Complementary Medicine and Science: Uncomfortable Bedfellows?

By Gillian Shine.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Complementary medicine is a term used to describe a range of therapeutic treatments. The public demand for such treatments has been rising steadily, with a growth of 18% in the UK between 2007 and 2009 (Mintel 2009), consequently the need for properly trained practitioners is increasing. The University of Westminster in London offers a range of degrees in complementary medicine, within which practitioner-training is combined with a rigorous education in health sciences. There are some who question whether BSc courses in complementary medicine should exist, arguing that the belief system which underpins many therapies is in conflict with science. Whilst the underlying philosophy of complementary medicine might be incompatible with that of science, it is undeniable that those who practice their techniques upon people, and particularly ill people, should–indeed must–have a thorough education in how the human body works in health and disease. Hereby lies the dilemma; how can one reconcile the learning and teaching of science with the principles of unconventional treatments? It is of course evident that the human mind is perfectly capable of dealing with many, often diverse, schemata, but this does not prevent the resulting tensions presenting some conflict. There are some complementary medicine students or practitioners who feel passionately that their approach represents the truth, and feel some indignation that others might question it. Others may feel that they are too often judged against science and conventional medicine and found wanting. It is therefore at times difficult for both the learner and the teacher of science within this millieu. If a student feels somewhat antagonistic to ‘science’, their learning is likely to be impaired. For the teacher these students are difficult to engage and so their subjects are regarded as obligatory hurdles, often with poor outcomes.

Keywords: Complementary Medicine, Science, University, Learning and Teaching

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.167-176. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.484MB).

Dr. Gillian Shine

Theme Leader,Health Science, School of Life Sciences, University of Westminster, London, UK

I am a Principal Lecturer and a University of Westminster Teaching Fellow. My PhD is in toxicology and I am interested in tobacco and drugs of abuse. I teach Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology to large groups of students, including those studying Complementary Medicine. I chair my school’s academic integrity committee and mentor colleagues who are preparing for their teaching qualifications.