Pioneering Whole Systems Researcher Marja Verhoef, PhD, Retires

By John Weeks

One of integrative health and medicine’s most significant, pioneering and visionary researchers, University of Calgary’s Marja Verhoef, PhD, is retiring.

In 2002, Verhoef co-founded the international Whole Systems Research Group (aka the Island Group). Via this team she published and helped clarify “Methodological Challenges in Whole Systems Research.” A believer in the importance of building capacity through networks, Verhoef co-founded and was the first president of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research.

Verhoef was also the co-founder and co-chair of Canada’s IN-CAM (Interdisciplinary Network on Complementary and Alternative Medicine) that focused on an outcomes and effectiveness agenda, rather than the inappropriately reductive, efficacy focus south of the Canadian border. Her publications, through 2009, are listed here. One jewel of that IN-CAM legacy is a resource for the international community of researchers who focus on the real world, the registry. In 2011, Verhoef won the prestigious Dr. Rogers Prize award for excellence in leadership in complementary and alternative medicine.

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Comment: The Dr. Rogers’ page on the Verhoef award begins with this: “Dr. Marja Verhoef is far too humble to list the accomplishments that led to her winning the $250,000 Dr. Rogers Prize for Excellence in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” That is my own experience of her when our paths have had a chance to cross over the years. Nothing I can say will speak more clearly to her value that her own words in that Dr. Rogers’ write-up: “I’m passionate about Whole Systems Research, because CAM treatment systems can only be done justice by research that acknowledges their complexity and the interconnectedness of the various treatment elements. It is not acceptable to say that we don’t have such methodological approaches. If that is so–we need to develop them.” If we don’t have such methods, we need to develop them! What researcher has done more to set the tone and build an infrastructure for the paradigm shift in research that necessarily must accompany, and lead, such shift to whole systems in care? It is clear from Verhoef’s life-work that the answers are not merely in the corporate, expensive and thus exclusive solutions of big data. The charge is to all of us.

This article originally appeared in The Integrator Blog.

Author: John Weeks

Weeks’ Integrator Blog News & Reports and monthly Integrator Round-up are considered top sources on policy, business and academic developments for the field. He is also executive director of Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC) where he directs the Center for Optimal Integration: Creating Health. He speaks widely on the policy, business and history of the movement for integrative health and medicine.


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