“I just feel like I’m so much more successful now than early in my career,” says neurologist Allen Gee, MD, PhD. The reason: He gets to practice neurology the way he wants to. For him that means taking an integrative approach to the care of his patients in a building he designed to maximize health and wellness. His practice, The Healing Space in Cody, Wyoming, offers floor-to-ceiling views of the surrounding mountains, a yoga studio, a sleep lab, an instructional kitchen, and a space for mindfulness.
All this serenity didn’t happen overnight, though.
Gee is from Nebraska, and becoming someone who says “out loud and in public that eating T-bone steaks, mashed potatoes, and sweet corn is not the best meal for you” was a challenge. Meals aside, growing up on a farm as the fifth child in nearly as many years also had its challenges.
“I made a connection between stress and anxiety and health issues in myself at a pretty young age,” he says. By his freshman year of high school he was suffering from extreme abdominal pain. “I was actually hospitalized at that time, and no one could figure out what the source was. But in the back of my head, I related it to stress and anxiety that I was experiencing.”
Later in college while taking The Physiology of Behavior he learned there was science behind this mind-body connection. He graduated with a double major in biology and psychology and went off to medical school. His understanding grew even more robust as he pursued a joint MD and PhD in Psycho-neuro-immunology, followed by residency in neurology. “As I was going through residency I remember working with a professor who said, ‘You’re not going to treat headaches successfully until you get the patient sleeping.’”
Over time, sleep was joined by exercise, mindfulness, and nutrition to form what he believes are the foundations of neurohealth. “And then for years, after I was in practice, I would always try to figure out ways to integrate those ideas and concepts back into clinical practice.” He referred patients out for things like sleep studies and physical therapy, but then came the idea of having a practice that integrated these elements under one roof.
At about the same time, he read a book called Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being by Esther Sternberg. The book points at ways architecture and design have been shown to affect our neurobiology and how we heal. These ideas about space and environment coalesced well with his integrative approach to neurology and turned into concrete plans to build a new practice: The Healing Space. “So when I tried to design this facility, I tried to integrate those concepts, while providing space and opportunity for the neural health foundational drivers.”
It took a while (and more than a few architects) to get the design right, to navigate city zoning issues, and to finally get the building up. And like all neurologists in private practice, he continues to face hurdles, but being able to take care of his patients the way he does now makes it worthwhile. Now, more than a decade since he opened his doors, Gee says, his practice is doing well. “We are expanding actually. We’re working on another facility in Gillette, Wyoming.”
View more photos of The Healing Space in the slideshow below: