Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Head To Head

Should medical students be taught alternative medicine?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 28 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2417

Rapid Response:

Re: Should medical students be taught alternative medicine?

Yes, Medical students should be taught ‘about’ alternative medicines.

I would agree in principle that medical students should be taught ‘about’ alternative medicines [1]. But the teaching should not be done by advocates of alternative medicine but by open minded clinicians who are able to point out the thin evidence base which underpins most alternative medicines.

Medical students need to be educated about all the commonly used alternative medicines so that when patients ask questions, the budding doctors are in a position to explain to patients that it is mostly not advisable to use the myriad of alternative medicines.

Tomorrow’s doctors should be taught to be non-judgemental of patients who use the alternative medicines. They should also learn to avoid being dogmatic and, keep an open mind and be scientifically curious about unexplained effects of some alternative therapies [2].

More importantly, medical students should be made aware of the clever marketing techniques and sophisticated sales tactics used by many web based, alternative medicine practitioners to lure the gullible patients. And John Diamond’s book ‘Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations’ should be on their reading list [3].

1 Catto G, Cork N, Williams G. Should medical students be taught alternative medicine? BMJ 2014;348:g2417–g2417. doi:10.1136/bmj.g2417

2 Sundar S. Effect of Mistletoe on Cervical cancer (n =1) | BMJ. (accessed 1 Apr2014).

3 Ferriman A. Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations. BMJ 2001;323:288. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7307.288

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 April 2014
Santhanam SUNDAR
Consultant Oncologist
Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust
Nottingham. NG5 1PB