at Harvard, which includes a clinical program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, opened in 2001. The Karolinska Institute center opened in 2005. 

Integrative medicine, also known as complementary medicine or integrative health, is not always easy to define. The goal is to complement traditional, ailment-focused Western medicine with techniques typically associated with Eastern or alternative medicine. This includes practices like mindfulness meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and massage to promote overall wellness or preventative health for the entire body. 

Some of these techniques are prone to criticism, but many of them have health benefits demonstrated in clinical studies. The Osher Centers are in part dedicated to promoting more empirical research on its practices to determine what should be used on a more widespread basis.

The Bernard Osher Foundation was founded in 1977 by the successful banker behind World Savings. Osher made a splash in philanthropy when he granted $723.2 million in 2006, making him the third most generous donor in the country for that year. 

The Osher Foundation has steadily made significant grants in a few areas, mostly related to higher education. Aside from Integrative Medicine, the funder has programs funding scholarships and fellowships in Northern California and Maine, scholarships for reentry into higher education, scholarships for community college students in California, and adult education programming at 117 colleges. Osher also supports local arts and education in the Bay Area and Maine. 

The funder does not accept unsolicited proposals, but will take letters of inquiry. Learn more about the Osher Foundation here.