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?

There was an interesting debate (Head to Head) regarding whether medical students should be taught alternative medicine (1) As a GP involved in medical education (but also practising CBT and medical hypnosis) I would never question the importance of following scientific evidence, and especially keeping up to date and having the flexibility to change practice in the light of new evidence. But it is vital to remember that the key to success with getting a patient better so often lies in the therapeutic doctor - patient relationship.

I have seen this time and time again but this is hard to measure in a randomized, controlled trial and remains anecdotal. Tapping into the patient’s belief systems and at times gently challenging these belief systems whether regarding illness or their life in general, as well as showing a genuine interest, makes a real difference. One of the major difficulties for GPs is being able to do this within the time-frame of a normal NHS consultation. A longer consultation where taking a history, and doing the relevant physical examination but also examining patients ideas, beliefs and expectations can save a lot of extra appointments and ineffective consultations in the long run.

Unfortunately within the NHS the system is not currently set up for this and even continuity of care with the same doctor spread over shorter appointments can be lacking. Is it surprising our patients will often gravitate to complementary medicine as a means of trying to deal with their dis-ease? Clearly whether complementary medicine is helpful depends on the chosen therapy, the expertise and experience of the provider of care, and the therapeutic relationship (the rapport and belief that the patient has in the therapist that they will get them better). I remain concerned that some patients do resort to questionable therapies and therapists when more time spent with their GP, with our rigorous training and perhaps more critical minds would prove more effective and safe.

Educating medical students about alternative medicine may be more about, as doctors, looking at our own alternative models of providing care to our patients.

Kate Barnes general practitioner, Prospect House Surgery, Great Missenden. HP16 OBG

Competing Interests: None declared.

1. Graeme Catto, Nick Cork, Gareth Williams
Should medical students be taught alternative medicine?

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 May 2014
Kate L Barnes
General Practitioner
Prospect House Surgery
High Street, Great Missenden Bucks HP16 0BG