Here at Science-Based Medicine we’ve been getting a lot of letters from medical students. This is a good thing and a bad thing. I’m glad people see us a a resource for SBM, but I’m unhappy that medical students: 1) need us; 2) don’t have someone to approach on campus. Let’s explore some of the more subtle ways cult medical practices infiltrate medical education.
In order to give all of their students experience in outpatient medicine, most med schools must reach out to the community. Sure, some med schools have big enough clinics to support an experience for all of their students, but that’s the minority. For their internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine rotations, med students often spend time at private doctors’ offices. These offices are minimally vetted, and I’d venture to guess that the vetting does not include checking for non-standard practices. In fact, schools are so desperate for spots, that almost any office will do. It’s good for students to see how medicine is practiced in the “real world” but that real world often involves cult medicine practices. Along the same lines, many practitioners are not up to date on the most recent best practices. I remember a family doc I worked with who used to give huge doses of intramuscular steroids to people for seasonal allergies. This isn’t the best idea, but I was a student. Who was I to tell him how to practice medicine?
We don’t police our colleagues very effectively—we have surrendered that duty largely to the courts. However, if doctors want a medical school affiliation, it seems a small price to allow the school to come in and see if the office practices medicine according to the standard of care. In addition to checking for the most minimal quality standards, it would rule out docs who are offering voodoo in place of medicine.
Early in the history of this blog, I wrote a rather long post expressing my dismay at the infiltration of unscientific “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or “integrative medicine” (IM) modalities into American medical schools. In it, I listed the medical schools that had embraced pseudoscience through having started a CAM/IM program (a list desperately in need of an update). Moreover, we have also complained vociferously here about a clear effort on the part of advocates of faith-based medicine to infiltrate bastions of science-based medicine and to piggyback their agenda onto President Obama’s health care reform initiative in a clear political strategy to slip CAM/IM into any health care reform legislation as a form of “preventative medicine.” It’s all part of a multi-pronged strategy to claim popular and legal legitimacy in the absence of scientific legitimacy. At one point I even despaired because of the apparent success of half physician, half CAM huckster Dr. Andrew Weil at developing a CAM/IM curriculum that would be part of the mandatory training program in several family medicine residencies, while the rest of us watch Senator Tom Harkin try to promote pseudoscience in the halls of the Senate.
However, since one of our newest co-bloggers, medical student Tim Kreider, arrived, I’ve come to appreciate that medical schools and medical school curriculae are ground zero in the battle for science- and evidence-based medicine. Besides the infiltration of non-science-based modalities into the standard curriculum, another technique for making medical students believe that woo is equal to science is the student “campus CAM group” that invites, for example, homeopaths and naturopaths to give talks to medical students, too many of whom are too timid to challenge them on their pseudoscience. However, a reader of a “friend” of mine wrote me an e-mail that truly appalled me. In fact, it appalled not just me, but all of my co-bloggers who read it. It’s from a medical student in an American medical school. It’s not Harvard or a huge famous medical school. However, it is in medical schools like this one where the vast majority of medical students are trained in this country. If the infiltration of CAM/IM into medical schools continues in this way, we’ll have more than just “integrating” woo into the medical school curriculum from day one. We’ll have more tales like this; eventually, no one will find such tales unusual or even unacceptable anymore. The shruggies will no longer even shrug anymore. Such clinics will become simply the way medical students are educated. The following e-mail is de-identified, and I’ve edited it a bit to make as sure as I can that it is not traceable: