ABPS Diplomate Ann Safo, DO, on What It’s Like to Specialize in Integrative Medicine as a Family Medicine Physician

Ann Safo, MDI first learned of integrative medicine five years ago while switching jobs due to a move. Sanford Health in Fargo, ND, was looking for physicians who practice integrative medicine, and although it was the first time I had heard of the specialty, I realized I had been practicing it throughout my career. As an osteopathic physician, the core values of integrative medicine resonated with me and reinforced the idea that integrative medicine is “just good medicine!”  I eagerly sat for the board exam with the American Board of Integrative Medicine® (ABOIM) and felt blessed to find a place among like-minded physicians.

Integrative medicine affords me a practice that is perfectly in line with my lifestyle and philosophy of health and medicine. I have the opportunity to discuss with patients the importance of a healthy diet, stress management, spirituality, and proper sleep, which emphasizes the specialty’s core values and educates patients on the holistic aspects of health. Practicing integrative medicine is truly my dream job. I enjoy coming to work and living out my calling each day. As an avid gardener, I see medicine as planting seeds of well-being, such as when I’m working with infants and children, cultivating and nurturing health among adults, and harvesting the fruits of a well-lived life in patients’ senior years.

The rewards of practicing integrative medicine come to me in the small moments, like the moment patients realize that they already know what’s their healthiest course of action, and they are motivated to pursue it. I am just the facilitator for their journey to health and wellness.

Practicing integrative medicine certainly comes with challenges, and for me, the biggest one is trying to accommodate the number of patients who want to see an integrative medicine specialist. The waiting list at our clinic in Fargo is long. When we opened in summer 2019, the community celebrated with us and patients were excited to have access to integrative medicine. Today, I struggle with balancing my family medicine practice with integrative medicine consults.

Another challenge is advocating for our patients with their insurance company. For instance, even though Sanford Health is a large enterprise that gives Medicare and Medicaid patients access to integrative medicine, these programs do not cover acupuncture, vitamins, and supplements, so we have to be creative to overcome these obstacles.

As family physicians we were taught to think of the patient first. This is exactly what integrative medicine is, looking at the patient as a whole person. Integrating complementary and alternative modalities into my practice comes very naturally as I try to reduce the overall burden to the patient, whether that be financial, reducing side effects, or preventing illness.

Every physician in training for integrative medicine should practice compassion. Serving others takes great strength, but physicians must balance this with a healthy dose of self-care. My strength comes from my relationship with God, from practicing yoga and meditation, and taking lots of Vitamin D in the winter. Fargo is cold!

Save the Date
House of Delegates & Annual Scientific Meeting
Innovation & Overcoming Challenges
June 10-15, 2022
Patient Care Is Our Priority

Medical organizations throughout North America understand that our rigorous certification standards prove that ABPS Diplomates are capable of delivering the best patient care possible.

On October 18, 2007, President George W. Bush released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21 (HSPD-21), calling on our nation, among other initiatives, to “collectively support and facilitate the establishment of a discipline of disaster health”. It is a great testament to the wisdom and foresight of the American Board of Physician Specialties that it immediately set to work and created, within the short span of only one year, an educational blueprint and set of certification examinations, both written and oral, for a new subspecialty of disaster medicine—and it is why I chose to be part this vital initiative and this wonderful organization. This is but one of the many innovative programs initiated by the American Board of Physician Specialties over the years, and why I am proud to support its work on behalf of our nation’s public health.

Art Cooper, MD
Disaster Medicine
When the American Board of Physician Specialties offered to host the American Board of Integrative Medicine, ABPS became a landmark organization working to move medicine into the twenty first century. Certifying physicians who have completed rigorous academic training in Integrative Medicine ensures that the field of Integrative Medicine will continue to develop academically, clinically, and professionally. The leadership of ABPS continues to impress me - they are diligent in constantly innovating to provide certifications for physicians who want to advance their careers and their areas of expertise. I am honored to be a part of this organization.

Ann Marie Chiasson, MD
Integrative Medicine
There are many ways board certification advances a physician career. ABPS Board examination verifies your accuracy, precision, and reflects your mastery of your residency training verifying your expertise. ABPS Board certification demonstrates your level of expertise beyond your practice experience, primary education degrees, and training which are necessary for insurance reimbursement and practice privilege requirements. Attaining your ABPS Board Certification will clarify your purpose, secure your practice growth, and expand into leadership positions. Board certification can serve as an indication of a physician’s commitment to medicine, beyond the minimal standards and competency of training, their measurement to quality of care, and attaining an award for excellence.

Chris Kunis MD
Internal Medicine
When I think historically, advancement in medicine and patient safety and care has been driven by the diversity of people and scientific thought. That’s what I found at the ABPS and more. For over 60 years that is just who we are. I found a physician certifying body that provides a choice and voice to all physicians ensuring that patients are always placed first.

Jerry Allison, MD
Emergency Medicine
When I decided to pursue a full time role as a physician executive it was important to me to obtain additional professional training, education and work experience. Board certification through the ABPS in Administrative Medicine is validation of my efforts and a demonstration of dedication to professional development. We need more physicians to become full time health care executives, knowing there is a board certification option in Administrative Medicine encourages physicians to take the leap from full time clinical practice to healthcare organizational leadership.

Richard Paula, MD
Administrative Medicine
The American Board of Physician Specialties has provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of internal medicine through board certification. As a hospitalist, board certification is an expected credential, and hospitals recognize the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) as one of the three standard credentialling bodies for Internal Medicine. Additionally, the ABPS has helped me develop leadership skills as a Board member and Committee Chairperson. ABPS has also helped me sharpen critical thinking skills as a test question developer and reviewer. The Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) physicians in the ABPS are lifelong learners and frequently pursue multiple board certifications. I enjoy the camaraderie of my peers in ABPS.

Loren Jay Chassels, DO
Internal Medicine