This 2022 Healthline Stronger Scholarship winner believes integrative medicine will revolutionize the conventional understanding of health and disease.
From a young age, Rodrigo Bravo has felt frustrated with the limitations of Western medicine. He lives with nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney disorder.
Doctors told Bravo at age 10 that his kidneys may never function properly and that his life may be shortened as a result of the condition.
Yet they could not tell him what caused the condition. Some doctors suspected that there was an environmental factor (like a toxin) involved, though the exact culprit is still a mystery.
Bravo eventually made a spontaneous recovery from the disease, but the experience stuck with him.
He realized that Western medicine needed to start taking into account other aspects of a person’s life — such as their nutrition, stress, environment, and even subconscious trauma — in order to better understand disease and find new ways to promote healing.
Now a public health advocate and physician-in-training, Bravo hopes to gain an even deeper understanding of integrative medicine. The goal: help people better manage the health effects of climate change.
The 28-year-old will start his first year of graduate studies at Yale University this fall. He plans to launch a consultancy to help healthcare centers set up integrative medicine programs — and one day run his own clinics.
“I am an example of the radical healing that can occur as a result of mind-body unity, and I am so excited to bring this to everyone,” he said.
We asked Bravo about his studies, goals, and obstacles. Here’s what he had to say.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.
My lifelong passion for helping others heal was inspired by the illnesses I experienced in my early life.
Throughout my childhood and into my mid-20s, I endured a number of rare and chronic conditions that Western medicine could not resolve.
At age 10, I was told that my kidneys might never properly function and that my life expectancy would likely be reduced.
It wasn’t until I looked into integrative and holistic medicine that I found life changing solutions for my own health. I quickly began asking questions about how we could improve the healthcare system for others in a similar position.
I grew up with a model of Western medicine that failed to consider the role of things like nutrition, lifestyle, stress, and the environment, all of which can affect diseases and overall well-being.
It also failed to take into account subconscious trauma, spiritual health, and the mind-body connection, which felt critical for me. These elements are the bread and butter of the rapidly evolving field of integrative medicine.
My goal is to help the allopathic (or Western) model of medicine better incorporate these aspects of health and wellness into patient care.
During and after my time at Harvard, I ran a marketing accelerator called BAST Marketing Lab, which helped start-ups that were focused on social and planetary good. It was later reborn as Bee Positive, an accelerator for integrative medicine initiatives.
I was in the middle of bringing reiki and biofield medicine (a type of complementary and alternative medicine) to the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in Georgia when COVID-19 hit, which unfortunately put the project in the backseat.
In the meantime, I started medical school and began exploring neurotechnology, neuro- and bio-feedback, and technology-facilitated mind-body medicine. I helped launch Supermind, a start-up focused on mental health. It uses neurotechnology to address psychological conditions through brainwave training.
In the future, I plan to launch Bravo Conscious Health, a consultancy to help healthcare centers expand their integrative medicine programs and clinics.
I will also debut my own sustainable clinics that will offer therapies based on the science of psychoneuroimmunology. That’s the study of how thoughts, beliefs, and emotions affect the functioning of the nervous and immune systems.
A new era of conscious medicine is trying to emerge in the United States as we catch up with older cultures that have understood and applied the power of the mind-body connection and transpersonal psychology for thousands of years.
It is trying to revolutionize the mainstream understanding of health and disease. It also comes with an agenda to resolve social and planetary injustices.
Concepts such as spiritual health, emotional health, and climate change are fundamental to understanding an individual’s health. But they’ve often been left out of the conversations people have with their doctors and healthcare team.
To inspire the next era of medicine, we’ll need to educate people on what it means to include planetary, transpersonal, and emotional well-being in healthcare. We’ll also need to influence policy decisions and incorporate these ideas into modern healthcare.
Overcoming these obstacles will require a deeper understanding of current problems. We’ll also need cooperation among changemakers and leaders who want to see evolution in allopathic medicine.
I’ve been interested in global health since I was young and living with nephrotic syndrome, a poorly understood condition that affects the kidneys.
No one knows exactly what caused my condition or why I eventually made a spontaneous recovery. However, doctors have considered the possibility of a connection to something in the environment, such as a toxin, an infectious disease worsened by the climate, or radiation exposure while my mother was pregnant with me in Bolivia.
My happy ending is not common, though — especially among those living in places with limited access to nutritious foods and clean drinking water.
Now as a public health advocate and physician-in-training at one of the most sun-beaten places in the United States, I have already observed the effects of climate change on the community. I’m seeing more instances of heat-associated conditions, like heat stroke and dehydration.
It’s important to note that the changing climate can also affect mental health. My work at Supermind involves using neurotechnology to support mental wellness.
As we prepare for a future where mental illness will be exacerbated by extreme weather and natural disasters, I am driven to continue working at the intersection of climate change and medicine.
Our bodies reflect what is happening inside of us, as well as in our surroundings. Those who are already experiencing the health effects of climate change are instrumental in helping us achieve a course correction.
They are evidence that our current terms of engagement with Mother Earth are not working, and we need a change in science and policy.
I would encourage people to write to their elected officials and legislators about their policy concerns and ask them to prioritize environmental health. You could also include letters from your physicians explaining the relationship between your medical conditions and the changing climate.
Sharing personal stories on social media can also be a powerful way to support environmental activism. You can also find other opportunities to get involved through advocacy groups.
Lastly, I would encourage people to vote every chance they get and to urge their family and friends to vote in the direction of planetary and environmental health.