Bridging the Gap Between Allopathic and Integrative Medicine: An Interview with Dr. Sean McCloy

Being an integrative pharmacy and wellness center, we work with a lot of practitioners from different disciplines. It always intrigues us when western and alternative medicines converge in a practitioner’s methodology. This is called integrative medicine and Sean McCloy, MD, MPH, MA, is one of those practitioners. Dr. McCloy is a Family and Holistic medicine physician and Director of the Integrative Health Center of Maine.

Traditionally, MDs practice allopathic medicine, which focuses on a patient’s disease and/or symptoms and treating it with medication (allopathic medicine is also known as Western medicine, evidence-based medicine, or modern medicine).

Integrative medicine treats the whole person, not focusing on symptoms alone. It does this by placing importance on the relationship between practitioner and patient and integrating all appropriate therapeutic approaches and healthcare disciplines to reach optimal health. Many practitioners adhere strongly to one or the other approaches. How, then, did Dr. McCloy make his way to integrative medicine? 

Dr. McCloy, whose father is also a physician, grew up with an innate passion for science and how the body works.  To illustrate that passion, he shared that, as a fourth-grader, he assigned himself a ten-page paper on the human muscular system. It shows a special kind of passion to assign that to yourself at any age, let alone at 9 years old.

He eventually went on to complete his formal medical training. His original plan was to become a neurosurgeon, as he was fascinated with the science of the brain. The romance of being a surgeon also held appeal.  In conversations with practicing neurosurgeons, however, he found that most were unhappy in their specialty. The injuries and illnesses they treated, including brain cancer, head trauma and, spinal cord injuries, tended to be devastating and medical care was situational and intense.

Dr. McCloy realized that what really appealed to him was closely interacting with his patients and helping them to attain true health to live long, happy lives.  This led him to family medicine, where he could get to know patients and be a part of their stories and health journeys.  He saw that keeping people out of hospitals and off medications was a benefit not only to them but to public health.

Allopathic Interest Turns Integrative

While working with patients in medical school, Dr. McCloy began to see the limitations of allopathic medicine, where doctors are trained to look at symptoms, come up with a diagnosis, and address it with a pharmaceutical.  He appreciated that pharmaceutical medicine is a powerful tool in proper circumstances, e.g. antibiotics for pneumonia, but was this approach making people healthy?  His conclusion was that pills don’t make people healthy.

In order to attain his goal of helping people achieve true health, Dr. McCloy knew he needed to find more tools for his toolbox.  This line of thinking brought him to an interest in holistic medicine.  A friend was in training to be a Naturopathic Doctor which provided insight into an alternative discipline.  In addition to the same basic anatomy and physiology and pathology Dr. McCloy was studying, the Naturopaths were also learning about mind-body medicine, acupuncture, herbalism, and homeopathy.  These modalities were contrary to his training in Western medicine; however, he found them very intriguing.

“I had always been somewhat skeptical of that whole world.  Back in college, when I was talking with [my friend] about her intention to become a naturopathic doctor, she was telling me about reiki or some kind of energy medicine, and I said, ‘There’s no evidence for any of that stuff!’ I thought it was all a bunch of malarkey. I began to look into those treatment modalities from the standpoint of an open-minded skeptic.  I wanted to be shown proof that there was actually good quality data around this stuff.” 

To his delight, Dr. McCloy discovered that there are human clinical trials and placebo-controlled trials for nutraceuticals, etc.  He started a student interest group around the subject of holistic medicine which was quite uncommon at the time. It turns out, Dr. McCloy was ahead of his time. Today, over half the US population is currently pursuing some form of complementary alternative medicine and most medical schools offer a complementary medicine department.

When it came time for his residency, Dr. McCloy’s interest in integrative medicine brought him to a residency at Maine Medical Center’s Family Medicine Department. At the time, it was one of two sites in the nation that had an integrative medical department. Luckily for Dr. McCloy, it happened to be right down the street.

As graduation approached and he needed to decide what direction to go with his career, Dr. McCloy realized that the style of medicine he wanted to practice would not be well suited to a large group practice.  He then did a rotation with Naturopathic Doctor, Fred Shotz, who had an office on Brighton Ave in Portland.  Dr. Shotz had been looking for an MD or DO with whom he could offer IV therapies to his patients.  The two hit it off and when Dr. Shotz opened Maine Integrative Wellness on Auburn Street in Portland, Dr. McCloy embarked on his formal career in integrative practice full time. 

An Integrative Medicine Practice is Born

In 2011, Dr. Shotz moved his practice to Falmouth. Dr. McCloy took over the Auburn Street practice under the name Integrative Health Center of Maine and he’s been growing the practice ever since.

Wanting to offer more options for his patients under one roof, he invited like-minded integrative practitioners to the practice. Today, IHCM is comprised of 15 integrative practitioners including; MDs, NDs, naturopaths, clinical social workers, a psychiatrist, a chiropractor, a medical hypnotherapist, a board-certified behavior analyst, an orthotist/prosthetist, and a holistic health coach. Together, these practitioners provide an incredibly diverse list of services. The practice continually accomplishes Dr. McCloy’s goal: becoming a part of peoples’ health journeys in an effort to achieve true health. It is a true collaboration towards that goal.

Each month, they convene to discuss patient therapies they are working on, various topics of interest and sometimes invite outside speakers.  “It’s so much fun to go around the circle and learn about everybody else’s practice styles and their thought process and their approach and their philosophy to a certain case.  It’s very unique and different.  As a family doctor, as a functional medicine practitioner, my take on a migraine headache is very, very different than the acupuncturist or the naturopath or the homeopath or the reiki practitioner or the medical hypnotherapist, and we all have very different modalities to treat a migraine headache, but they all work in different ways.”

Integrative Health Center of Maine is a cash-based practice.  Dr. McCloy has been pleasantly surprised by the wide socioeconomic spectrum of people who see the value in the investment in their own health.   Hopefully, the model of this practice is helping them to stay off medication, stay out of the hospital, and avoid the expensive traditional medical system. 

“Practicing this style of medicine is an absolute joy every day, because I can spend the amount of time that I need to spend with my patients to [not only] take care of all the kinds of things that I should be taking care of in the first place as a physician, but also to hear their story and to allow them space and time to tell that story. To figure out these really complex situations that are medical challenges that have eluded other practitioners because they don’t have the time or the tools to handle those tough cases.  My new patient visits are anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, and follow-ups are an hour apiece. So, there’s never any hurry.”

“My vision for where the practice is going is to really be a force for change for public health. To bring this integrative functional style of medicine to the community at large and inspire everyone around us to be healthier individuals. You read about places around the world called ‘blue zones,’ where people live a long time.  I’m hoping to create kind of a mini blue zone around us and help everyone to live out a happy healthy long life.”

“In order to bring this message to the public, we need to have a larger area where we can do movie screenings or lectures or cooking classes or yoga or whatever it is, and we don’t have that physical space in this place.” Integrative Health Center of Maine will be opening a new center at Skyview Center in Cumberland, which will allow them to bring this message to the public.  It’s a very eco-friendly, energy-efficient building with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). The building materials used; paint, drywall, carpeting, etc., have minimal VOCs to avoid impacting our chemically sensitive patients and the environment.  The move will take place on July 19th, with a grand opening anticipated in August or September. 

About Integrative Health Center of Maine

IHCM is a diverse group of practitioners who share a common vision: to help patients achieve a state of true wellness and health using conventional and natural treatments. They practice true integrative medicine, combining various healing modalities to help people of all ages find their path to wellness.

They are currently located on Auburn Street in Portland; however, their office will move to 15 Skyview Drive in Cumberland Center on July 19th. The new building features energy-efficient construction, a beautiful permaculture campus, a large multipurpose room for classes, and an outdoor waiting porch with rocking chairs overlooking a native plant meadow.

For more information, visit https://maineintegrative.com/ or check them out on Facebook!

About the Author

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness Staff

Our staff specialties range from pharmaceuticals to nutritional health and wellness, to sports nutrition. We are here to share that knowledge. If we don't know immediately, we'll find out. Stop into the pharmacy or nutritional health and wellness department to ask questions relating to your specific needs, or send us an email.

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