This week, I started an unlisted elective in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). An unlisted elective is one that is not listed in the Case elective course catalog. With the school's permission, you create it yourself. The impetus for me to want to study CAM was that I have had multiple patients in clinic asking me about herbal remedies, acupuncture, and the like. I have to admit that I am woefully ignorant about these subjects, and so were many of my attendings. Even though some doctors think that alternative medicine is bunk, my experience is that a lot of patients believe in it, so I thought I should at least understand a little about it.
For the elective, I am reading a book about herbal remedies used for various purposes and some articles about the history of alternative medical systems like osteopathy and chiropractic. I am also spending some time shadowing an osteopathic physician (to see manipulation), a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, and an herbalist. At the end, I will write a ten-page paper about all of these alternative therapies. Since so many people are interested in CAM, starting tomorrow, I will post each section of the paper online, including my references.
For those of you who want to learn more about CAM, please keep in mind that there is a lot of biased and self-serving misinformation about CAM out there on the internet. (Actually, there is plenty of misinformation about medical topics in general, but it's especially problematic for CAM.) If you would like to consider using CAM therapies for your own health care needs, I recommend that you discuss CAM with your physician. In addition, you should educate yourself about CAM by only visiting websites that provide reliable, evidence-based information for consumers.
One of the best sites I've seen is hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is a government research organization that funds much of the medical research done in the United States, including clinical trials. You can find a great deal of reliable information about many types of CAM by visiting the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine webpage .