A Major Milestone: ACLM Inducted into the American Medical Association House of Delegates 

ACLM Executive Director Susan Benigas shares the experience of attending ACLM’s induction and the many unexpected lifestyle medicine champions encountered there. 

By Susan Benigas, ACLM Executive Director 

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What perfect timing that the June 10 induction of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) into the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates (HOD) would take place in 2024—ACLM’s 20th anniversary year!  The induction marks a seminal achievement, made possible by the fearless leaders who cast vision for the College back in 2004 and all who have invested time, passion and leadership over the past two decades.  

I had the opportunity to be in Chicago attending that June 10 HOD meeting, accompanying ACLM Immediate Past-President Cate Collings, MD, FACC, FACLM, DipABLM, who is ACLMs inaugural delegate.  She was joined by Samuel Lin, MD, PhD, MBA, MPA, MS, ACLMs inaugural alternate delegate.  Dr. Lin is one of AMAs longest-standing members to be involved with its HOD, having been one of five medical students who, in 1971, persuaded the HOD to grant its first delegate seat for medical students.  This later transformed into the HOD Medical Student Section.  Sam served as one of the first student delegates in 1972.  Now, over 50 years later, he chairs the AMAs Senior Physician Section.  Im beyond grateful to both Cate and Sam for being such outstanding ACLM representatives. 

Cate, Sam and I attended the AMA candidate reception on the Sunday evening before our Monday HOD induction.  There, I met the new chair of AMA’s Board of Trustees, Michael Suk, MD, JD, MPH, MBA, DipABLM—with special emphasis on his “DipABLM” credential. Dr. Suk is a diplomate of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine (ABLM)! Michael became a Certified lifestyle Medicine Physician in 2020. 

Michael then introduced Cate and me to the AMA Political Action Committee (AMPAC) Chair Brooke Buckley, MD, MBA, FACS, DipABLM.  Note, again, the “DipABLM” credential. Dr. Buckley, too, is a Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician! 

Moments later, Sam introduced us to the unopposed candidate for AMA President-elect, Bobby Mukkamala, MD, who was formally elected to the post on June 11.  Guess what?  Dr. Mukkamala is an ACLM member and planning to sit for the ABLM exam this fall, the successful passage of which will earn him the DipABLM Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician credential. 

You can only imagine the elation Cate, Sam and I had when discovering that these exceptional AMA leaders are champions of ACLM and the field of lifestyle medicine!  Sometimes the stars align, and this—indeed—is one of those times.  

The House of Medicine 

AMA, established in 1847, is to medicine what the U.S. Congress is to the governance of the United States.  The AMA is referred to as the House of Medicine,” as it is the gold standard of evidence-based, quality care that serves as the rudder steering our nations healthcare delivery system.  The civil, orderly democratic process that was pervasive throughout the Chicago meetings was impressive.  If only our U.S. Congress operated with such decorum! 

Dr. Suk is an orthopedic surgeon.  Dr. Buckley is a general surgeon and healthcare executive.  Dr. Mukkamala is an otolaryngologist.  ACLMs current and immediate past Boards of Directors include two cardiologists, a physiatrist, an endocrinologist, an oncologist, a psychiatrist, an OB-GYN, a pediatrician, doctors of family medicine and internal medicine, a PhD in behavioral health, a registered dietitian with a PhD in nutrition, a physician associate and a nurse practitioner. This multi-disciplinary and multi-specialty composition is unique among medical professional associations and consistent with ACLMs vision statement: A nation wherein lifestyle medicine is the foundation of health and all healthcare.  While infusing lifestyle medicine into primary care is the tip of the spear—for the benefit of ALL patients—treating root causes of disease is foundational to ALL fields of medicine.   

ACLM is the only medical professional association that advocates for the field it represents to become the foundation of all other fields of medicine—wherein evidence-based, therapeutic lifestyle intervention is the first-line treatment, with the goal of identifying and eradicating the root cause of disease. This enables a clinical outcome goal of health restoration, allowing medication de-escalation, or even discontinuance, to become the norm, with prescription meds being prescribed as necessary alongside lifestyle intervention. 

A state connection 

Another “star-aligning” connection made in Chicago was with new ACLM member Evelyn Jones, MD, FABD, FAAD, president-elect of the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA).  Dr. Jones is a champion of lifestyle medicine, which includes prescribing food as medicine—a whole food, plant-predominant eating pattern.  Evelyn has a powerful personal testimonial about the efficacy of prescribing food as medicine. After a personal health crisis in 2000, Evelyn began studying in-depth how lifestyle behaviors impact health.  She began incorporating into her own life plant-based nutrition, along with other pillars of lifestyle medicine.  As her condition improved, Evelyn wanted to share this information with patients, considering that 80% of chronic disease is connected to lifestyle.  As a dermatologist, she has the advantage of treating an organ –the skin–that her patients can visualize. Inflammatory skin diseases often are a reflection of more systemic inflammatory processes.  As she offers her treatment plan with appropriate medications, she also takes the opportunity to educate and empower her patients to reclaim their health with plant-based nutrition, regular physical activity, and stress management.   

When Evelyn takes the reins in August as KMA’s president, she hopes to launch a challenge within her state, urging all physicians to register—free of charge—for ACLM’s 5.5-hour CME/CE-accredited “Lifestyle Medicine and Food as Medicine Essentials online course.  The course includes a one-hour Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, and the first two modules of ACLM’s Food as Medicine for Medical Professionals multi-module course: Nutrition for Prevention and Longevity and Nutrition for Treatment and Risk Reduction.  Regularly priced at $220, ACLM has now committed 200,000 complimentary registrations for physicians and other clinicians across the U.S. for this course in support of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.  This is just one of ACLM’s curricula offerings made available to fulfill ACLM’s foremost priority of filling the gaping void of lifestyle medicine, including food as medicine, in medical education, and doing so across the entire medical education continuum—UME, GME and CME.  

I’m confident that other state medical association presidents will follow Dr. Jones’ lead of bringing this vital “root cause treatment” training to the physicians and other medical professionals in their respective states. ACLM will be here to support them every step of the way! 

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Our journey here 

It was in 2004 that ACLM Founding President John Kelly, MD, MPH, FACLM, DipABLM, Lifestyle Medicine Intensivist, recognized that there was no other field of medicine that represented evidence-based, therapeutic lifestyle intervention to treat and reverse already existing disease, noting that if the dose was efficacious for treatment, prevention was the natural byproduct.  He boldly took action, joined by a founding group of 100 MDs, DOs and PhDs.  

Flash forward to 2012, and ACLM’s membership expanded to include other healthcare professionals in support of lifestyle medicine’s interdisciplinary clinical practice team—physician-led, with integral support from nurses, dietitians, exercise physiologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, health coaches and others.    

It has been such a joy to be part of this ACLM journey for the past 10 years, having joined ACLM as its executive director back in March 2014.  At that time, ACLM had one part-time event coordinator, 380 members, and bold, courageous leaders who were unwavering in their determination to infuse health back into healthcare. 

Now, 10 years later, ACLM has more than 11,000 members, nearly 60% of whom are MDs and DOs, with representation in every state across the country.  Our staff of 40 team members is spread out across 22 states.  

Dr. Kelly, serving as ACLM’s founding president, was succeeded by fearless leaders who brought vision and energy to the College: Drs. Marc Braman, Wayne Dysinger, Liana Lianov, David Katz, George Guthrie, Dexter Shurney, Cate Collings, and current ACLM President Beth Frates.  

It was during our February 2018 strategic planning meetings that then President George Guthrie, MD, MPH, FACLM, DipABLM, put forth a big hairy audacious goal that ACLM would earn a seat in the AMA House of Delegates.   

In 2019, ACLM founding member Ron Stout, MD, MPH, FAAFP, FACLM, president of the Ardmore Institute of Health—and long-time supporter of ACLM—in tandem with then President Dexter Shurney, MD, MPH, MBA, FACLM, DipABLM, became the inaugural co-chairs of ACLM’s AMA Pathway Task Force.  Ron and Dexter set the wheels in motion for ACLM to apply and become accepted as a member of the AMA Specialty, Service and Society Caucus (SSS).  Being part of the SSS for three years is one of the prerequisites to AMA HOD recognition.  Our three-year mark was achieved in July 2023, coupled with ACLM meeting the other requirements, enabling application for the HOD shortly thereafter.   

To ACLM’s presidents; to all who have served on ACLM’s Board of Directors over the past two decades; to ACLM’s purpose-, passion-driven members; to ACLM’s outstanding staff; to Dexter Shurney and Ron Stout for co-chairing ACLM’s AMA Pathway Task Force; and to Cate Collings and Sam Lin for representing ACLM in the AMA HOD….THANK YOU!   

There is growing recognition—at the highest levels of medicine—that a lifestyle medicine-first approach to REAL “health” care is urgently needed.  To achieve the Quintuple Aim, to manifest whole person health, and to optimize value-based care, lifestyle medicine root cause treatment is essential.  

In May of this year, ACLM announced a major partnership with Blue Zones, LLC, whereby only those first certified in the field of lifestyle medicine, through either the ABLM, the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine (outside the U.S.), or eligible non-physicians by ACLM, will have the opportunity—beginning in 2025—to earn the additional recognition of Blue Zones Certified Physician or Blue Zones Certified Healthcare Professional.   

ACLM’s June induction into the AMA HOD is yet another milestone. Now we countdown to our LM2024 conference—the crescendo of ACLM’s 20th anniversary celebration.  I hope you’ll join us October 27-30 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort and Spa in Orlando, FL for the nation’s premier medical education event of the year. 

The stars are aligning, as the medical community is awakening to what ACLM has been championing for 20 years: sustainable health, sustainable healthcare, and a sustainable world! 

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