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Integrative Medicine Elective Has Become A Top Choice For Fourth Year Medical Students

“A truly empowered patient is the ideal patient,” Delia Chiaramonte, MD, wrote in an opinion piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association (http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/300/12/1393.full). She is the Center’s Director of Clinical Education and it’s a point of view she impresses upon 4th year medical students taking the Integrative Medicine elective.


Chiaramonte, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, encourages students to keep an open mind about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).  Most of the students know very little about CAM before taking the elective.


One of the students in the fall semester, Elizabeth Kenez was skeptical about the benefits of Integrative Medicine. “When it came to medicine I grew up in a conservative household. If you had a cold and a cough my mother gave you cough medicine. She would have never considered or even known about an herbal remedy.  I was dubious about CAM but Professor Chiaramonte encourages us to keep an open mind. At the same time, she pushes us to have a healthy dose of skepticism and to question and challenge her and our guest lecturers.”


When she was a child, medical student Azize Sahan’s parents used different herbs and homeopathy to treat her and her siblings’ illnesses. “My parents were from Turkey where the use of herbs and homeopathic medicine is common. My parents didn’t the side effects of pharmaceutical medications and preferred an alternative that they were comfortable with,” she said.  “The course showed me that there were many other CAM modalities to learn about.” she added


Just as the use of CAM is growing among Americans, word-of-mouth among medical students is fueling greater interest in the elective.  Recent student evaluations show why this is the case. One student praised the course in his evaluation writing, “Best elective I have had. It will be very useful for my personal life and it will have practical applications for my patients in the future. I’m so glad that I got to experience topics that we would never have been exposed to in medical school.“


Students especially find the classes about nutrition and herbal medicine useful. Margo Gladding, a nutritionist in the clinic for the Center for Integrative Medicine, stresses the importance of providing patients with information about their diet and its affect on their health. Gladding also has an MA in herbal medicine and explains ways herbs and supplements may interact with pharmaceutical drugs.


Chris D’Adamo, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Integrative Medicine, teaches classes about popular diets and dietary supplements, subjects not covered in the core medical school curriculum. Two students’ evaluation comments underscored this fact, “I enjoyed learning about nutrition – that component of our education is missing in medical school. Some of the diet and nutrition information should be incorporated in our 1st and 2nd year so that all medical students get this information.”


Kenez and Sahin found another benefit to the elective was learning the importance of self-care. “The class was good for my own well being. Yoga was very helpful and I appreciate the concept of mindfulness,” Kenez remarked.  Sahan said, “The class encourages you to take care of your own body. Everyone can benefit from Integrative Medicine. It is especially valuable to medical students who are mostly Type A personalities. I learned tools to help me be more at peace with myself.”


“Modern medicine is quick to dismiss CAM… Modern medicine has been around for 150 years, some alternative therapies have been around for a 1,000 years,” Sahan noted.  Kenez added, “I learned about the why and how of CAM. There seems to be some scientific basis for many complementary therapies. It is difficult to grasp but the elective breaks it down to a molecular level.”


Both students were quick to say they would recommend this class to third year students. Azize will be a radiologist but she especially recommends the Integrative Medicine elective for students planning to practice family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics.


The popularity of the Integrative Medicine elective is skyrocketing.  When they were third year medical students, Kenez and Sahan rushed to register for the class because they were worried it would close quickly.  More students than ever before are putting the elective on the top of their elective wish list and queuing up early to get into the class. 


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