Chiropractic Fellowship Opportunities with Dr. Wren Burton

Harvard Research Fellow

Working within the Harvard Health System and Brigham and Womens Hospital, Dr. Wren Burton has been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as a chiropractor with fellowship and research opportunities. Discover more about her unique journey and the role of chiropractic at Harvard in this episode.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Welcome to our featured guest segment. I’m Dr. Jeff Langmaid here with my co host, Dr. Jason Deitch. And today we have a very special featured guest, Dr.Wren Burton. She’s a fellow at the Osher Center of Integrative Medicine. This is a joint venture between Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of the Harvard Medical School system. She’s also an extended member of The SMART Chiropractor team. Wren, thanks for taking some time and chatting with us today.

Dr. Wren Burton: Absolutely. I’m very happy to be here. I’m very excited to just kind of share my experience thus far. I think it’s very important, especially for a lot of the young chiropractors coming down the pipeline.

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: There is no doubt about it. And I’m going to peel it back. I gave the intro and that is a mouthful, the Osher Center. There’s Harvard, Brigham and Women’s. You know, how did that situation come about? How did you even know that was something you could look at? I’d love for you to just trace it back. And that’s probably a great place to start.

Dr. Wren Burton: Yeah, absolutely. So I started my application December 2020. It was right when I was graduating from chiropractic school. And so I at the time it was just kind of reaching out to anyone and everyone who had a PhD behind their name. And I was just getting my name out there. I was like, I want to do research. I don’t really know what I want to do, but I know right now, like there’s this little bit of time where, like, I could do a VA residency. There’s I know there’s a fellowship with Dr. Lisa at the VA as well, but nothing felt quite right. And so I think about two weeks before I graduated, my primary mentor at the VA sent me this email and they had just released this announcement for this really awesome fellowship. I remember reading it and I just kept scrolling and I was like, Wow, this looks like the best opportunity in the world. Like, how could you not want to do that? And so I applied. I applied amongst, I think, a whole like 50 other candidates across the country, which was very intimidating. Got my interview and got to talk to all of the mentors there. I got to read about all the different projects that they’re currently doing. They have this wonderful mind body movement lab, so they’re doing a lot there with yoga, acupuncture and just really breaking down just kind of the what behind these things, like what is an accu point? What is the effect of yoga on inflammation? All of these things we look at and we say, Wow, this is really interesting, but to the grand scheme of things, it just seems like such a small little piece.

Dr. Wren Burton: But it was. It’s very cool. It was at the time too. So I think I got my acceptance back in early February of last year and I just I didn’t really believe it at first because it was like I said, there’s so much anxiety around this. It was so exciting and it was just such the perfect opportunity. It was like the clouds opened up and I just again, I read the email, There was a mistake like this. This isn’t to me, like no way. And it was probably just a highlight of 2021 for me. It was getting that email and then again a little bit of wait time there. I was working with Dr. GOERTZ, who, like I said, it was in this process of reaching out to everyone and anyone that I could, and she had offered me just this temporary position. She’s like, Well, you kind of figure out like, let me mentor you, let me teach you a little bit. So I started working with her at Duke University and then also at Spin IQ, which she runs. There was just this conservative care for a physical therapist for chiropractors. There’s lots of information and lots of opportunity there as well, so I’m still working with her on that. And then I started here in July, which has just been kind of hit the ground running and haven’t really stopped.

Dr. Jason Deitch: That is so awesome. I just want to I’m so curious. I mean, I wish these were longer interviews just to get into more detail, but I’m going to ask you a few things that are just on my mind. Take them how you want. So what I guess, what is the relationship between the Oscar Center and Harvard? What do you do as a researcher? What is your day look like? And and where do you see it going? What is the intention? Why does Harvard have, you know, chiropractors somehow involved? Sort of what’s the hope for it all?

Dr. Wren Burton: So to start day to day, it’s definitely different every single day. So when I first started, like I said, it was straight into classes actually. So I did this six week. There’s a 15 credit program called the Program in Clinical Effectiveness, and that is just kind of like a teaser to the master’s program. And once you complete that, you can actually apply those credits. So I won’t start the Master’s until the academic year, but I can take those credits and apply them. So I have this sort of advanced standing in the program, but that was definitely very intense. So that was all day, every day for the first six weeks, which gave me a huge background. It definitely filled in all these gaps of like, what is research? What are we doing? And it was very cool. Like you said, only chiropractor there. So I was surrounded by MDs, PhDs or both. And just really stepping out of this kind of immediate comfort zone of just chiropractors around me. So that was very, very cool. And that was also it was kind of a little bit of a struggle at first because it was this sense of imposter syndrome, right? Like, what am I doing here? Like, why? Why me? Why chiropractor? But I actually at the same time, Dr.

Dr. Wren Burton: Louis Portelli had reached out to both myself and the other NCMEC fellow right now, Dr. Sarah Graham. She’s down at Yale and we he sent us these little care packages and he included in it the contain and eliminate book. And so I was reading that just kind of outside, of course, when I needed to step away from looking at a computer and that just like just put all of this stuff into this macro perspective. Right. Of all of these people before me have had their struggles. You know, they’ve worked tirelessly, they’ve gotten their progression to where it is today. That’s why I have these opportunities. And as frustrating as it was to feel like that sense of imposter syndrome, that sense of the why me, I think that that grander plan, I think it surely means that these opportunities for me and my struggles in them is going to create opportunities for other students, other people interested in research on pipeline, other recent grads or students currently, I think it’s going to open up all these doors for them. And that’s to me, that’s the biggest goal, is just making this a more accessible profession to a lot of other people.

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Yeah, I think that’s fantastic. And one thing that comes to mind for me when you just described reading Contain and Eliminate, and you mentioned the, you know, studying acupressure, studying acupuncture, these integrative types of practice. And I’m not sure where I’m going with this question, but there are so many chiropractors out there that quite frankly, have gone very heavily towards what I’ll refer to as the medical side, when the irony is, many of the major health care organizations and medical organizations are looking at more of the integrative side. I love it. I always felt like I was a more holistically minded doc within a multidisciplinary group when I had those positions. How do you rectify it? What do you see with that? Am I on with that? I guess I’ll just open that up as sort of an open ended partial question for you.

Dr. Wren Burton: Yeah, I think I definitely agree. I think it is this younger generation that’s kind of coming up that views this whole health as something that is necessary. And we see that now with places like the VA are adopting that whole health model. That is their standard of care is taking into all of these aspects of patient care. And I think I was actually attending a recent radiology speaking rounds and they were discussing this patient who had gotten a lumbar spine surgery. And of course, in my head I was like, Oh, man, this patient didn’t necessarily need surgery, but it’s a little late now. So what do we do now? How can we make their life the best going forward? And they had turned to the integrative therapies and I was like, this is this new shift in thinking. And I think, like you said, that is it’s going to be so much more important and it’s going to be important to have these conversations and have it’s not always the easiest conversation to have to explain to someone what we do and how we treat patients and how we take into all these, take into account all the aspects of patient care. And I think that alone is just the biggest thing of what we can do is just educating not just patients, but educating other providers. And making sure that our voice is heard in that place, too.

Dr. Jason Deitch: It is. It is awesome. I get more and more curious the more you’re sharing. So I got two for you. One, how does it feel being, I guess, the minority in the group? Do they accept you as are they curious? Wow, you’re a chiropractor. Tell me more. Are they dismissive? Oh, you must not know anything. And to what do they. What is the agenda? What are they searching or researching for exactly? Is it very kind of what Jeff was asking. Is it really limited to, okay, we’ve got a spinal issue. Is there a different spinal motion solution here? Or are they looking at the neurological component and perhaps the whole body effect and implications and so on?

Dr. Wren Burton: I think to answer the first part of that question, I, I think the only way that I’ve ever felt like a minority in the group is when I have put that upon myself. So if I walk into the room and I am very confident, yes, I’m a chiropractor, like I belong here. And that’s the attitude that I give out. I’ve never had a problem and everyone is very kind and partially probably do a lot to what Dr. Kowalski has already done here and kind of making a very good reputable name for himself and bringing someone alongside that. I think I kind of have that groundwork already laid for me. But like I said, I think the only time I’ve ever felt like I don’t belong is like when I have put that upon myself, when I’ve walked into a room and I get like immediately kind of overwhelmed, I’m like, Oh my gosh, everyone here is so much smarter. But then taking a step back and kind of looking inward and be like, Wait, I know these things too. Like I am a doctor as well. I belong here. Like, this is not just me here. Everyone is here to help people. This is why we do it. So I think to answer your question largely no, I think there’s a really good community here. Everyone’s been very, very kind and very, very open minded towards everything. And then I can’t recall the second half of the question.

Dr. Jason Deitch: Well, you know, I mean, you’re doing research. What do you what are you researching? What are you hoping to learn? What are they hoping to learn? And, you know, where does this go? Is this just another integrative approach to spinal injuries? Is there a whole body mind, body neurological intervention component to it? Where does it go, do you believe?

Dr. Wren Burton: So? I think right now a lot of what is being done in these large clinical trials and a lot of the really great research we see coming out is very focused on low back pain or very focused on the opioid epidemic, which are two very important things. But there’s also these other realms, and I think that’s what we’re trying to break into, is just expanding the current research so that we can do these larger clinical trials on things like neck pain and other very common, just these chronic musculoskeletal conditions that aren’t really being looked at. And a lot of research in terms of these integrative care models. So there’s not really a lot for just neck pain or there’s not really a lot like what I want to look at right now is for prevention in the elderly and there’s really not good roles of chiropractic being defined in those realms. And I think that’s the biggest goal right now in terms of research. Focus is just expanding on those areas and really contributing to that body of knowledge. And again, like I said, that’s the hope overall I think would be to bring in more students and bring up this fellowship to include a lot more opportunities and a lot more because right now I think there’s six of us total integrative medicine fellows and we all have our different focuses, but it would be great to have another chiropractor on the team or even a physical therapist or someone who does manual therapy because right now it’s just kind of me and I’m the only clinician which is also a little bit different. Everyone else is kind of doing their own things in different ways, and it’s all integrative medicine, but there’s not a lot of the overlap of clinical work at the moment.

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Understood. You mentioned fall prevention in the elderly and that being something you’re interested in investigating as time goes on, I’m going to go a little bit deeper and ask you to dig a little deeper on that. How long is this fellowship? Is there like a creme de la creme at the end? Are you trying to produce a single paper at the end? What’s what’s the definition of a win from the institution’s perspective? And then what’s a definition of a win from your perspective?

Dr. Wren Burton: Yeah, I think so. The fellowship goes through July of 2024, so it’s a three year program, which is wonderful. I think when I first started I was like, I need to have all the answers right now and then realize that that was just about as long as I was in chiropractic school. So there’s a lot of learning to be done in the three years. And so I. I would love personally as well. I think this is kind of aligned with the institutional goals as well as toward the end of this, I am able to get a grant. So first I would need to get an F grant, which is kind of this mentor grant, and that kind of shows the NIH that I’m capable of doing independent research. And then at the end of it, you apply for this career award, this career development or the K Award, and that would be the logical next step. And I know that there is another chiropractor in the area who has gotten a K Award and it’s few and far between. The chiropractors get these federal grants if you’re not on these big teams of people. So I think that would be a huge win is just getting that federal funding and like I said, making ourselves known, making this place here, we belong. Here we can get federal funding to. And if you look at these grants, which I think is just when you look at it, it’s scary. And then when you get into the fine detail, you see qualifying clinicians can apply for this grant and it has all the little acronyms and D.C. is right there, like we do belong here, like we’re right there, we’re on the grant, we can get them too. And I think again, like I said, it keeps going back to what we could do for these future students. But making that whole process, just this textbook like this is what you would do next. This is what you would do next. Because if I can sit here and sort that out and make that easier for the next person, I think that’s really what it’s all about.

Dr. Jason Deitch: You are blazing the trail, as they say, and it’s absolutely just awesome and inspiring. I’m curious about your experience, sort of I’ll say at this point, being an insider, you know, I always sort of wonder, you hear stories, you read, you project your own beliefs on things. But, you know, I will assume most of the people you’re working with have a general sense of pharma first, whether that’s a pharmaceutical, drug, opioid, or I’ll throw surgery in there as well, that there’s a radical, invasive, risky procedure or approach to pain. Are are you sensing that they is this a sort of a token? Let’s bring Deeks in so we can say we’re integrated, but we’re really beholden to our core philosophy of pharmaceuticals and medical device and all the cultural influence that the medical profession has grown up in. Or do you really believe that there’s a sincere sense of, Wow, it would be great if we could stop prescribing these things. It would be wonderful if we didn’t have to do all these surgeries, If there was only a natural approach to helping the body heal itself, we could save so many lives, save so much more money, and in some respects put ourselves out of business. What’s it like? What do you sense is sort of the authentic feeling of the people around you?

Dr. Wren Burton: And so I think. That’s a very deep question. Primarily, I’m in the center, so I we kind of have our own suite up on the fourth floor of one of the Brigham Buildings. And so I think everyone there kind of has that mentality. Everyone there is very committed to patients getting better and making patients as best as they can and doing what we can for the patient and obviously improving their quality of life. And so it goes, I think larger that that question would be posed towards just kind of the greater health system. And I think more so what I’ve done in the past, not so much what I’ve done during this fellowship, kind of I don’t want to say addresses that more, but it definitely is something that I think the health care system. Can improve on. I think there’s we all know there’s lots of gaps there. And I think having these chiropractors in hospital settings and making it easier is the first step because then that referral is just next door. It’s not a private practice doc down the street to these MDs who are a little bit more not as open to it, then they know the doctor. They can just walk down the hallway and say, Hello, I’m sending you my patient. And it’s a little bit different in that respect. But that would be my overall impression of it. I can’t speak for obviously every health system across the country, but I think here it’s definitely very positively integrated.

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Wren You are just a fantastic example of really going out there and getting it. I think we first connected when you were still a student and it’s just been fantastic to to watch what you’ve been able to accomplish, even this, you know, this early part of your career. And I can say, you know, we take pride in the fact that you’re part of our extended Smart Chiropractor team and you’re a fantastic writer, a great chiropractor and somebody I think all of us should should look to for somebody willing to stretch their comfort zone, get into a new situation and understand that you can do a lot as a chiropractor and you can impact lives in a variety of ways. So on behalf of Jason and our entire team, I want to thank you for coming on talking this down, and I look forward to catching up in the not too distant future. And we can get an update on the progress as you go through. I think that would be fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on.

Dr. Wren Burton: Thank you both so much for having me.

Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Thank you for listening to interviews by The SMART Chiropractor. Join us again next week for another episode and leave us a review when you have a moment. This episode has been brought to you by The SMART Chiropractor. The SMART Chiropractor can deliver more new patients, better retention and more consistent re activations to your practice without spending any money on paid advertising. Learn more and get started today at The SMART Chiropractor.

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