Elam steps down as Osher Center medical directorOct. 22, 2015, 11:30 AM
Elam has been the Center’s medical director since it opened in 2006 with the support of a $5 million gift from John and Stephanie Ingram. A member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1976, Elam has filled several roles, including serving as Ombudsman for the School of Medicine, adviser to the Honor Council and as the first director of Vanderbilt Palliative Care.
An internist, Elam was an early pioneer of mindfulness in medicine. His interest was inspired by the five-part series “Healing and the Mind,” with Bill Moyers, originally broadcast in 1993, that highlighted research into mindful meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. By the end of 1993, he had completed training with Kabat-Zinn.
“Dr. Elam has done a remarkable job in building this program,” said Walter Frontera, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (P M & R). “Our Osher Center is recognized as one of the best clinical integrative medicine centers in the country. His passion and commitment to a different approach to patients with complex problems is unique.”
Services at the center include massage therapy, acupuncture, mind/body counseling, mindfulness training, physical therapy, tai chi, health coaching and yoga. The vast collection of therapies, including providing prescribed pharmaceuticals, help people with health issues ranging from cancer and diabetes to chronic pain.
“The Center’s clinicians strongly believe in relationship-based care, and listening to the patient’s story is where our treatment begins. The Center has a team-based practice,” Elam said. “We meet each Wednesday morning to discuss our clinical cases. In the room are nurse practitioners, yoga teachers, psychologists, physical therapists, physicians, acupuncturists and massage therapists. It is this inter-professional approach to team care that greatly helps our patients on their road to recovery.”
The number of visits has grown each year through patient referrals. “Last year there were 18,000 patient visits which is a strong indicator that our model is working,” Elam said.
In 2014 the Center received a generous gift of $5.5 million from The Bernard Osher Foundation, helping it expand and guaranteeing the future success in growing its research and education areas.
Vanderbilt is home to one of five designated Osher Centers. The others are at Harvard, UCSF, Northwestern and Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).
In 2015, the Center moved to Vanderbilt’s Department of P M & R, which will result in added capacity for programs in research, education and clinical care.
Recently, Stephanie and John Ingram have allowed the Center to use residual funds from their initial gift to fund the Stephanie and John Ingram Endowed Chair in Integrative Medicine.
A native Nashvillian and the son and grandson of dentists, Elam said his early life experience caring for a mother with a chronic health condition influenced his decision to become a physician. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of the South and his medical degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He came to Vanderbilt for his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in gastroenterology.
Once the new medical director is in place, Elam said he will be ready for whatever comes next. He hopes to travel more and plans to enjoy spending time with his wife, Kaye White Elam, his children and six grandchildren who range in age from 3 to 13.