Background: In view of the current upsurge of interest in, practice of, and research into, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) worldwide and locally, a survey was conducted to gauge the understanding, interest and knowledge of CAM amongst medical students in a local university.
Methods: A total of 555 first to fifth year medical students completed a questionnaire (54% response rate) designed to assess their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to CAM in general and 16 common CAM therapies.
Results: Acupuncture was the best known therapy, with 57% claiming to know at least something about it. No students claimed they knew a lot about chiropractic, osteopathy, Ayuverdic medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy, and many had not ever heard of these therapies. Knowledge of commonly held beliefs about the 16 CAM modalities was generally poor, even for modalities which students claimed to know most about. A significant number of students had knowledge about CAM that was erroneous. Lack of scientific support was considered to be the main barrier to implementation of CAM. Attitudes to CAM were positive, with 92% believing that CAM includes ideas and methods from which conventional medicine can benefit, 86% wishing to know more about CAM and 91% stating that CAM would play an important role in their future medical practice.
Conclusion: As the public's use of various healing practices outside conventional medicine accelerates, ignorance about these practices by the country's future medical practitioners risks broadening the communication gap between the public and the profession that serves them. The majority of medical students recognise this risk and are keen to bridge this gap.