Lawrence Kei. UBCMJ 2012 4(1):34.
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The treatment for cancer can be debilitating. In addition to the physical tolls, the psychosocial and financial challenges can make the patient’s experience even more daunting. This may contribute to why up to 85% of patients with advanced stages of cancer seek complimentary therapies.1 Recognizing the need for more support during cancer care, InspireHealth, Canada’s only government sponsored cancer care center, was initiated in 1997.2 The physicians of InspireHealth are trained in family medicine and work alongside a multidisciplinary team to supplement traditional treatments with programs in nutrition, exercise, and psychosocial well-being.2 Dr. Theresa Clarke, a UBC Medical School graduate, is a physician at InspireHealth. In this interview, Dr. Clarke explains her current role at InspireHealth and how she got there: Medicine is incredibly flexible. I was practicing as a GP [General Practitioner] for ten years, but felt that I wanted to spend more time with my family. I decided to stop practicing as a GP and trained in acupuncture, which led to a private practice. After a few years I applied for a position on a rehabilitation team. I didn’t need any special training at the time and my role was mainly to assess chronic pain. After four years of working in rehab, I joined the InspireHealth team. (Dr. Clarke, personal communication, March 27, 2012)
Dr. Clarke explains how her daily routine allows her to build longstanding partnerships with patients: We start off each day with a group meditation. Afterwards, I consult with up to five patients. Each session lasts up to 90 minutes, and any follow-ups are 30 minutes. The focus is to learn everything about the patient so we can help supplement their medical treatment with self-care, nutrition, and mind-body coaching. It’s great for the patients. I find that I know them better after that first session than I did after seeing them for ten years as a GP. (Dr. Clarke, personal communication, March 27, 2012)
Developing and implementing a variety of programs is what she enjoys most: I really love being able to facilitate workshops and programs relating to anything from nutrition to mind-body coaching. Also, I get to attend and talk at many community awareness campaigns. I get to do all this with an amazing team. (Dr. Clarke, personal communication, March 27, 2012)
Despite the increasing demand for supportive care and research showing that a holistic approach improves quality of life in cancer patients.1 Dr. Clarke explains that the most challenging part of her career is the stigma towards complimentary medicine and the attitudes of other physicians: Our biggest challenge is that we still struggle to get referrals from oncologists and GP’s. There’s a stigma that we might interfere with their treatments. Reality is, we would never alter any treatment but only serve to guide the patient through their journey. I hope this stigma changes in the future because right now we are still relying on word of mouth. The biggest complaint from patients is why they did not hear about us sooner. (Dr. Clarke, personal communication, March 27, 2012)
Dr. Clarke encourages future physicians interested in incorporating some of these values into their career to join their mentor group or take an elective with InspireHealth as a medical student or family practice resident.
1. Trinkaus M, Burman D, Barmala N, et al. Spirituality and use of complementary therapies for cure in advanced cancer. Psychooncology. 2011;20:746-754.
2. Rutledge R. About Inspire Health. [Internet]. 2008. [cited 2012 March 25]. Available from: