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How Should Alternative Medicine Be Taught to Medical Students and Physicians?

Marcus, Donald M. MD

Section Editor(s): Grollman, Arthur P. MD

Special Set: Articles

Advocates of alternative medicine are critical of current medical curricula, and have proposed fundamental changes, including the introduction of “integrative medicine” programs to teach alternative medicine. Medical educators have not replied to these criticisms, and have not developed basic curricula in alternative medicine. The author analyzes the alleged deficiencies in medical education, which are based on misrepresentations of medicine and medical training. (For example, critics state that physicians ignore mind—body interactions; in response, several examples are given to show that training physicians to consider the whole person and to identify and address emotional and social problems—the biopsycho-social model—are central tenets of medical education.) The author also examines fundamental differences between traditional and alternative medicine (e.g., their different attitudes toward the importance of evidence; the vitalistic versus the biomedical models of health and disease) that are central to the issue of how alternative medicine should be taught. He concludes that physicians need additional education in order to provide guidance to patients, but teaching about alternative medicine should be evidence-based, not merely the transmission of unproven practices.

Dr. Marcus is professor of medicine and immunology, Departments of Medicine and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

Correspondence and requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Marcus, Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030; telephone: (713) 798-6014; fax: (713) 798-5780; e-mail: <>.

© 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges