Raby, who is Modern Physician's 2012 Physician Entrepreneur of the Year, says she always loved science, but didn't realize she wanted to be a doctor until she was in college at the University of New Mexico. A few years after completing her bachelor's degree in health education, Raby entered the University of New Mexico Medical School in 1987 where she immersed herself in the study of Western medicine, but never forgot the lessons of her childhood.
Raby completed her internship and residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, now called Rush University Medical Center. In 1996, she took a job as an internist at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group in Chicago. It was there that Raby says she became more acutely aware of how modern medicine sometimes misses the mark by treating illnesses rather than proactively supporting health and wellness.
“As I became more involved in patient care, I saw that things like diet, water quality and environment were having a huge impact on patients,” says Raby, 52. “I saw conditions Western medicine couldn't do anything about—cancers, neurological conditions, chronic pain and fatigue. There was a gap and something I knew was missing.”
From the start of her career, Raby says she took an integrative approach to practicing medicine—treating each patient as a whole person rather than a set of symptoms. When people came in for routine Pap smears or colonoscopies, she would take the time to talk to them about their diets and sleep habits. Or, if a patient whose tests were normal still complained of fatigue, Raby says she would dig deeper to determine the emotional, chemical and physiologically factors that could be contributing.
As she became more convinced that her integrative approach was resulting in positive outcomes for patients, Raby began sharing her ideas with her colleagues. At first, she says some physicians were skeptical, but Raby says she “kept pushing it.”
“The fact that I did what I did in a teaching institution was a huge risk for me,” Raby says. “But the fact of the matter was that I was able to have a conversation with any doctor about Western medicine, so I got them to have conversations with me about how krill oil or fish oil works.”
Raby's persistence paid off, and in 1997 she was given the green light to launch the Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. As the medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine, Raby was able to more fully explore the ways that alternative treatments can augment traditional medical practices. For example, she would recommend acupuncture before and after a woman underwent in vitro fertilization. She also spent time educating other doctors and residents about integrative medicine.
Dr. Diljeet Singh is a gynecologist who specializes in women's cancers. Singh worked at Northwestern at the same time as Raby, and the two doctors would refer patients to one another. “One of the big things I appreciated about (Raby) is that she was very hands-on and individualized with her patients,” Singh says. “Her patients always came to me prepared to see a cancer specialist.” Singh describes Raby as having a “healer attitude.” She says Raby has a clear vision about how healthcare should focus on the whole person.