The status of complementary and alternative medicine education in U.S. physician assistant programs

Teach Learn Med. 2007 Spring;19(2):174-9. doi: 10.1080/10401330701333498.


Background: Many Americans use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Medical educators have responded by incorporating CAM education into their curricula. Research has reported on the number and types of CAM therapies included in physician assistant (PA) curricula, but information on the purposes, methods, and practice of CAM education is lacking.

Purpose: This study was designed to identify the content, methods, purpose, and orientation to CAM education in PA curricula.

Methods: An online survey of all accredited physician assistant programs in the United States addressing content, teaching methods, instructor qualifications, and core competencies was administered.

Results: Response rate was 68%: 77% of PA programs included CAM education in their curriculum; 93% stated it was required. The median number of CAM therapies included in the curriculum was 10. Reasons for including CAM were increased use by patients (79%), complementary medicine in the medical literature (66%), and faculty interest or request (62%). For most PA programs, CAM is taught as a component of other courses through lectures and written exams. Core competencies are consistent with recommendations of the PA profession, as well as other professional medical associations.

Conclusions: Most PA programs have incorporated CAM instruction into their curricula. Content is typically limited to those CAM therapies most commonly encountered in medical practice. The means and methods of teaching CAM are largely the same as for traditional medical content. The most common objectives of CAM education are learning to assess for CAM use, educating patients, and recognizing indications and contraindications while respecting patients' health beliefs and choices.

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / education*
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Physician Assistants / education*
  • Professional Competence
  • United States