The phrase "he has a wide range of interests" appears frequently in biographical material, but Micah A.S. Howard, MD, gives the reference a new meaning. When he's not working as a family practitioner, hospitalist, certified hypnotherapist, or in hospice care, Howard's off-time pursuits include poetry, fiction writing, visual arts, publishing, and music. And his learning adventures have taken him from India to Haiti to the Czech Republic.
"My mother told me 'You can be anything you want to be,'" he says with a smile, "but I think I mis-heard my mother as saying 'You can be everything you want to be.'"
Howard's first educational trip was six months in India, where he studied Ayurvedic medicine, a set of ancient Hindu healing practices. "Because of my undergraduate work, I figured I wasn't a shoo-in to get into medical school," he says, "so it was on the India trip that I fell in love with traveling and different cultures, learning their music and their approach to life and healing. When a practice is 6,000 years old, it has a lot of information to share.
Medical mission work in Haiti and a residency in the Czech Republic with the Prague Selective for future physicians added further to his cultural awareness, Howard says: "I think along the way I picked up some cultural savvy that allows me to meet a patient where they're at, rather than just bringing my concept of them to the table."
Though he gravitated toward primary care during his training at UAB, Howard was also attracted to hypnotherapy, whose uses include weight loss, smoking cessation, and more.
The mechanism that makes hypnotherapy effective, Howard says, "is to uncover the unconscious processes that are driving people's behaviors. The example I use is learning how to drive a car. It's an incredibly complex machine, but it doesn't take you six months of driving before you start doing all kinds of tasks simultaneously. You've incorporated them into your behavior in an unconscious way.
"Similarly, hypnotherapy puts you into an introspective state that allows you to uncover your core values and beliefs. You may discover that the reason you believed you were doing a particular behavior is not the real reason. Then you can decide, 'Do I really want that choice?' To stop smoking, for example, it's a case of tipping the balance between the desire and the risk--'Is it something I want to stop doing more than I want to do?'"
Howard says a related professional skill--Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP--has proven to be invaluable in relating to patients. Wiki describes NLP as a system through which "a connection between neurological processes, language, and behavioral patterns learned through experience can be changed to achieve specific goals in life."
"For me, I use NLP as an instant rapport-building strategy," says Howard. “I can come into a room with a patient and within 15 minutes instantly bond and uncover some huge things. It's a kind of therapeutic mirror for doing change work and doing it incredibly quickly."
As for Howard's non-medical pursuits in the arts, "People sometimes say, 'How do you find the time?'" he says, "but these activities allow me to get a reprieve at night after a hard day of work. Plus, they're a way to have positive encounters with different types of people and better understand a wide variety of human beings.
"I've also learned something about burning candles at both ends. Which is that energy breeds more energy. A candle has more ends than you knew existed. And a picture is worth a lot more than a thousand words."
The small press Hayloft Publishing, for instance, recently released his short-story collection. "The Lily and the Crow" which he describes as a romance between the character Merlin and the Lady of the Lake. "I've always been a fan of Arthurian legend, and there were always these unanswered questions,” he says. “So I've tried to fit those characters into the legends of others--and with a little science fiction thrown in as well."
Howard first made his mark in visual arts with a first-prize win in the University of Alabama School of Medicine's student art show. The piece was a nature photo collage which he framed with board from an old window of a house he'd lived in most of his life. Nowadays he finds most of his creative outlet for visual expression through designing publications; the most recent title is "Panacea: Healing is the Cure."
As for his musical pursuits, Howard sang and played guitar in bands ranging from original blues to classic reggae between 1997 and 2013, and was co-owner and operator of a Hoover-based studio and label known as Barn Records. He's not currently playing in a band, but says he's recently taken a liking to the piano.
In the professional realm, Howard is in the process of transitioning from a residency to a private practice with the Decatur group River Oak Family Medicine. Its facilities should offer "a lot of freedoms," he says.
But no discussion of professional credentials is complete, Howard says, without mention of his alma mater: "I'll always appreciate UAB and what they do. The university stands as a kind of tower of excellence that I carry with me whatever I do. Being a graduate means something, in this state."