Dr. Lipman received his initial medical training in South Africa, qualifying in 1979 and emigrated to the United States in 1984. He became board certified in internal medicine after serving as Chief Medical Resident in his final year of residency at Lincoln Hospital in New York City. Becoming more and more aware of both the strengths and the weaknesses of his training, he began to study acupuncture, Chinese medicine, functional medicine, nutrition, herbal medicine, biofeedback, meditation and yoga. He began to see that the polarization between western modalities and other healing philosophies merely negated positive attributes of both. He saw that true healing lay in a blend between the two. He now practices his unique blend of what he calls “Good Medicine”, combining all the systems in which he has trained.
A New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Lipman has written 4 books: Total Renewal – 7 Key Steps to Resilience Vitality and Long Term Health; Revive – End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again; The New Health Rules – Simple Changes to Achieve Whole-Body Wellness; and his latest book 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat.
Excerpt From Total Renewal
“I was born and raised in South Africa under apartheid. Apartheid literally means “separate.” Black South Africans did not have the same rights as whites and were forced to live in separate areas assigned to them by the government. My parents, who were political activists and fought the apartheid system, instilled in me a sense of social justice and the importance of questioning the status quo. This philosophy, in many ways, is the theme of my story as a physician.
In 1979, after finishing medical school at the University of Witwaterstrand in Johannesburg, the preeminent university in South Africa, I began my medical internship at a time when South African hospitals were still segregated by race. I chose to work at Baragwaneth Hospital, a facility for black people located in Soweto, one of the government-designated “Black Only” cities on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Many black South Africans chose to live there rather than on a “homeland,” a designated area where the government forced different tribal groups to live. Although there was a small black middle class, the majority of the residents of Soweto had come to the city to find blue-collar jobs in factories and the gold mines, or as domestic workers. Life in Soweto was harsh. It was crowded, alienating, difficult, and violent.
Baragwaneth Hospital is the largest and busiest hospital on the continent of Africa. There I had the opportunity to encounter, learn about, and treat a wide variety of diseases. At the hospital we worked as a team, which was the best way to ensure that no patient was left unattended. We had so many patients that there were hardly enough beds and sometimes patients had to sleep on the floor. Every day we were confronted with the symptoms of life and poverty in the inner city: knife wounds, alcoholism, and newly acquired Western diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, the result of poor diet and stress. For the indigenous black population, these problems were the by-product of urbanization.
It was at Baragweneth Hospital that I had my first exposure to the possibilities of non-Western medical traditions. Sometimes, when we doctors found ourselves unable to help a patient using conventional methods, the patient’s family would call in a sagoma, a traditional African healer. I didn’t pay much attention to their activities because I was so busy doing my job and they respectfully did not interfere with the functioning of the hospital wards. However, more than once I noticed that a patient got better after the sangoma’s visit.
Following my internship, as part of my compulsory military service I elected to work in Kwandbele, one of the homelands, which had a central hospital. The fully staffed Philadelphia Mission Hospital included six doctors, along with clinics in many of the surrounding villages that were run by nurses. At these clinics, the nurses handled such day-to-day problems as general aches and pains, childhood illnesses, acute infections, and delivering babies. They would radio for an ambulance only in case of emergency: complicated deliveries requiring caesarian section, appendicitis, and so forth. Depending on how far each clinic was from the hospital, it could take from half an hour up to two hours to transport a patient. The roads were awful, none of the locals had cars, and the buses were unreliable. Every week, one of the doctors would travel to the clinics in order to see the patients that the nurses felt needed their attention.
I spent eighteen months in Kwandbele. At the hospital I honed the skills in which I had been trained at medical school. I treated numerous trauma cases and medical emergencies, such as heart failure and acute asthma attacks; surgical emergencies, such as bowel obstructions; severe infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis; and other serious ailments.
My medical training was indispensable for these types of problems, and my skills improved from hands-on practice setting fractures, treating burns, and delivering hundreds of babies. I felt that I was helping people and, as a result, I believed in my training and modern medicine.
After working in Soweto and Kwandbele, I joined a general practice in the suburbs of Johannesburg. It was a completely different experience. I was now working with middle-class white people in an urban setting. Patients came in complaining of headaches, joint pains, indigestion, fatigue, and all sorts of common everyday problems that were entirely different from what I had experienced in the previous two and a half years of hospital practice. Known as the “worried well,” they, perhaps like you, had reasons enough to determine they weren’t optimally healthy yet they were not critically ill. I was shocked that my training was not very helpful for at least three quarters of them. From the initial high of being a doctor who successfully treated his patients, I became frustrated, often feeling helpless and useless.
In comparison to the people of Kwandbele, my private patients had all sorts of advantages. Still, their health was being adversely impacted by the conditions of their lives—poor eating habits, lack of exercise, over-work, stress, divorce. These factors, which drugs cannot address, were triggering and compounding their physical complaints. Dr. Paul Davis, the physician whose practice I had joined in Johannesburg, laughed knowingly when I confided my concerns. He told me, “Don’t worry. Most people get better by themselves despite the medicine we give them. Your real job is to listen to your patient and be there for them.”
After working at the private practice for several months, I realized that I needed to expand on my conventional Western medical training. I couldn’t accept that for the rest of my medical career I would only help 25 percent of the people who were going to come to me.” Soon after I emigrated to the United States and embarked on a journey of studying Acupuncure and Chinese Medicine, Herbal Medicine, Functional Medicine, Nutritional Medicine, Yoga, Meditation, different types of Bodywork and Stress reduction techniques.”