Combining the Holistic and Academic: A Student’s Look at Alternative Medicine in Traditional Settings

Christina Lewis in duke gardens
Christina Lewis. (Photo courtesy Christina Lewis)

As a pre-health student majoring in Religious Studies with minors in Biology and Chemistry, Christina Lewis (T, ‘24) wanted her honors project to tie together her academic interests and explore ways in which she, a future clinician, might best serve her patients.

Lewis’ thesis focuses on alternative healing practices and how they are applied in Western medical settings. She’s investigating why certain practices with religious or spiritual elements are embraced by integrative medical clinics affiliated with reputable university hospitals, but are not fully incorporated into Western practice. Tracing the history of Western medicine's response to these healing practices, Lewis argues that including these practices in Western settings may allow physicians to provide more patient-centered care and adopt a more holistic approach to healing.

“I think that it’s important to acknowledge that health extends beyond the biochemistry of the body,” said Lewis. “A person’s relationship to their health is influenced by a variety of factors — their environment, their culture, their family and their beliefs.”

As part of her studies, Lewis was able to count a Duke Divinity School course, Healthcare in a Theological Context (RELIGION 759S), towards her major requirement. The course gave her a chance to have practicing clinicians as classmates, many of whom were putting the intersection of religion and healthcare into their work.  

Lewis also joined a Bass Connections team for three years.  Her team researched trauma-informed teaching and learning in higher education, with the goal to make Duke a safer and more inclusive environment for trauma survivors.  

“I’m so proud of what our team has accomplished so far and hopeful that our research can help Duke become a more accommodating and empathetic space overall,” said Lewis.

Lewis also explored outside of her academic pursuits.  She had no idea how beautiful the Triangle was, and how much of the terrain is protected.  She hopes that incoming Duke students will do the same.  

“One of the best (and cheapest) ways to spend my free time with friends has been to explore Duke Forest, Umstead, and other outdoor spaces around campus and in the surrounding cities,” she said.

After graduation, Lewis will continue working as a nurse aide and will apply to Physician Assistant school next year. She hopes to keep examining the link between traditional and holistic medicine and their intersections.

“As someone who wants to practice medicine, I’m so thankful that religious studies has given me a lens through which I can better understand other people in times of illness and ailment, but also celebrate with them in times of hope and joy.”