Today we’re sitting down with the most recent doctor to join our team, (and the first male staff member), Dr. Zach Cohen. Let’s get to know him a little better.
Dr. Zach, can you tell us a little about your background, and what made you want to become a doctor?
I suppose I could trace back my interest in medicine to a photo of me at age 3. I sat on the floor with my Fisher-Price stethoscope intently placed on the abdomen of my snoopy stuffed animal, diagnosing him with “BellyButtonitis.”
I continue to be reminded of how truly awesome it is to be a doctor. I love to help people and find medicine a way to help people in their time of greatest need. I also really enjoy developing long-term relationships, because wellness is a journey, not a destination. I intentionally chose to study allopathic medicine as a foundation on which to build my knowledge and develop additional skills in complementary and alternative medicine. This seemed like the optimal way to train and to become a credible and effective integrative family physician.
To me, the term integrative is almost arbitrary since I believe that using complementary and alternative modalities to healing is just high quality medicine and it is what our patients deserve.
You are a current fellow at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Can you tell us why you chose to complete this program?
In 2001, I was lucky enough to cross paths with a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s fellowship program. Her name was Christine Gustafson, MD and I spent the next 10 years with every free moment I had between college, medical school, and residency learning from her and watching her patients thrive and heal – often without relying on expensive and invasive tests, procedures, and medications.
I was so inspired that this permanently became my path – I was going to become in Integrative Physician and I was going to train with Dr. Andrew Weil and provide the same excellent medical service that Dr. Gustafson showed me. Now here I am, living my dream by practicing integrative medicine and training in the premier Integrative Medicine program in the world. The modular format also allows me to participate in this world class training but also to serve my Atlanta community.
What do you want to accomplish through patient care at ACHIM?
I aim to become a healer because wellness is about quality of life – not necessarily about the absence of disease. There is more to illness than biochemistry and physiology. We are seeing more and more studies published promoting the value of healing of the mind, spirit and energy as well as the physical body.
Can you give us one tip that will help us stay healthy during the holiday season?
I have several tips to stay healthy during the holiday season. Without a doubt, the number one piece of advice I can offer is to eat mindfully. This does not mean that you have to show up at Thanksgiving dinner with your Vitamix and a bag full of kale and gluten-free crackers. I do believe that eating is also more than biochemistry—eating is emotional, spiritual, cultural, and hard-wired into our brains as being pleasurable. Eating mindfully involves making active choices as to what you put on your plate.
Try to avoid the Leaning Tower of Pisa situation on your plate by carefully choosing what you plan to eat. Try to avoid the highly sugar-sweetened marshmallows, canned cranberry sauces, fruit juices and sodas, and pick your desserts wisely. If you choose to enjoy alcoholic beverages, please do so in moderation. Pay full attention on the experience of each bite, always confirming that you are still hungry and not just eating because it is there.
Second, many people have their highest periods of stress, anxiety, depression and sometimes conflict during the holidays. I encourage you to deal with this in a healthy fashion. Many people benefit from breathing exercises, meditating, journaling, self-hypnosis, calling a friend, seeing a therapist, getting acupuncture or marma therapy, and many other healthy interventions. We cannot always control the stressors in our lives, but we can always work on our response to them.
Some people deal with these difficult feelings by overeating, consuming too much alcohol or worse. Suicides happen every year during the holidays and they are often not talked about or swept under the rug. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or are having conflict, try to work on your response. You are not alone. The holidays are very tough on a lot of people. If you have suicidal thoughts or ideation, this is a medical emergency and you need to call 1-800-SUICIDE or 911 and get help before it is too late. If not for you, do it for your family.
Finally, and on a lighter note, the holidays offer a great time to exercise. With more days off, family in town and beautiful southern weather – take a long walk, hike at Big Trees or Lullwater and enjoy nature’s beauty, take your bikes or walking shoes to the beltline, greenway or silver comet trail or play at one of Atlanta’s many great parks. Our friends up north will remind us that it is almost never too cold to enjoy the great outdoors in Atlanta, and I encourage everybody to play outside (children and grown-up children alike)!
How do you spend your time when you’re not at The Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine?
I am a big outdoorsman. My peaceful place and spiritual temple is in the woods or on the water as far away from civilization as possible. Atlanta is a great location for me because I can head 2 hours north and be in the mountains, 4 hours southeast and be on the coast, 30 minutes to the Chattahoochee river, and 3 hours southwest and be in the swamp. The only thing we don’t have is the desert, and I get that every time I go to Tucson, AZ as part of my Fellowship program.
I try to use the grocery store as little as possible — hunting and fishing for my meats, caring for our three actively laying chickens, tending to the garden, and getting the rest from local farmers. I love to go on picks with local non-profit Concrete Jungle, where we pick local fruits, learn about them and donate them to local homeless shelters. Of course the occasional trip to Your Dekalb Farmers Market is always a treat.
I play about 10 different musical instruments and enjoy playing ice hockey, softball and racquetball. I guess you could say I’m a busy guy, but I love to maximize both my time at work and my time at play.
We know you like to travel. What has been your favorite trip you’ve taken?
My wife and I recently spent 3 weeks in India in the southwestern state called Kerala. While there I was lucky enough to be plugged in with several Ayurveda physicians and spent several days discussing patient care, learning procedures and treatments, and experiencing the inpatient and outpatient Ayurveda experience from both a doctor’s and patient’s perspective. We were also lucky enough to tour the Ayurveda University’s 700+ species medicinal herb garden.
Learning aside, Kerala is also one of the most beautiful places on earth. Lush and vibrant mountains full of tropical fruits, spices and flowers, and huge tea plantations. Wildlife such as monkeys, parakeets, elephants, tigers, snakes, insects, and fish were around every corner. We spent an entire day hiking through a tiger preserve in Periyar spotting wildlife, rafting through the lake, and getting to know the natural beauty that India has to offer. Dr. Manojkumar, Dean of Medicine and Department Chair of internal medicine at the Ayurveda College in Kottakal made me promise to come back, and bring more doctors next time. I plan to fulfill this promise.
What are you most excited about in 2015?
2013 was a tough year for my family, 2014 was great, and 2015 I think will be my best year yet. With residency behind me, an amazing new job in a great environment surrounded by like-minded people, a new group of patients who are motivated to take an active role in their wellness, and the privilege to learn alongside experienced Integrative doctors like Dr. Bhatia and Dr. Grossman– 2015 should be great!
2015 brings many other joys as well: my first year of marriage, my brothers established in happy and fulfilling lives only a car-ride away, and many more blessings from my very large and loving family here in Atlanta. I am truly blessed.
Anything else you would like our patients to know?
“Be proud of what you do, and have fun doing it.” ~B.W. Blount, MD