May 29, 2019

Provider Profile: Sreela Namboodiri brings more integrative medicine to Heartland Health Centers

Sreela Namboodiri and Alana Garcia at monitor

Sreela Namboodiri, MD, right, and Alana Garcia, RMA, review patient information and discuss plans for a day’s appointments. They specialize in integrative medicine at HHC-Wilson.

New provider Sreela Namboodiri, MD is helping Heartland Health Centers expand our integrative medicine services.

Like the name suggests, integrative medicine focuses on the whole person and combines conventional and complementary treatment to address root causes of illness. Food and nutrition, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, yoga, and other evidence-based approaches are all part of integrative medicine.

Or as the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health puts it, “Integrative medicine and health reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic and lifestyle approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”

Namboodiri, a former fellow at the Northwestern Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine is based at HHC-Wilson.  While integrative care is considered an innovative approach now catching on in settings such as FQHCs as well as academic institutions, for Namboodiri it’s also how she grew up.

“My parents are from India,” she says. “The doctors in my family are holistic, Ayurvedic doctors, so to me this was never alternative, it was just something our family used.”  For example, she recalls when she had the stomach flu her parents might serve her soup with soothing ingredients such as ginger and homemade yogurt instead of dosing her with Pepto-Bismol.

Namboodiri’s family experience led her to study cultural perspectives on healing in college.  She took premed classes, but was interested in public health more than being a doctor. But working with doctors who treated HIV in primary-care settings inspired her to go to medical school, with a plan to do primary care for social justice.

After medical school at the University of Maryland, she moved to Chicago to do her family medicine residency at Northwestern University/McGaw Medical Center, which placed her at Erie Family Health Center and Norwegian American Hospital.  While a resident at Northwestern, Namboodiri discovered that the typical 15-minute medical appointment left her with questions about her patients.  “I thought, ‘I want to learn more about how stress impacts your life? how you’re sleeping? what’s your life like?” she says. “I knew I wanted to practice integrative medicine in an underserved setting… but I knew in residency training I wasn’t going to get that language.”

The challenge, plus her family upbringing with Ayurvedic medicine led Namboodiri to pursue an Integrative Medicine fellowship after residency. She completed both a clinical integrative medicine fellowship through a collaboration between the Northwestern Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and Erie as well as the 2-year University of Arizona Fellowship in Integrative Medicine.

Namboodiri credits Chief Medical Officer Laurie Carrier for encouraging her to continue practicing integrative medicine at Heartland Health Centers when she was recruited to work at HHC-Wilson in late 2018.  

It helped that several other colleagues at Heartland Health Centers including Dr. Sonia Oyola, Dr. Arthur Hoffman and Dr. David Freedman are already leaders in integrative medicine at FQHCs.  Plus, with our well-attended classes on cooking and nutrition, yoga for stress and pain relief, and Tai Chi and acupuncture for chronic pain as well as an openness to embracing integrated care across the clinics, Heartland Health Centers is a leader in providing its patients this type of care, Namboodiri adds.   

As she settles into working at Heartland Health Centers, Namboodiri is doing integrative medicine consults for individual patients and working with colleagues to develop more group medical visits – a cross between a health class and a medical appointment that starts with checking patients’ vitals to make sure all is well before moving on to health information that’s important to everyone in the group.  

For example, she will be co-leading a Cooking and Nutrition for Families group medical visit this summer to combat pediatric obesity. She is also considering putting together a focus group for many of her patients who are taxi drivers and have chronic illnesses to gauge interest in a group medical visit to address the health issues they face in the context of their unique work schedules and lifestyles.

These are all new ways to help providers and patients connect.  “It’s an investment that’s so important,” Namboodiri says. “This is a good way to build rapport between providers and patients as well as to let patients direct their own learning about self care.”