2019 Top Doctor: Cheri Dersam

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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Integrative Medicine

Med School/Year Graduated: University of Arizona, 1998

Years in Practice: 21

Integrative medicine is a relatively new Top Docs category. Can you tell us in layman’s terms what you do?

As an integrative physician, my goal is to help improve a patient’s health rather than just manage their symptoms. My approach is healing-oriented and takes into account the whole person: mind, body and spirit. Sometimes we do in-depth testing of digestive function, food sensitivities, hormone balance and predictive biomarker analysis that rarely get tested in the
conventional model.

What compelled you to open Integrative Medicine Clinic of Arizona?

I loved my work as one of the staff physicians at the University of Arizona Integrative Health Center that Dr. Andrew Weil established here in Phoenix. After the clinic closed in 2016, I wanted to continue that great work, but there wasn’t a place for me in Phoenix with the same team approach, so I set up my own practice.

You started in emergency medicine. How did that experience inform your work as an integrative physician?

While working as an emergency physician, I saw the growing number of patients with diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune disorders. Most of my tools were prescription medications to treat their symptoms, but not always solve the problem. Many times [integrative physicians] can change the trajectory of their health to reduce pharmaceutical medications and minimize symptoms by helping the body to heal itself.

You grew up in Phoenix. Do you think there’s anything special or distinct about our health needs in the Valley, compared to other places?

Yes, as the city’s grown, so has the traffic and the smog. I’ve also heard some new Phoenicians talk about the difficulty of meeting their new neighbors or making new friends. I think it’s important to not only address the obvious such as the effects of too much sun or getting people outdoors to exercise, but also how a patient’s health is affected by their daily commute, environmental toxins and the possibility of social isolation.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love to plant flowers in my garden. It’s my way of painting my little corner of the world.

What are you watching on Netflix these days?

I usually try to catch up on the series that I missed like Call the Midwife. I have had fun recently watching reruns of Friends with my teenagers. I remember watching Friends as a social event just out of college. Everyone would come over and eat pizza and beer and watch together. Now I’m watching it with my kids, but without the beer, and the pizza is gluten-free.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

I thought about being a clown in the circus and even became excited that there was an actual clown college. I was a clown for the U of A Spring Fling one year during college, but didn’t realize that people, especially kids, are afraid of clowns. I’m not sure a career as a clown would pay the rent, either, so I decided on medical school instead.

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