Lessons learned from complementary and integrative medicine curriculum change in a medical school

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Abstract

Objectives

This paper describes a pilot study that examined lessons learned from the introduction of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) elements into a medical school curriculum.

Methods

A qualitative approach was selected as a first step in evaluating the phenomenological experience of introducing the CAM Educational Project in 2000–05. In 2005, semi-structured interviews were conducted with faculty staff and graduating students who had participated in all 4 years of the CAM Project. Qualitative content was analysed focusing on linguistic data and contextual meaning.

Results

The overall response to the integration of CAM curricular elements into the medical school curriculum was positive among all faculty and graduating medical students. Participant experiences were often dependent on the perceived rigour of alternative approaches to a presenting patient problem, along with the importance attributed to openness to patient perspectives as part of evidence-based practices. There was an appreciation of the importance of developing increased awareness and utilisation of CAM in medical practice, as well as a recognition of resistance by some medical school faculty to CAM approaches.

Conclusions

This evaluation of a specific CAM educational project suggests potentially transferable findings to other medical schools. Integrating CAM into the medical school curriculum requires a dedicated team if it is to result in a significant change. This change requires that CAM practices are visible to both students and faculty, that there is a co-operative climate, accessible resources, and institutional support, and that CAM content is embedded into the existing curriculum. All these factors combined can lead to sustainable integration of CAM content issues into the medical school curriculum.

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