- S. L. Baker
Are up-and-coming young doctors going to practice the same kind of mainstream medicine as their predecessors? Will the next generation of docs turn up their noses at alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, herbs and vitamins -- just like the majority of the current crop of docs? In what may come as a surprise to many mainstream physicians, the answer to those questions may be a resounding "no".
According to research published in the online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM), 75 percent of medical students surveyed think it would be beneficial for conventional Western medicine to integrate with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM places emphasis on natural therapies and using the body's own healing powers instead of relying on drugs, vaccines and other standard Western treatments.
A University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of California, San Diego, research team comprised of experts in the fields of CAM, integrative medicine, Western medicine, medical education and survey development created a first of its kind 30 question survey that was distributed to 126 U.S. medical schools. Some 1,770 medical students completed the survey -- roughly, about three percent of the 68,000 medical students nationwide. Although the response rate to the survey was fairly low, the researchers say it provided valuable insights into current medical students' perceptions of CAM.
For example, the findings revealed that 77 percent of the medical student participants agreed patients whose doctors are knowledgeable about complementary and alternative medicine in addition to conventional medicine benefit more than those whose doctors are only familiar with Western medicine. In fact, 74 percent agreed that a medical system which integrated conventional medicine with CAM could be more effective that either type of medicine used independently.
A whopping 84 percent of the participants surveyed said CAM contains beliefs, ideas and therapies that could benefit conventional medicine. Some of this attitudinal shift in medical students could be the result of personal experiences -- almost half of the participants said they had used complementary and alternative treatments themselves.
"Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, is receiving increased attention in light of the global health crisis and the significant role of traditional medicine in meeting public health needs in developing countries," study author Ryan Abbott, a researcher at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, said in a statement to the media. "Integrating CAM into mainstream health care is now a global phenomenon, with policymakers at the highest levels endorsing the importance of a historically marginalized form of health care."
The study also found that more than 60 percent of the medical student participants want more education related to CAM during their time in medical school. In a press statement, the researchers noted that although more than 50 percent of U.S. medical schools currently offer some type of CAM courses, these studies could be streamlined into more formal curricula as part of standardized medical school education.
"Although the content of integrative medicine programs remains controversial, medical schools across the country are moving forward with ambitious new programs to teach the next generation of health care leaders," concluded Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, the Wallis Annenberg Professor of Integrative East-West Medicine at UCLA, founder and director of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, and chair of UCLA's Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine.
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