The Nova Institute is more than just a think tank, and we don’t just conduct research—we put ideas into action and bring together thought leaders across disciplines to break down the silos that have impeded progress. We look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health, as we connect the dots and call on the creativity of people of all backgrounds and disciplines. We work to achieve our mission through four main strategies:
- Scholars and Fellows
- Demonstration Projects
Having “heart” is one of the core values that serve as our compass, shape our culture, and embody our guiding principles and beliefs. Our other values are: Leadership; Curiosity; Collaboration; Equity; Freedom; and Can-do Spirit.
- Making a gift to celebrate or commemorate someone special;
- Providing corporate or foundation support for our research, community, and educational programs; and
- Giving a gift of appreciated securities and taking a federal income tax deduction.
We are fortunate to receive support from a diverse mix of foundations, corporations, partners, and individual donors. We are eternally grateful to one anonymous donor who, years ago, believed in our mission and helped establish our organization, including by allowing us to purchase our amazing headquarters in the Broom Corn building.
Much of our work helps people who are often overlooked, underrepresented, and underserved, for example, our research and projects have helped veterans suffering from PTSD, children with serious illness, low income residents grappling with systemic racism and neglect, and others.
Our ultimate vision is to improve health for everyone. We see a world where health is valued as our most basic and essential asset and where people, places, and the planet flourish for the benefit of all. A world where people enjoy meaningful and fulfilling lives—no matter where on Earth they live, work, or play.
We support a network of Scholars and Fellows that works across disciplines to investigate critical questions, spark fresh thinking, and discover cutting-edge solutions. The Scholars and Fellows program supports talented individuals in pursuing bold ideas to transform how we understand and promote health.
We identify preeminent thought leaders with track records of success and creativity and provide them with the freedom and resources to take their work in new, pioneering directions. We also mentor and support talented young innovators who have the courage to pursue uncharted courses and the promise to be the leaders of tomorrow. Our community also advances new research methods, including developing innovative tools and approaches for next generation scientific discovery.
By design, our Scholars and Fellows are from diverse fields—such as medicine, photobiology, atmospheric chemistry, epidemiology, anthropology, and psychology—that rarely, if ever, have opportunities for collaboration. This diversity breaks down traditional barriers, stimulates fresh thinking and new ideas, and leads to partnerships that multiply the impact of their pursuits.
Scholars and Fellows are nominated by external advisers and Nova Institute leadership, and candidates are selected after a review of invited proposals. Unsolicited applications are not accepted.
We’re more than just a think tank, and we don’t just conduct research—we put ideas into action and bring together thought leaders across disciplines to break down the silos that have impeded progress. We work in the space between knowledge and imagination, opening ourselves to the possibilities of new ideas previously unconsidered. We:
- Look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health;
- Connect the dots; and
- Call on the creativity of people of all backgrounds and disciplines to make change.
Our work examines the full spectrum of health, healing, and flourishing through many lenses, which makes us different from many other organizations that tend to focus on the micro.
After founding the first U.S. academic health center program for integrative medicine in 1991 (The Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine), Professor Brian Berman helped ignite and lead a profound change in medical practice that focused on whole person care.
Professor Berman then went on to create The Institute for Integrative Health (as the Nova Institute was then known) in 2007, broadening this work to look at all the factors that create health or drive illness and the eventual need for medical care. Since then, Professor Berman and his team of thought leaders have inspired innovative, evidence-based research, strategic partnerships, scientific publications, and action in academic medical centers and communities that have led to significant advances in health and healing.
In 2021, after 13 years of success as the Institute for Integrative Health, as we were formerly known, we realized it was time for a change. Our organization is an important juncture in our decades-long quest to transform the predominant approach to health and healthcare. We are building on our focus on “person health” and the context of peoples’ lives and communities (places) as well as the health of the planet we all share, and the interwoven connections among all three, and wanted to reflect that in a new name: The Nova Institute for Health—of People, Places, and Planet.
Nova is a metaphor for our organization’s role as a catalyst for new ideas and to spark fresh, creative thinking. Novas, which are often cyclical and not merely one-time events, have long been a source of inspiration, meaning, and connection to the great mysteries of the universe. Most essential elements and building blocks of life emerged from a supernova.
Working with partners is key to the Nova Institute’s success. We have helped establish influential professional and scientific networks and organizations, such as the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health and the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field, that promote global collaboration and nurture advances in clinical care and research endeavors.
When selecting demonstration projects to support, we look for strong partnerships and areas where we have particular influence in order to help sustain successful initiatives. Successful partnerships have included NatureSacred, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, McCormick Science Institute, and the Maryland State Arts Council, to name just a few.
And through strategic partnerships with organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and inVIVO Planetary Health, as well as community leaders and grassroots organizations, we convene forums that tackle some of the “sticky” issues of our times with fresh, collaborative thinking.
In 2016, Nova Institute leadership, scholars, and fellows developed a new definition of integrative health in collaboration with a number of health professionals and other health organizations, including the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine:
Integrative health is a state of well-being in body, mind, and spirit that reflects aspects of the individual, community, and population. It is affected by 1) individual biological factors and behaviors, social values, and public policy; 2) the physical, social, and economic environment; and 3) an integrative health care system that involves the active participation of the individual on the health care team applying a broad spectrum of preventive and therapeutic approaches. Integrative health encourages individuals, social groups, and communities to develop ways of living that promote meaning, resilience, and well-being across the life course.
From Witt, Claudia et.al.: “Defining Health in a Comprehensive Context: A New Definition of Integrative Health”
Medical care has just a 10 percent impact on a person’s health and wellness compared to other factors, but our narrow approach to health continues to largely focus on disease. For too long, we’ve ignored the many reasons why people and communities either suffer or thrive.
Our recent, unprecedented times have laid bare significant threats to people, places, and our planet—and fragmented approaches to find solutions fail to recognize the connections among them. Bold new approaches are urgently needed to overcome this mounting crisis. It’s time to fundamentally shift how we think about health and well-being at all scales, from the individual to the local to the global.
Our work examines the full spectrum of health, healing, and flourishing through many lenses—including nature, art, nutrition, planetary health, integrative medicine, primary care, light, social determinants, lifestyle, post-traumatic growth, and more. All of these are part of our work to look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health.
Over the past thirty years, we’ve been part of a movement to shift the primary approach to health from one that focuses on disease to a more complete, “whole person” approach. This “integrative health” approach considers the many, complex reasons why people and communities either suffer or thrive, and it has seen tremendous growth. Today, our focus has grown even broader.
To find solutions to the significant threats facing people, places, and the planet today, we must acknowledge the connections among them. That’s why we look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health. The concept of the “human exposome” takes into account the many external factors that interact with our individual genetic make-up and influence a person’s health from conception through the end of life, such as diet, pollution, education, economics, public policy, access to nature, and much more.
Through all of our work, we advocate moving beyond a singular focus on disease to a more comprehensive framework that addresses the total lived experience and the components that lead to flourishing—which we define as “the vitality and fullest potential of individuals, communities, and life on the planet as a whole.”