A passion for wellness

Physician brings integrative medicine options to VDMC

—Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Adri Sietstra Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller is pictured above with a sampling of supplements she recommends to patients at Van Diest Medical Center. Bartlett Hackenmiller brought her passion for integrative medicine practices to the clinic in May of 2017 after encouragement from former Van Diest Medical Center CEO Lori Rathbun.

Integrative medicine — the practice of combining conventional medicine with alternative and complimentary approaches that are evidence-based and have research to support their use – is now offered at Van Diest Medical Center.

“I’m just really passionate about it,” said Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller. “The more I’ve done this kind of work with people, the more blown away I am by it. It’s actually unlike any kind of medicine or healing that I’ve experienced in any other way with people.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller, a physician at Van Diest Medical Center, divides her time seeing OB-GYN patients and seeing integrative medicine patients. She also works with outreach education projects.

“The things that I recommend are evidence-based. They are not somebody’s crazy idea,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “I am very much aware of and cognizant of patients’ financial situations and would never recommend something to a patient that is expensive.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller has a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa. She received her medical degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. The physician completed her residency in OB/GYN in Pittsburgh, PA. and practiced there for a year. Bartlett Hackenmiller completed an Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in January of 2014.

Her board certifications include the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 2002 to the present and the American Board of Integrative Medicine from 2015 to the present.

She moved back to Iowa after having her son to be closer to family. She practiced in Waterloo for three years and then Waverly for eight years.

“My story is complicated,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller.

She has a son and a daughter and in 2003, her son was diagnosed with Autism.

“I wouldn’t change my son and his difficulties,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “I wouldn’t change him for the world.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller’s husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2008.

“Those were life things that really impacted my career and life,” she said.

She began to ask questions about medicine, how patients were being treated, and if environmental factors were contributing to patients’ health and conditions.

“I felt like my conventional medical background didn’t have answers to those kinds of questions,” she said. “I also started learning more about and hearing more about alternative and complementary approaches and just having no idea where to go as far as that was concerned.”

Her husband was sent to M.D. Anderson in Houston, one of the world’s foremost cancer centers, for treatment. The center offered a number of complementary and alternative approaches, which opened Bartlett Hackenmiller’s eyes to the world of integrative medicine.

“I had only been a conventional doctor and had no experience with anything alternative or complementary,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “I had always thought of those things as kind of voodoo-out there stuff that you would never consider. And yet there started to be themes that I would hear – both related to my son with Autism and my husband with cancer. Things like diet, supplements and mind-body approaches.”

After hearing Dr. Andrew Weil, practitioner and teacher of integrative medicine, speak in 2010, Bartlett Hackenmiller delved deeper into integrative medicine techniques.

“He started seeing that we’ve gotten so far away from basic things like nutrition and stress reduction and sleep and exercise and things like that that we know are good for people. So he started actually just studying some of these cultures around the world where people live to be 100 more than any place else,” she said.

“So, I heard him speak back in 2010 and realized that that was really the way that I needed to go as far as what I needed to help my family with but also my patients and personally, as far as my career and everything.”

The cancer claimed her husband’s life in 2012. Three months later, Bartlett Hackenmiller left her OB/GYN position. She was burned out and ready for a change.

“I was in a place where I just couldn’t really keep doing what I was doing the way I was doing it,” she said. “I needed to change things up, so I pursued a fellowship, which was a two-year program in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona,” she said.

She started an Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona in 2012 and finished it in January of 2014.

“That really has changed everything about the way I practice medicine,” she said.

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with alternative and complimentary approaches that are evidence-based. In other words, have research to support its use.

Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids approached her about starting an integrative medicine program. She worked there for four years before coming to Webster City to work at Van Diest Medical Center.

“It’s kind of interesting how I came to be here,” she said.

Former Van Diest Medical Center CEO Lori Rathbun spent months encouraging Bartlett Hackenmiller to come practice in Webster City.

In 2015 Van Diest Medical Center was in need of C-section coverage. Rathbun had contacted an acquaintance of Bartlett Hackenmiller’s, who put Rathbun in touch with her.

“I ended up doing some C-section coverage subbing here and then in Iowa Falls for a couple of years while I was practicing in Cedar Rapids,” she said.

Rathbun had an interest in the integrative medicine approach and talked Bartlett Hackenmiller about coming to VDMC full time.

“We had some really good heart-to-heart conversations about integrative medicine,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “It was exciting how excited she was about it.”

Rathbun was persistent in getting Bartlett Hackenmiller to Webster City. It took nearly two years to get Bartlett Hackenmiller to come to VDMC full time.

“She just kind of kept acting like it was going to happen, despite the fact that I kept telling her it wasn’t going to happen,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “Finally I was like, yeah I could do that.”

She officially started at Van Diest Medical Center on May 1, 2017

“Integrative medicine keeps an open mind, even to those things that are maybe on the fringe, because maybe they just haven’t been studied yet but they have potential to be helpful. Or maybe there are things that have been used for centuries in other cultures and we don’t understand why they work, but maybe they do.”

“My program doesn’t say that conventional medicine is bad, of course, and it doesn’t look at complementary and alternative approaches uncritically,” according to Bartlett Hackenmiller

She had training in traditional Chinese medicine – acupuncture was a part of that – and then iervata, a traditional Indian medicine and Native American healing practices. A number of different whole medical systems as well as homeopathic, naturopathic, chiropractic also – holistic medicine.

“But I also think integrative medicine involves working with people in less conventional capacities. I love doing group visits and educational workshops. We’ve started doing some of those things here and it’s been really fun.”

Some of her workshop topics have included Core Principles of Integrative Medicine, supplements and managing stress during the holidays

Nature therapy is another of her integrative medicine loves.

“I like to get outdoors,” she said. “I’ve always really enjoyed outdoor adventure. Especially after my husband died, my therapy was being outdoors.”

It started with running. After she discovered running wasn’t her favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, she picked up mountain biking, which is how she met her now-husband, Joe Hackenmiller.

She led a workshop on nature and wellness for Prairie Woods in Cedar Rapids for the first time with a trusty handbook. She had an astonishing reaction from participants.

“The people that tried it – I had 25 people in this group – they really responded to it. I was just floored because I was just winging it and experimenting.”

With the positive reaction from attendees, Prairie Woods invited Bartlett Hackenmiller back to do a series of guided nature walks. She has done walks with all ages and different spectrums.

She became trained as a guide by Amos Clifford, Founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and was later named medical director for Clifford’s organization. She has held these workshops across the state and country.

Locally, the next Walk and Talk is set for Saturday, March 24 at 9 a.m. at Brewer Creek Park. Five dates are also set up with Polk County Conservation for nature walks next summer. For more information about Bartlett Hackenmiller’s programs, visit integrativeinitiative.com.

Bartlett Hackenmiller has also worked with Kendall Young Library to ensure that the public can take advantage of some free literature on health and wellness. Along with cookbooks on nutrition, the public can also check out audio CDs and books by health and wellness doctors.

Another key component of Bartlett Hackenmiller’s training focused on supplements – both dietary and herbal.

“There’s a lot of interest right now, I think, in supplements. A lot of people take a ton of supplements and don’t really know what they’re doing and just are trying different things.

“Having knowledge about supplements, I feel compelled to help people know that supplements are not all created equal. Some can be very helpful. Some can be very dangerous … You have to know what you’re getting and you have to be able to have a reputable place to buy them.”

“We started carrying some supplements that I’m heavily vetting to be sure that they’re high quality and that they are what they say they are.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller noted she does not make any money off the sale of supplements.

“I personally don’t think it’s ethical to recommend supplements and be profiting from the sale of supplements,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “It’s purely as a service.”

“We’re really caught up in pharmeceutical medications, but they are not the end-all-be-all that I think we expect them to be. I think we’re finding there are a lot of concerning downsides to pharmeceutical medications. Continuing to add more medications begets more problems and chronic medical conditions, just adding more medicine to the mix is not the answer.”

“Until we get back to a less-invasive more natural way of dealing with health and wellness, we’re not going to be healthy people,” said Bartlett Hackenmiller. “I think this is the direction that medicine has to go – to a more natural, less invasive approach.”

The integrative medicine side of her practice is self-pay, according to Bartlett Hackenmiller.

“One of the reasons I love doing things like the walk and talks and the lunch and learn things that are free and less expensive workshops – I just like being able to offset that cost of paying out of pocket to see me. I don’t want to end up being unaccessible to people interested in these kind of things.”

“I pride myself on having an open mind. Yet, I don’t recommend anything to my patients that I wouldn’t try myself or recommend to a family member.”