Tomorrow's Medicine: Medical Schools Advocate Better Education

| July/August 2000

  • Medical student Michael Amster and his fiancée, acupuncturist Rasa Sammy, collaborated to introduce an elective course on Oriental ­medicine into the curriculum at the University of California at Irvine.

Imagine a future in which your family doctor is as well-versed relieving pain with acupuncture as with anti-inflammatory drugs. If trends in medical schools around the country are any indicator, this change may happen sooner than you think.

According to various surveys, including a May 2000 survey by Consumer Reports magazine, as many as 40 percent of patients are seeking alternative treatments—and they tell their doctors about it. This means that more medical students have tried complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) or are keenly aware that their future patients may be pursuing alternative health care.

“Medical professionals have generally taken the approach of bringing science to the bedside,” says Gregory Plotnikoff, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. “But we’re saying at this point in time it’s important to bring the bedside to science—what are people needing?”

The American Medical Association is also paying attention. The organization issued a 1997 report that stated, “Medical schools should be free to design their own required or elective experience ­related to alternative/complementary health care practices.” A study in the September 2, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that more than half of U.S. medical schools have elective courses in CAM therapies or include these topics in required courses.

Physician, Teach Thyself

Before he enrolled in medical school, Michael Amster had a strong interest in herbal medicine. He was brought up with an appreciation of the outdoors and plants and went on to study botany and molecular biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he found in the community “a mecca for alternative healing education.” He met herbalist and acupuncturist Christopher Hobbs, whom he later worked for as an assistant, researcher, and writer. Amster is now a fourth-year medical student at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) and is actively working to bring new course matter into the curriculum.

Amster says his education should prepare him to be a physician who has a “relationship with the patient and can honor the physical, emotional, and spiritual issues that patient has.” He envisions a practice in which he collaborates with an acupuncturist, herbalist, and naturopath who discuss and work on cases together.

7/14/2014 1:02:36 AM

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