Back to School
Posted on April 25, 2010 | Author: Dr. Richard Nahas | Category: General | 2 Comments
I have spent the past two weeks teaching medical students about integrative medicine. This was one of a number of topics that has been added to the curriculum at the University of Ottawa in an effort to modernize the program and respond to the needs of Canadians. From now on, every graduating doctor will get taught about this new paradigm that integrates evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) into the practice of medicine.
Our curriculum included sessions on herbal medicine, vitamins and supplements, nutrition and lifestyle counselling. It introduced students to mind-body medicine, energy healing and Asian medical systems. But it also went beyond this list of CAM therapies. It also included recent insights into how different parts of the body work together and how they can affect each other - how gum health is linked to heart attacks, how emotional trauma can trigger autoimmune disease and gut health is linked to asthma. And how the body interacts with its environment - including the impact of synthetic chemicals in our increasingly toxic environment on the immune system.
This effort to introduce doctors to the world of alternative medicine is not new. In 1999, the National Institutes of Health awarded educational grants to 15 medical schools in the United States to include CAM teaching in their undergraduate curriculum. These $1.5 million grants came from the budget of their National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Our curriculum did not enjoy such funding - it was actually prepared with no funding at all, by yours truly.
Other Canadian medical schools have some undergraduate CAM teaching. Heather Boon, a pharmacist at the University of Toronto, and Marja Verhoef, a PhD at the University of Calgary are among a dedicated group of people who are committed to this cause. They have developed excellent programs but I think our curriculum is the only one in Canada that is taught by a practicing integrative physician.
This seemed to matter to the students, who were attentive, keen and interested. There were definitely skeptics in the room, and some of them likely walked away from the curriculum thinking that there isn't much proof that CAM therapies work. But I think many students thought otherwise. "This was the best day of medical school", "I have been waiting two years for something like this" and "I have enjoyed this teaching more than anything else so far" are just some of the things they have said.
I don't pretend to take credit for this positive response; I think I have been simply telling them the truth about some things they already suspected were true. There is a lot that is missing from medicine, and astute thinkers recognize this even if they are still green med students. Integrative medicine does a good job of filling those gaps, and helps to make medicine better. That is why I believe it is not an option to learn this stuff.
One thing I wonder about is how this teaching will affect the rest of their education. What will happen when they begin their in-hospital training in August? What will their superiors say if they ask about integrative approaches to treating their patients? Will there be problems? Will the senior staff want to know more about integrative medicine themselves? We'll see. That will be the next step on this journey of mine. I have been told by many that this will never happen, that medicine is simply too big and too broken to change. It is an uphill battle, but I'm going to keep doing what I do anyway. Someone has to.
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