In 1998, the U.S. Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as one of the institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health. NCCAM's mission is to explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, to train complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) researchers, and to disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals.
NCCAM was established primarily because of the public's continuing wide use of CAM therapies. Recent estimates indicate that approximately 36% of the U.S. adult population uses CAM therapies for health reasons.1 NCCAM broadly defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. NCCAM divides these therapies into four domains. These are biologically based practices, such as dietary supplements; energy medicine, such as electromagnetic radiation; manipulative and body-based therapies, such as chiropractic manipulation; and mind–body medicine, such as meditation. In addition, NCCAM supports research on whole medical systems, which cut across all domains, such as traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.
Since it was established, NCCAM has developed two five-year strategic plans: 2001–2005 and 2005–2009. Crafted with input from the public, scientists, and health professionals from both conventional and CAM fields, these strategic plans outline broad goals and objectives in four areas: investing in research, training CAM investigators, expanding outreach, and facilitating the integration of effective CAM practices with conventional medicine.
Currently, NCCAM's mission is based on four areas of focus that stem from these goals and objectives:
- Advancing scientific research: NCCAM has funded more than 1,200 clinical and basic research projects at scientific institutions across the United States and around the world.
- Training CAM researchers: supporting training and career development for new researchers as well as encouraging experienced researchers to study CAM.
- Sharing news and information: providing timely and accurate information about CAM research in diverse formats, such as the center's Web site, its information clearinghouse, fact sheets, lectures, medical education programs, and publication databases.
- Supporting integration of proven CAM therapies: NCCAM's research and education initiatives help the public and health professionals understand which CAM therapies have been proven to be safe and effective.
In the eight years since the center's founding, NCCAM-funded research has produced a number of outcomes, including demonstrating the efficacy of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis and tai chi to boost shingles immunity in older people. In addition, NCCAM supports curriculum development education programs, such as those featured in the articles in this issue of Academic Medicine. These programs are designed to enhance the level of awareness and provide authoritative information about CAM practices to the conventional health professions communities, and to improve health care in an integrative medicine environment.
To learn more about NCCAM, please visit: (http://nccam.nih.gov).
1 Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. Adv Data. May 27, 2004: 1–19.