Med Schools Include Alternative Medicine

By By U Wire

By U Wire

BALTIMORE?Medical schools are enriching the traditional medical curriculum with survey courses that provide an overview of the increasingly popular field of alternative medicine. Students attending medical schools such as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine can expect lectures on acupuncture, meditation and herbal medicine beyond the traditional studies of sicknesses, labs on cadavers and bodily functions.

The new addition to the Johns Hopkins curriculum is a wide array of practices known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM. Students appreciate the school?s effort to bring awareness and understanding of the emerging practices.

?I think it is important, if for no other reason than some people will be using those therapies, whether we like it or not,? said Anthony Graves, a Johns Hopkins medical school student. ?It is necessary to understand exactly what a patient is doing? in order to treat that patient effectively.

Area medical schools also uphold the belief that doctors need to fully understand what the patient is going through in order to treat the illness effectively.

Since the probability of the patient’s use of the new practices is rising, medical schools have, in recent years, moved to add information on CAM to their required and elective coursework. Both the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine now include at least some basic CAM lectures in their curricula.

The action is in response to a growing embrace of CAM both by health-care consumers and by the medical establishment.

In 1992, Congress established the Office of Alternative Medicine (now called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) at the National Institutes of Health. The American Medical Association charter likewise encourages members to ?become better informed regarding alternative medicine and to participate in appropriate studies of it.?

In the May 2000 issue of Consumer Reports, a poll showed that 35 percent of respondents had used alternative treatments during the past two years.

?Our patients are using [alternative medicine], and so we need to know what things work. We need to know what things are dangerous. And we need to be able to advise our patients, who are asking us about these things,? said Adrian Dobs, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins school of Medicine’s interest in CAM is dramatically escalating. Last year, Hopkins secured an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The money supports CAM research, as well as a monthly seminar on alternative therapies.

Dobs pointed out that doctors would like to know if any alternative therapies might help in their healing work. At the same time, they want to be sure that uncontrolled herbs, such as vitamins, are not interfering with their patients? mainstream treatments.

?We want physicians to know and understand what it is their patients are taking,? Dobs said. ?Some of these botanical products have some serious side effects, and so we want them to know about some of the unique issues and problems that face them when they care for patients who use these things.?

CAM advocates say there is a sound business rationale for encouraging doctors-in-training to take an active interest in alternative therapies.

Mind-body therapies used to control pain and stress could eliminate 37 percent of visits to the doctor per year, according to the Health Education Alliance for Life and Longevity, an information resource center in Eureka, Calif.

With American health-care spending expected to reach the $2.1 trillion mark by 2007, the center says these mind body therapies alone could save the country some $54 billion a year.

At the University of Maryland School of Medicine, students learn about CAM through 13 hours of required coursework, and clinicians utilize acupuncture, herbalism and meditation as well as conventional therapies.