Doc Learns to Go with the Flow with Integrated Medicine

After devoting 20 years of his life to the allopathic medical community, Michael Finkelstein, MD, made a 180-degree turn He left his position as medical director to pursue more holistic medicine.

After devoting 20 years of his life to the allopathic medical community, Michael Finkelstein, MD, made a 180-degree turn. He left his position as the medical director of Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., to pursue what he calls more intuitive, holistic medicine as the founder and director of SunRaven, a holistic health center in Bedford, N.Y.

So, why make the switch?

“I had my practice, I was the medical director of the hospital, and I was turning 40,” Finkelstein recalls. “I was looking at all the things I had sort of pulled together, and was very pleased with that on paper. But in my heart I felt something was missing. I was 40, so I thought I was going through my mid-life crisis.”

Instead, he found what was missing.

It’s about relationships

Finkelstein’s son was age 7 at the time, and he was having trouble getting along well with friends in school. They went to a friend of the family for counseling, because Finkelstein was certain something was wrong. There was … but not what Finkelstein thought.

“My friend sat me down and said, ‘Michael, he doesn’t need me; he needs his father,’” Finkelstein explains. “It immediately got me to reflect on what I’d been doing and where my energies were placed — in particular, my relationship with my young child. When I was young, in addition to wanting to become a great doctor, I had aspired to become a great father. And so when I heard that from our friend, he sort of woke me up.”

At that same time, a man — a billionaire — from the community where Finkelstein lived, donated $1 million to Northern Westchester Hospital for the specific purpose of starting an integrated medicine practice.

“[The billionaire] gave the money to the hospital because that was where one of his homes was,” Finkelstein recalls. “Wherever he lived he would give money to the local hospital so that if he needed to receive care, the hospital would have the types of treatments he was interested in.”

That obligated Finkelstein to learn about integrated medicine. And the more he learned, the more he saw another approach to healing; an approach that appealed to him. He began integrating it into his practice until he finally decided to close his internal medicine practice and just pursue integrated medicine.

Coming into focus

The difference now in the way he practices medicine is that he can now spend two or three hours with people instead of two minutes, Finkelstein explains. It also allowed him to slow down.

“It allowed me to focus,” he says. “And in the process of learning, I started to take better care of myself. And that was sort of the objective. The training I had received that obviously was intended for me to use on the patients was also, you know, allowing me to take care of myself with the same methodology. As a result, I became a much healthier, balanced person and, I think, a better father.”

But Finkelstein didn’t stop learning. He began developing an interest in energy medicine — a branch of complementary and alternative that believes the healer can channel healing energy into a patient. Finkelstein was skeptical at first, even cynical. But when he could no longer deny the feelings he was getting through various experiences, it opened his mind. He has since completed training as a level 2 Reiki practitioner.

“Physicians are taught not to touch patients,” Finkelstein explains. “You have a stethoscope in one hand, maybe, but that’s it. I think [touching is] a lost therapy, frankly. It certainly has a down side when it’s abused, so I can appreciate we need to be cautious. But I also thought Reiki was a particularly safe way of interacting with a patient because you don’t touch somebody. You let your hand hover over somebody; you can feel their warmth, they can feel your warmth, but they’re clothed. It’s particularly safe, but it’s a way to connect with people and show your real compassion, your concern, your care.”

Timing is everything

In 2005, as the $1 million that had funded the hospital’s operation of an integrated medicine practice was about to run out, Finkelstein saw the handwriting on the wall. He understood the vision and strategic plan of the hospital, and knew it did not include integrated medicine once the funding ran out. Anticipating that, he began looking for a place where he could focus on providing a more holistic approach to health and healing.

“I was looking for non-clinical-looking space, not a rental in an office building,” Finkelstein says. “I wanted a space, you know, a farm, essentially, where there was outdoor space and a garden. I was very passionate about gardening, and I felt that nature is not only a healing force, but it’s a source of inspiration.”

He would eventually purchase his neighbor’s house — a small farmhouse that had previously been the carriage house to his own home — and opened SunRaven. Soon thereafter, he published a book, 77 Questions For Skillful Living, that grew out of a questionnaire he provided to new patients.

“And one of the things I’ve learned is to be more patient and to let these things fall where they may,” Finkelstein says. “That allowed me — because I was moving slow — to spend more quality time with my family. I have two sons and a daughter. And so the objective for me was to be in balance, to not be running around and force every decision, but let things come as they do. And when they come that way, you have no ambivalence about making a decision. They just sort of land on you. You don’t have to struggle with them. You’re not actually making a decision; you’re sort of just going with the flow.”