Often when people ask about my chosen profession there is an assumption that I, and other “alternative” practitioners like me, are opposed to the treatment strategies used in the conventional medical system. There seems to be this idea that naturopathic doctors and medical doctors are conflicting forces. I would like to clarify this misconception and discuss some of the differences between conventional and complementary medicine.
Conventional Medicine is the term used to describe the system that most of us as familiar with. It includes such tools as pharmaceutical drugs, surgery, emergency care, radiation, and chemotherapy. There is no doubt that there have been major scientific breakthroughs in medicine and that we are lucky to be living in an era that can provide such developed skills.
The problem with the medical system as it exists is not the physicians, their training, nor the wonderful advancements in pharmaceuticals and surgery. The problem is that the system is exclusive, relying on a limited scope of tools. Although not all conventional physicians are “anti” complementary medicine, there does seem to be the assumption that natural medicine is not based on science and therefore holds less value.
Fortunately, the basics of natural medicine do not require studies to prove their benefits (do we really need a double-blind, multimillion dollar study to prove that eating fruits and vegetables is good for us, that exercise prevents disease, or that a healthy environment helps to create a healthy individual?). This evidence has been provided by our ancestors and is centuries old. History provides us with the largest pool of evidence we will ever need. However, when it comes to developing more modern natural approaches, such as potential interactions between drugs and herbs, high doses of vitamins and minerals, and chelation and IV therapy, studies are necessary and they do exist. In fact, a large part of naturopathic training focuses on the scientific evidence behind such strategies.
Medicine can be defined as “the art and science of healing. It encompasses a range of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness.” With that definition, there is really no need to define complementary versus conventional medicine. However, there has been a shift somewhat from that definition, particularly here in the Western world, to a system that relies almost exclusively on presented scientific evidence rather than patient experience and practitioner wisdom.
So where does that leave us?
Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a medical conference put on by the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). The defined vision of this organization is to educate physicians and other health care professionals on the latest findings and emerging procedures in complementary, alternative and integrative medicine. ACAM has been in existence for more than 25 years and focuses on educational programs based upon the most current, comprehensive and scientifically sound evidence available. Members of the College are highly educated professionals interested in one thing – patient focused care.
As individual systems, we can never be as great as we would be together. Integrated medicine combines the best of all worlds. Treatments are chosen based on patient-centered care, merging a variety of medical interventions to best suit the individual’s needs. Over 2000 years ago Aristotle said “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Two thousand years of wisdom.
Perhaps the most important medical breakthrough will occur when the two worlds embrace their differences and work together.