After completing studies in China, California and New York, he now serves as the director of the integrative medicine clinic at ETSU, and as assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Quillen College of Medicine.
Borja’s areas of expertise reflect his heritage. He affectionately refers to his parents as "Hisp-Asian" because his mother is Filipino and Cuban, while his father is Chinese and Spanish.
"[Spanish] was my first language, but like many raised in the U.S., I lost the skill simply because I did not want to use it as a child,” Borja said. “But I have been working hard ever since to get it back."
Borja said integrative medicine combines aspects of allopathic medicine, osteopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. He says it is a growing field.
“Many patients seek a holistic, patient-centered type of treatment,” said Borja. “Integrative medicine uses modern conventional medicine and other evidence-based, non-conventional treatments. It is patient-centered and looks at the whole person.”
About 80 percent of hospitals in the U.S. offer integrative medical treatments, according to Ruthann Russo, assistant professor at City University of New York and author of Putting the HIM in IM.
If a person seeks treatment for a bacterial infection, it is not uncommon for a medical doctor to prescribe antibiotics. This is allopathic medicine, the methods of prescribing medications, surgeries or procedures to treat the symptoms of the patient and work toward a cure.
A patient visiting an integrative medical clinic for neck pain may be treated with osteopathic manipulation instead of painkillers or invasive surgery. A doctor of osteopathic medicine treats patients by massaging muscles, manipulating movement or stretching ligaments. The idea behind osteopathic medicine is that if bones, muscles and ligaments are functioning properly, the patient will feel better.
“Osteopathic manipulation is a manual type of medicine. It’s hands-on care,” said Borja. “It’s an extra tool you can help your patients with.”
At an integrative medicine clinic, traditional Chinese medicine treatments may be used for the patient with neck pain. One of these treatments might be acupuncture, where the doctor inserts needles the width of human hair into points on the body to relieve pain. This type of medicine views health as a state of balance, so that if a person’s body is out of balance, the patient feels unwell. According to Borja, traditional Chinese medicine seeks to restore balance.
“A doctor of osteopathic medicine has to take the same college classes and tests to get into medical school; they study the same material, they go through the same residency training and are licensed to practice in all specialties of medicine.”
– Neil Anton Borja
“Chinese medicine looks at the body as a microcosm of the whole world and universe. It seeks to help a person maintain that balance,” said Borja.
Some medical offices use osteopathic medicine to complement allopathic medicine. A patient with neck pain might be given allopathic medication in addition to osteopathic manipulation or acupuncture in the regions responsible for the discomfort.
Someone unfamiliar with integrative medicine may be concerned about the legitimacy of the field, and may assume a doctor of osteopathic medicine is not qualified to administer allopathic treatments. Borja says this is not the case.
“A doctor of osteopathic medicine [D.O.] has to take the same college classes and tests [as M.D.s] to get into medical school; they study the same material, they go through the same residency training and are licensed to practice in all specialties of medicine,” he said. "What is different for a doctor of osteopathic medicine is they also train in osteopathic manipulation, which is an extra tool that can be used in treating patients."
Osteopathic medicine and integrative medicine are rapidly growing fields, with many facilities offering these treatments opening daily. Between 2010 and 2013 the number of osteopathic physicians in the U.S. grew from 70,480 to 82,146, and 5,154 osteopathic physicians-in-training were expected to graduate within the year, according to the American Osteopathic Association. Tennessee had 813 licensed osteopathic doctors in 2013, a number expected to grow by the end of 2014.
According to a 2012 study, patients treated with osteopathy have seen results. In a study conducted in the UK, 160 osteopathic hospital patients returned a survey about their experiences. The patients were questioned about their osteopathic treatment 24 hours after it was administered; 74 percent reported less pain, 90 percent had a reduction in anxiety and 98 percent would recommend the treatment to other hospitalized patients.
A benefit of osteopathic medicine is the hands-on treatment and interaction between patient and doctor. Osteoopathic manipulative treatment can be used on patients of all age groups, allowing more interaction between doctors and patients at all life stages.
“One of the things I love about this job is that I see a varied group of patients,” Borja said. “We see everybody from the cradle to the grave—everyone from newborns to our very oldest patients.”
Borja enjoys the variety of patients he sees at ETSU Family Physicians, and said patients are excited to have more options for medical treatment.
Harriet Masters, director of the ETSU Women’s Resource Center, invited Borja to speak at a women’s health lecture in October.
“When I saw that we [at ETSU] hired you, I thought, ‘Well, I guess we’re finally breaking out of the box,’” Masters told Borja.
Some patients who do not receive integrative treatment have expressed interest in making the switch to ease their muscle and bone pain.
“I would consider this type of treatment for my fibro,” said Brooke Edward, a patient with fibromyalgia. “I like the idea of controlling my pain at the source instead of taking medications alone.”
Testimonials for osteopathy can be found from patients receiving numerous forms of treatment. From gastric bypass for weight loss to fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes unexplained muscle fatigue and pain, doctors of osteopathy have treated thousands of patients.
One fibromyalgia patient in Texas saw improvements in her condition after two treatments. Her doctor administered osteopathic manipulation treatments on the muscles where the pain was centered. Following those initial treatments, the patient, whose name was given as Elida, now visits her D.O. weekly and said her pain has subsided. In her testimonial on the osteopathic.org website, she stated she was eventually able to stop taking pain medications altogether.
Patients want results when they seek medical treatment. The growth of the integrative medical field is evidence of its results.
“If an integrative medicine treatment has evidence that it benefits patients, they should be able to get it,” said Dr. Borja. “If it works, by all means use it.”
Photos: April Richardson