CAM in medical schools: A marketing tool?

Fellow ScienceBlogger (I’m not all that enamored of the term “SciBling”) Abel Pharmboy has finally weighed in on the issue of alternative medicine woo finding its way into medical school curricula and its promotion by the American Medical Student Association, which Dr. RW, Joseph, and I have been discussing the last few days.

Besides using his experience in natural products medicine to discuss this issue, Abel asks a very pointed question from a patient’s perspective:

So, someone like me who feels a doctor doesn’t have time for them might approach any one of the growing number of integrative medicine centers within our nation’s top academic medical centers (or a similar practice setting in the community). Will such a person be met by a trained MD or some questionably-credentialled “professional?” This point is the single greatest threat to the use of CAM within conventional medicine. Will they be told that their asthma is the result of unprocessed grief, or problem with the flow of their Qi, or that a simple mindfulness-based meditation program can help resolve their asthma?

That is indeed the question. My argument has been that these programs may be started with the best of intentions and a determination to remain evidence-based, but they tend not to stay that way. The reason is because the development and teaching of these curricula are very prone to be being taken over by true believers, for the simple reason that most conventional doctors devoted to evidence-based medicine do not have that much interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics; certainly, most of them don’t have the same passion to apply EBM and science to CAM that the practitioners have to practice and market CAM. Moreover, many of the true believers turn out to be, as Abel informs us, “pseudoexperts.”

I’ll have more to say about this sometime next week (I’ve found a real doozy of an example), but I want to thank Abel for making me aware of an additional resource about which I had previously been unaware, Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies (FACT). It’s a tool to add to my armamentarium along with The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.