PHYSICIAN SPOTLIGHT: J. David Forbes, MD
The Healing Connection
J. David Forbes, MD, ABIHM, is a strong proponent of the healing connection that comes from integrating body, mind and spirit. The founder and director of Nashville Integrated Medicine is also an advocate for both patients and practitioners on a national level. At the 31st annual membership meeting of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) in 2009, he was installed as the national organization’s president for a two-year term.
Forbes, who was board certified in Internal Medicine in 1994 and has 10 years experience in emergency medicine, has been a member of AHMA for more than 15 years. He is also a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM), founded in 1978 to create a training ground for early pioneers in the field. Forbes is one of only a few board-certified holistic physicians in Tennessee.
Holistic medicine has been described as merging the art and science of healing to address the needs of the whole person. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health and to prevent and treat disease by addressing contributing factors
To the holistic practitioner, each person is seen as a unique individual, rather than an example of a particular disease. Disease is understood to be the result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance; and healing can take place when these aspects of life are brought into proper balance. The role of the practitioner is that of a guide, mentor and role model; but the patient must do the work of changing lifestyle, beliefs and old habits in order to facilitate healing. Forbes, like most holistic practitioners, advocates the use of all appropriate methods from medication to meditation.
Since a holistic approach brings together conventional, complementary and alternative methods of treatment, the preferred term today is integrative medicine, and almost 50 academic medical centers across the country have now incorporated an Integrative Medicine program into their curriculum.
Forbes, who grew up in Jackson, Tenn., has been interested in medicine since high school where he had his hands full as a standout student with interests in science and math, in addition to being a musical entertainer at family restaurants and assistant baker at a doughnut shop.
Named a National Merit Scholar, he received a president’s scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. At SMU in the 1980s, he was able to meet and become friends with some of the pioneers in the emerging holistic medical field.
“I thought about going to seminary because I was most interested in the fields of medicine and theology and bio-ethics. I learned about the multiple levels of healing from Dr. Larry Dossey, who was living that concept in his Dallas practice.
“I remember thinking, ‘Okay — so somebody out there is doing that!’ It was such a revelation,” he recalled.
He graduated with undergraduate degrees in both biology and psychology and then entered the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis, earning his medical degree in 1986.
Forbes did his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at North Carolina Baptist Hospital/Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and also trained in PEER (Primary Emotional Energy Recovery) Therapy, finishing in 1994.
He recalled this was at the beginning of a general medical holistic subset happening around the country. “We were starting to look at the entire person, not just what was wrong with him.”
He spent 10 years working in Emergency Departments in rural Virginia hospitals, his interest in the holistic movement increasing all the time.
“There wasn’t a big enough population base in the area where I was to support an internal medicine practice with a holistic focus so we moved back to Tennessee.”
With his wife and two sons, he returned to Jackson; but, as he explored educational opportunities for his children, he was drawn to Nashville where the only Waldorf School in the state was located.
“Simultaneously, I felt there was an opportunity here for the type of practice that I wanted to open.”
His current practice in Nashville incorporates allied practices of acupuncture, psychotherapy, and rolfing — a type of kneading body work that reorganizes the fascia, the connective tissues that permeate the entire body, to realign and balance the body.
“I never sought anybody out to join the practice, but … as we shifted in emphasis to primary care … the resources for wellness increased,” he said. Forbes explained his practice is centered on the five “pillars” that really shape health: diet and nutrition, exercise, sleep, emotional stress reduction and a deeper sense of meaning and connectivity.
“Paying attention to these five can result in better health, improved condition and fewer medical needs,” he observed. “These are the five things that are the hardest things to change,” he continued. “We can’t fix them in a standard office visit —they require a lot of time.”
In June, Forbes’ practice started a Wellness Coaching System to offer support around those five pillars. “We are constantly reevaluating our approach, which is very challenging. But when we get to the end of the day, I have enjoyed my time. Even with the financial struggle in a ‘fee-for-service world,’ I still leave with a smile on my face.”
Forbes has been on the Board of AHMA for six years and its leader for the past two. “When I came into office, my goal for AHMA was to further hone our focus down by helping holistic practitioners do their own work to consistently better serve their patients,” he said.
“We have to practice what we preach,” Forbes continued, “and our first order should be to help practitioners create space to engage in a level of work for themselves. Our ability to effectively serve our fellow human beings inevitably emanates from knowing the territory within ourselves. The core mission is to further that ideal by helping holistic practitioners heal in order to truly be present for others. This enhances our capacity to ‘pay it forward,’” he stated.
“With the myriad information readily available to all members via our website, newsletters and chapter organizations, maybe we don’t need to spend as much time at conferences, and we can refocus on what we do best — recognizing that what transforms people is the principle of unconditional love,” Forbes reflected.
“This isn’t the icing on the cake,” he observed. “It is the cake.”