Creating Sustainable Curricular Change: Lessons Learned from an Alternative Therapies Educational Initiative

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Abstract

The authors describe the process by which a curriculum was developed to introduce complementary and alternative medicine topics at multiple levels from health professional students to faculty, as part of a five-year project, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, from 2001 to 2005. The curriculum was based on four educational goals that embrace effective communication with patients, application of sound evidence, creation of patient-centered therapeutic relationships, and development of positive perspectives on wellness. The authors analyze the complex and challenging process of gaining acceptance for the curriculum and implementing it in the context of existing courses and programs. The developmental background and context of this curricular innovation at this institution is described, with reference to parallel activities at other academic health centers participating in the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. The authors hold that successful curricular change in medical schools must follow sound educational development principles. A well-planned process of integration is particularly important when introducing a pioneering curriculum into an academic health center. The process at this institution followed six key principles for successful accomplishment of curriculum change: leadership, cooperative climate, participation by organization members, politics, human resource development, and evaluation. The authors provide details about six analogous elements used to design and sustain the curriculum: collaboration, communication, demonstration, evaluation, evolution, and dissemination.

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