An Evaluation of the Evidence in Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine Programs

Marcus, Donald M. MD; McCullough, Laurence PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181b185f4
Integrative Medicine Programs

Alternative therapies are popular, and information about them should be included in the curricula of health profession schools. During 2000 to 2003, the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine awarded five-year education grants to 14 health professions schools in the United States and to the American Medical Students Association Foundation. The purpose of the grants was to integrate evidence-based information about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into the curriculum. The authors reviewed the educational material concerning four popular CAM therapies—herbal remedies, chiropractic, acupuncture, and homeopathy—posted on the integrative medicine Web sites of the grant recipients and compared it with the best evidence available. The curricula on the integrative medicine sites were strongly biased in favor of CAM, many of the references were to poor-quality clinical trials, and they were five to six years out of date. These “evidence-based CAM” curricula, which are used all over the country, fail to meet the generally accepted standards of evidence-based medicine. By tolerating this situation, health professions schools are not meeting their educational and ethical obligations to learners, patients, or society. Because integrative medicine programs have failed to uphold educational standards, medical and nursing schools need to assume responsibility for their oversight. The authors suggest (1) appointing faculty committees to review the educational materials and therapies provided by integrative medicine programs, (2) holding integrative medicine programs’ education about CAM to the same standard of evidence used for conventional treatments, and (3) providing ongoing oversight of integrative medicine education programs.

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

Dr. McCullough is professor, Center for Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Marcus, Department of Medicine, MS 285, Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030; telephone: (713) 798-6014; e-mail: (

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges