Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Integrating Complementary and Alternative Medicine Education into the Pharmacy Curriculum

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Integrating Complementary and Alternative Medicine Education into the Pharmacy Curriculum

Article excerpt

Objectives. To evaluate the effectiveness of an integrated approach to the teaching of evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in a pharmacy curriculum.

Design. Evidence-based CAM education was integrated throughout the third, fourth, and fifth years of the pharmacy curriculum. Specifically, an introductory module focusing on CAM familiarization was added in the third year and integrated, evidence-based teaching related to CAM was incorporated into clinical topics through lectures and clinical case studies in the fourth and fifth years.

Assessment. Students' self-assessed and actual CAM knowledge increased, as did their use of evidence-based CAM resources. However, only 30% of the fourth-year students felt they had learned enough about CAM. Students preferred having CAM teaching integrated into the curriculum beginning in the first year rather than waiting until later in their education.

Conclusion. CAM education integrated over several years of study increases students' knowledge and application.

Keywords: complementary and alternative medicines, curriculum, evidence-based education


More than 50% of the world's population uses complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), mostly in combination with conventional medication. There is growing evidence outlining the benefits as well as the possible adverse and side effects of CAM. (1) As primary care providers, pharmacists are both accessible to patients and one of the most trusted healthcare professionals. As such they are at the forefront, providing information and guidance to patients about safe and effective use of all medicines.

Pharmacists generally rate their knowledge relating to CAM as inadequate and are not confident in answering patient inquiries. (2-5) A survey among Australian community pharmacists showed that 57% of the pharmacists stated that their training had not met their needs regarding CAM knowledge, that they relied heavily on manufacturers' information about CAM, and that their lack of suitable training was one of the perceived barriers to information provision about CAM. (6)

Studies surveying pharmacy schools in the US concluded that while approximately 80% of schools offer some form of CAM training in the curriculum, CAM education was primarily offered as electives and generally focused on natural products rather than the full range of CAM practices. (7-9) Similar to the studies in the US, the extent to which CAM is taught and integrated varies widely among Australian and New Zealand pharmacy schools, which is partly because in Australia the integration of CAM into pharmacy and medical curricula is not mandatory and is handled quite differently at various institutions. (10-12)

Importantly, most surveys of medical and pharmacy students revealed that the majority of students welcomed the inclusion of CAM education in the medical (13-16) and pharmacy curricula. (17,18) However, most of the studies indicated that students had insufficient knowledge to be able to recommend or counsel about CAM. (13,19)

By interviewing practicing Australian community pharmacists, Semple et al identified the need for integrated, nonbiased, evidence-based undergraduate CAM training that is not conducted by CAM manufacturers. (6) Such findings support the debate to integrate CAM training as a core component into health professional education instead of offering it as electives, as it will provide students with the expected knowledge. (9) Moreover, an elective course could be seen as marginalizing CAM in the minds of students and staff members as a fringe topic only appealing to a few. (20) Integrated CAM education provides students not only with CAM specific knowledge, but also encompasses much broader themes, encouraging them to think outside the box, thus promoting critical evaluation of the evidence. (11,21) As such, integrated CAM education can be the "bridge between allopathic medicine and CAM," (22) thus closing the gap between the 2 streams of healthcare and allowing medical pluralism, which is demanded today by patients and students alike. …

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