Sara L. Warber, MD

headshot of sara warber

Home Institution: University of Michigan School of Medicine

Field: Integrative Family Medicine & Women’s Health

Current Positions:

My Driving Question

What is the lived wisdom of women’s relationship with nature that could inform how we create health for all (human, animal, plant, etc.) within the context of environmental change?

Scholar Project 

Dreams of Nature, Health, and a Balanced Life: An Exploration of Women’s Art, Writing, and Living Experience

The health of humans and the health of nature are inextricably intertwined. Yet we are not necessarily motivated to act in accordance with this fundamental truth. Recent news has highlighted concerns about climate change in the wake of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, released by the UN. Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of Working Group II, commented, “The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future. The next few years are probably the most important in our history.” In the United States, the 2018 National Climate Assessment emphasized both the economic and health consequences of climate change.

Thomas Berry writing in The Great Work: Our Way into the Future in 1999, and summarized in the Great Teaching Work of Thomas Berry (Schenck, 2015) suggests that:

We need new means of cultivating ourselves if we are to live differently on the Earth. Developing and telling the new story is one component of establishing such cultivation. … [This new story is found in] myth, ritual, and dream; liturgy, poetry, and music; in wisdom literature and renewed philosophies and theologies; in the plastic arts of all kinds – painting, sculpture, architecture.

The wisdom of women was identified by Berry as essential to the way forward in reshaping our relationship with the Earth. Women have a particular interest in health, often being the decision makers within families about how and when health care is accessed. In addition, women have often been identified with the nurturing aspect of nature, i.e., Mother Nature. And in some Native American cultures, women have a role in the protection of nature, especially water. Berry notes that “…women seem to be more prominent in active doing, especially in the immediate work of preserving a viable planet for future generations.”

As a Nova Institute Scholar, Sara L. Warber, MD is undertaking powerful work to inspire others to imagine anew our human ways of living, such that we have a template for transformative action to support an expanded view of health that includes both humans and the environment. To examine these challenges, Dr. Warber and a women’s collaborative of academics, arts professionals and forest therapists will undertake a mixed methods study of women’s textual data, visual art and lived experiences in nature. The study will include overlapping phases, with iterative integration and dissemination occurring throughout the project, culminating in an art exhibit coordinated with provocative community engagements.

The initial phase will explore and synthesize written expression of women’s perceptions of nature and health. Women artists, organizations, and groups working at the intersection of art, nature, and health will be identified.  The next phase will move the exploration of this intersection into museums with rich repositories of women’s art.

The lived experience phase will engage diverse groups of women on excursions into nature utilizing two innovative ways of connecting people and nature. Forest therapy is an intervention to promote human health through brief sensory experiences in nature. Music of Plants uses biofeedback and electronic music technology to translate plant electrochemical changes into sound. Documentation and evaluation will include in-depth interviews, expressive art, brief self-report scales on spiritual wellbeing and nature engagement, as well as photography and videography.

Themes identified through the first three phases will be used to create a curatorial vision for an art installation/exhibit with companion experiential and socially provocative community art events. The goal of the exhibit and events is to inspire and support ordinary women and men to become people ready to speak and act for the health of both humans and nature. Imagery has power to touch emotions – beyond our mind – and we need to engage more than our minds in order to act in the world.


Sara L. Warber, MD, is nationally and internationally recognized as a leader, researcher, educator and clinician in integrative healthcare. She is currently an emeritus professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan (U-M) Medical School.

Dr. Warber has contributed to the national and global advancement of integrative medicine through:

  • co-founding the International Society of Complementary Medicine Research, a professional, multidisciplinary, non-profit scientific organization that is devoted to fostering complementary and integrative medicine research;
  • service to the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (now Academic Consortium of Integrative Medicine and Health) as the first treasurer and a six-year member of the executive committee; and
  • current work with the World Health Organization (2017-present) on their Expert Task Force to study “The Integration of Traditional &Complementary Medicine into health systems, in particular primary health care services.”

Dr. Warber is the co-founder and former co-director of the U-M Integrative Medicine program which included research and education, funded through a five million-dollar NIH center grant. Additional NIH funding awarded to Dr. Warber supported creating and evaluating an Integrative Medicine curriculum in U-M medical school, other U-M health professions schools, and a faculty scholars program that spread integrative health to courses throughout the U-M campus. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funding allowed her to expand integrative medicine education into the Preventive Medicine Residency at University of Michigan School of Public Health.

In 2000, Dr. Warber became a founding diplomat of the American Board of Holistic Medicine. She subsequently developed the University of Michigan Integrative Family Medicine clinic where she provided holistic primary care, pre-natal to elderhood, and integrative medicine consultations in women’s health and the use of herbal medicine within the environment of a high-level research-oriented institution.

In 2013, Dr. Warber won a Fulbright Scholarship to study “Nature-Deficit Disorder” and focus deeply on research into the salutogenic effects of nature on health and wellbeing, as well as other aspects of the healing response. Through the Fulbright award, she established a second academic home at the European Centre of Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Truro, UK. Subsequent appointment as honorary professor at the University of Exeter Medical School has facilitated numerous international research collaborations.

Dr. Warber is the co-author of Natural Products from Plants, 2nd Edition and over fifty peer-reviewed journal articles on use and measurement of integrative therapies, the phenomenon of healing, nature and health, and the effects of complex interventions on human well-being.

Education and Training
  • Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Fellowship, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (1997-99)
  • Family Medicine Residency, Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (1993-97)
  • MD, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan (1987-93)
  • Pre-Med, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti Michigan (1983-86)
  • BFA, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois (1970-73)
Selected Honors
  • Core Faculty, Qualitative Methods, National Clinical Scholars Program, University of Michigan, 2016-2019
  • Executive Committee, Michigan Mixed Methods Research and Scholarship Program, University of Michigan, 2016-2018
  • Fulbright Scholar, US-UK Fulbright Commission; University of Exeter, European Centre for Environment and Human Health, Truro, UK, 2013-2014
Selected Publications