Dr. David Jones, a family practice physician in Ashland for the last 45 years and a pioneer in preventative medicine — integrating nutrition, exercise, lifestyle factors — is retiring Aug. 31, with plans to enjoy life reading, hiking and taking visits to the Oregon coast with his wife, Kathi Bowen-Jones.
Jones, 74, has been chief of staff at Ashland Community Hospital and president of the Southern Oregon Society of Preventive Medicine during his career, and was a founder of the Institute of Functional Medicine, which trains professionals in personalizing health care with treatment of “underlying causes of illness … instead of us diagnosing symptoms and handing out tablets.”
Jones grew up in the Richmond-San Pablo area of San Francisco Bay, where he was surrounded by poverty and the illness of his parents, who had eighth-grade educations. His relentless questions about sickness and his desire for knowledge drove him to get a degree in English literature and linguistics. From there, he jumped into med school at UC Davis.
A few years into his practice, Jones said to himself, “There has to be more to this, the origins of illness” and he began intensive research into why people get sick — and how they can get back to health and maintain it, but not just with pills, he says, which “just suppress symptoms.”
From this, Jones and several other like-minded doctors worked from the foundation that “poor nutrition, lack of exercise and increasing stress leads to an imbalance we call disease” and founded the nonprofit Institute of Functional Medicine in Puget Sound. It has 60 employees now.
“These were lifestyle issues we were trying to treat pharmacologically,” said Jones, “but for me, it’s about truly caring for the patient in all domains of life.”
Functional medicine also looks at “social determinants” in the community, including exposure to food deserts, which are areas with no healthy food within walking distance. Jones took part in a study in Baltimore where they found that life expectancy and wellness could be predicted from where you got off the train or bus — that is, if you lived in a low-income neighborhood with little or no health care, there’s a huge chance you won’t be too healthy.
A philosophy emerged for Jones, that “the patient and I get to an empathetic place. I say ‘tell me what your real problems are.’ I lay out the options and ask which ones can they commit to.” In one case, he notes, it was the fact that a woman couldn’t get a business loan to start her dream restaurant and was being badgered and harassed in her present job. Jones actually helped with the bank. The woman got the loan and soon symptoms faded.
“Yes, it takes longer. There’s more profit in diagnosing and handing out tablets, but I didn’t go to med school to hold hands with the pharmaceutical industry … I really do care for people and get to know them.”
As word gets out about his retirement, Jones says many come in to say goodbye and he expresses “lost feelings,” but he reassures them his nurses and a fellow physician (who is both an M.D. and an osteopath) are all tuned into Functional Medicine.
Jones is chief-editor of the “Textbook of Functional Medicine” (2005). He is author of “Healthy Changes,” a patient-centered 16-week workbook, which focuses on health-risk reduction. He was primary author of the recently published: “21st Century Medicine A New Model for Medical Education and Practice,” available at the IFM website (www.functionalmedicine.org).
Jones notes that a main point that came out of his research with a group of 23 patients who faced “long-term healing from a terrible thing” is that those who did well always had someone who believed in them. Sometimes it was a dog, sometimes their health care provider, sometimes someone else.
“At some point they had to reframe the trauma, such as rape, betrayal, physical trauma, addiction — so it became possible for them to understand it.”
In a letter to patients, Jones said, “Over these years my hands have greeted the tiny surfaces of some 850 of your babies; I have checked in on your tonsils, eardrums and attended you seasonal sniffles. I have stitched up more than a few foreheads and fingers and seen the magic in how a colorful Band-Aid can instantly wipe away tears.”
A memo from office manager Leticia Taroli says, “It has been somewhat of a Marcus Welby life for Dr. Jones and his over 3,000 patients over 45 years in Southern Oregon. The delivery of medicine in the 21st century has changed tremendously but there are still a few that are solo practices with that community small town connection. As Functional Medicine is becoming more popular through Dr. Oz, Dr. Mark Hyman and the new Functional Medicine center at the Cleveland Clinic, we think it is of great importance that we mention that Dr. Jones is the co-founder of the Institute of Functional Medicine which is a fully accredited nationally known institute for post graduate education for M.D.s and other healthcare practitioners. A private retirement celebration is set for September so Dr. Jones can thank his family of patients and staff.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.