Physician Spotlight: Dr. Jim McMinn
Dr. Jim McMinn (second from left) relaxes with musician friends.
Dr. Jim McMinn learned to appreciate new places, people, and ideas early in life.
Growing up with a father in the Army, he attended 11 different schools in 12 years, living in cities scattered across the United States from New York to Kansas, and overseas in Germany and Panama.
“Panama was fantastic,” McMinn says. “You have both beaches, the Atlantic and Pacific. I enjoyed interacting with the Panamanian people and learned a little bit of Spanish.”
When his father was stationed in Germany and McMinn was finishing high school, he got to explore Europe, at one point traveling from above the artic circle in Norway down to Israel, where he worked on a Kibbutz.
“It was an agricultural commune,” he says. “I found it fascinating. Everyone rotated through the different jobs, sharing them equally.”
McMinn left the Kibbutz for college, where the future physician majored in engineering, which led to a stint as an engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency. He loved the mission of the EPA, but got frustrated with the politics. After much soul searching, he started medical school with the intention of returning to his family home in Alabama and working as a country doctor.
That plan was postponed during his residency in Michigan where he met his wife, Cheryl, a veterinary surgeon and PhD., who was on the faculty at Michigan State. They moved to Boston, where she did research at the Harvard School of Public Health and he worked in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital ER.
It was there, in the emergency room, that Dr. McMinn had an experience that stimulated his interest in alternative healthcare modalities, which would ultimately lead him to his present practice. A lady had been brought in, writhing with back pain. The Harvard medical students examined her and told McMinn that she was in terrible shape. They recommended a broad range of treatment and diagnosis, including a CAT scan, an IV, morphine, and an orthopaedic consult.
“I went in to see her,” McMinn says, “and I was examining her, trying to see if she was tender. I was palpating her back and I asked if it hurt there. She said, ‘no, go up a little higher.’ So I did and she said, ‘right there; a little harder.’ I ended up giving her a pressure point massage for about five minutes, and low and behold, the pain evaporated. She hoped off the gurney, totally pain-free. She was elated.
“Every way you slice it – cost effectiveness, efficacy, potential for downside effects – the massage worked better than anything else we would have done.”
By 1997, when the McMinns moved to Alabama, Dr. McMinn’s interest in alternative medicine had grown. In addition to working in the UAB Highlands Emergency Room, he has opened a primary care practice called First Care, where he uses a holistic approach with his patients, working with traditional medicine, massage, meditation, diet and acupuncture.
He’s found acupuncture to be helpful with a number of patients, particularly those with back pain, neck pain, and arthritis. “There’s nothing that works every single time,” McMinn says. “However, for many patients it helps and there’s no downside; no drug interactions, no side effects. I’ve had patients who were unable to get relief from any other treatment modality. You do acupuncture and it gets better.”
The Chinese, who have been practicing acupuncture for over 4000 years, base the therapy on the concept of chi, which means life force energy. They believe that chi flows throughout the body, and that health problems can result from blockages in the flow. Many westerners have been skeptical of the existence of chi because we’ve been unable to observe or measure it.
McMinn became convinced that the Chinese were onto something when he attended an acupuncture demonstration in San Francisco. “They did a PET scan on a man,” he says. “They shined a strobe light in his eyes and we could see the increase in the flow of energy to the ocular part of the brain. Then they did acupuncture at the point in the hand that affects the ocular cortex and the same area lit up, exactly like it did with the strobe light.”
While acupuncture can help patients who are in pain, McMinn is a firm believer in preventative healthcare. In this regard, he rates diet as extremely important. “I saw a patient in the ER recently who had problems with ten issues: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, on and on. Ten issues and number ten was morbid obesity. Yet obesity caused the other nine problems. And obesity is rampant in America. I’ll look around the ER sometimes and I’ll see every single patient is obese.
“The flip side is, I think the American medical system has dropped the ball. We don’t discuss diet with our patients. And there’s very little emphasis on nutrition in medical schools.
“It’s all diet and lifestyle,” McMinn says. “Lifestyle, meaning we’re too sedentary, as well.” McMinn practices yoga and tai chi, and tries to make sure that his patients are getting enough exercise.
McMinn says that his holistic approach is not for everyone. “For people who want to age gracefully and make the most of their life through proper diet, nutrition, and exercise; those are the people I can most help. In medicine, we’re good at taking care of you after the first heart attack. But we’re terrible at preventing the first heart attack. I’m trying to prevent it.”