Attitude Towards CAM Among Medical Students?

For all that CAM proponents like to claim their methods are philosophically different from (and of course superior to) mainstream medicine, they also can never resist claiming scientific legitimacy or popularity among mainstream health care professionals. “Integrative medicine” is the buzzword for the effort to encourage doctors to mix unproven or outright disproven therapies in with real medicine and then give the woo the credit for any improvement and “allopathic” medicine the blame for any adverse effects.

A recent survey of medical students illustrates the agenda of integrative medicine nicely. One author, a CAM researcher at UCLA named Ryan Abbott, claims: “Complementary and alternative medicine is receiving increased attention in light of the global health crisis…Integrating CAM into mainstream health care is now a global phenomenon, with policy makers at the highest levels endorsing the importance of a historically marginalized form of health care.” These are big claims, and while there certainly has been encroachment of CAM into academic medicine and powerful figures in government are pushing the CAM agenda, I am not convinced that there is a wave of support for legitimizing unproven or nonsense therapies among practitioners, students, and teachers of scientific medicine.

This study claims to show high levels of support among medical students for integrating CAM methods into mainstream medical training and practice. As always with surveys, how the questions are asked says a lot about the reliability of the answers, but the full article is not yet available at the eCAM Journal site, so I can’t evaluate that. The authors do indicate, however, that the response rate to their survey was only 3%, which is extremely low. Response rates necessary to view a random population sample as representative are closer to 70%, so any generalization based on this data would be unjustified. Likely the only students who bothered to respond were those already predisposed to favor CAM, or perhaps those sufficiently motivated against it to take the survey, so it is doubtless a skewed sample. The response rate itself certainly does not suggest the level of interest in CAM that the authors seem to be trying to use the reslts to argue exists among medical students.

The authors also repeat the tired and inaccurate cliches about CAM being more “holistic” and “individualized” that scientific medicine. All-in-all, this “research” looks simply like an attempt to create the perception that the mainstream medicine is beginning to “see the light” and that doctors will soon be more open to spending more time and effort on placebo therapies. One can only hope the perception doesn’t become the reality.

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