David Kiefer, MD
University of Wisconsin–Madison

David Kiefer

David Kiefer, MD, is a family physician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he sees patients at the Osher Center for Integrative Health and teaches medical students in the School of Medicine and Public Health.  

Dr. Kiefer teaches his students about One Health—a globalized approach effort to obtain optimal health for humans, animals, and environment. Trained in botanical medicine, Dr. Kiefer is especially interested in how people use plants for healing, or ethnobotany—a subset of ethnomedicine that focuses on traditional cultures and indigenous healing practices from around the world.    

Each year Dr. Kiefer accompanies a group of students to Ecuador to experience ethnomedicine traditions. After spending a few days getting oriented in the capital city of Quito, the group heads deep into the Amazon rainforest by way of the Napo River, where they ride a long narrow boat called a lancha for over an hour. They spend 4-5 nights in an Eco Lodge in the heart of the Amazon jungle, where they spend time learning from indigenous healers, or curanderos, about the local ecology in their native language of Quichua. “Language and culture are intertwined,” says Dr. Kiefer. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their beliefs about health, healing, and disease.” 

The program draws health profession students from several disciplines, from medical student veterinarians to pharmacists. “This trip is compelling for any health profession students, because anytime you are face-to-face with someone, you are having a cross-cultural experience,” says Dr. Kiefer. “My hope is that students take these lessons about one-on-one cross-cultural interactions and incorporate that into care with future patients. The feedback I get from my students is that they get a greater understanding and interest in global community.” The program is open to students from other universities, as space allows.   

For those who can’t make it to Latin America, Dr. Kiefer encourages folks interested in plant medicine to look to their own communities. “There is an exciting new field called urban ethnobotany where we look at what is available in our own backyards,” says Dr. Kiefer. “For example, a sample taken from an urban garden near a trainline in New York City showed comparable biodiversity in plants than in a comparable sample from the Amazon rainforest. We can do incredible cross-cultural work here at home.”  

Dr. Kiefer is excited to be a new member of the Osher Collaborative. “It’s inspiring to be connected with so many incredible people who are passionate about the same things,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to share what we learn in our local communities with other experts around the country.”