Closing the Gap in Integrative Oncology Education

The Integrative Oncology Scholars Program teaches the benefits of evidence-based complementary therapies for patients with cancer.

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Launched in 2018 at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program has trained 50 oncology professionals in evidence-based complementary therapies in the treatment of patients with cancer. Another 50 trainees are expected to complete the program by 2023.

The yearlong educational program, which is open to physicians, nurses, physician assistants, social workers, psychologists, pharmacists, and occupational and physical therapists who are actively engaged in the practice of clinical oncology, is meant to increase providers’ knowledge about the benefits of complementary therapies used in conjunction with conventional oncology care to reduce symptoms of cancer and its treatment and improve the quality of life for patients. These complementary therapies include acupuncture; mind-body practices, including yoga, meditation, and music therapy; physical activity; and nutrition.

Virtual Training Program: Details and Objectives

Although past programs combined in-person team-based learning and eLearning technologies, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021–2022 program will be held completely virtually. Funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute, the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program is offered free of charge each year to 25 eligible oncology professionals nationwide.

This year, the program requires attendees to complete 72 hours of virtual coursework over three 3-day sessions, occurring over a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and 5 hours per month on Web-based coursework, for a total of about 132 hours. Participants in the program receive 25 continuing medical education (CME) credits for each of the 3-day virtual sessions, for a total of 75 CME credits.

The third cohort of 25 Integrative Oncology Scholars Program began their training in August 2020 and will complete the course by summer 2021. This year’s participants include five physicians specializing in pediatric, medical, and radiation oncology-hematology; one nurse; four advance practitioners; eight social workers; four physician assistants; one pharmacist; one psychologist; and one physical therapy specialist.

Now in its fourth year, the three main training objectives of the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program follow:

  • To learn how to evaluate the scientific evidence of complementary therapies used by cancer survivors
  • To facilitate the integration of evidence-based complementary therapies into oncology care
  • To partner with community-based complementary medicine practitioners to reduce symptom burden, decrease distress, and enhance quality of life for patients with cancer.

Joining Complementary Practices With Traditional Oncology Care

Although an early assessment of the impact the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program is having on oncology care is still being evaluated by the program administrators, anecdotally, progress is being made in joining complementary practices with traditional oncology care.

Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH

Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH

“The program has helped increase the workforce to move the field of integrative medicine forward,” said Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH, Program Director of the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program and Co-Director of Integrative Family Medicine and Research Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. “A number of past scholars have commented on how the program has changed the way they interact with other members of the multidisciplinary medical team. They value the program because it has exposed them to evidence-based integrative oncology practices and given them the skills and information they need to navigate difficult situations with their patients.”

To Learn More

Applications for the 2021–2022 training year are being accepted now, and the application period will end on January 15, 2021. To learn more about the Integrative Oncology Scholars Program and/or to submit an application, visit

DISCLOSURE: Dr. Zick reported no conflicts of interest.