Alternative medicine in universities debate heats up

The debate about whether Alternative Medicine should be taught in Universities continues. One of our most ardent critics, Prof Alister MacLennan, has written an editorial piece in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Some would remember his public statements at the time of the Pan crisis, commenting “how much snake is in the snake oil”. Sadly he was somewhat quiet when the Australian government paid out $120 million of taxpayers money to resolve the subsequent court actions.

Of course in a democracy we are entitled to our own views and, dare I say, our choice of medicine. I know where I stand on these issues.



The McLennan article is at and the response from Dr Kerryn Phelps, President of the Australian Integrative Medicine Association is copied below.

Medical Journal of Australia Undermining Australia’s International Credibility, and its Own Credibility as a National Medical Journal

As a Past President of the Australian Medical Association and an active member for over thirty years, I am shocked at the latest publication of the Medical Journal of Australia with its accompanying press release “Pseudoscientific health courses threatening Australia’s International Credibility” which cites the teaching of courses in Naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Herbal Medicine as examples. The AMA’s own current position statement on complementary medicine was developed during my time as AMA President a decade ago and states:

“Increasingly, medical practitioners will require a basic understanding of Complementary Medicine and should receive sufficient training in their undergraduate, vocational and further education to enable them to discuss such issues with their patients on an informed basis. This training should also enable medical practitioners to incorporate complementary therapies into their practice if they so decide following due consideration of the evidence. As with any developments which impact on medicine, information about Complementary Medicine should be included in continuing education.

The AMA calls on educational institutions and professional colleges to ensure that medical education provides basic information about Complementary Medicine in relevant areas such as pharmacology and evidence based therapies.”

What really has the potential to undermine the international credibility of the Australian medical profession is the publication of such a deeply biased, unchallenged and divisive editorial.

It is an insult to our learned colleagues in China and other countries in the region where many universities, research institutes and public hospitals are dedicated to theresearch and teaching of herbal medicine and acupuncture and where the majority of hospitals offer an integrated care approach, with herbal medicine and acupuncture being offered along side western medicine.

This is also a year when our own Australian Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners will achieve national registration.

I have been in contact with many colleagues internationally over recent days.
Over fifty major medical schools in the United States and Canada offer courses in complementary and integrative medicine to prepare their doctors and other healthcare professionals of the future for the multi-cultural and mixed-philosophy environment they will encounter professionally.

What should unite us all is the desire to do what is safest and most effective for our patients, which includes respecting their choices and preferences for safe and effective complementary therapies.

Our Australian universities provide teaching of the highest quality, with a sound evidence-based approach in complementary medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western herbal medicine. The standard of teaching provided is acknowledged and admired the world over and indeed Australia will lose all international credibility unless these modalities are included, as supported by AMA policy, in the teaching of our new generation of doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Professor Kerryn Phelps, President, Australasian Integrative Medicine Association

Statement from Prof George Lewith, Professor of Health Research at Southampton University in the UK:

“In the UK we offer statutory regulation and university-funded courses in chiropractic, osteopathy and more recently in herbal medicine, including Chinese herbal medicine. Worldwide many medical practitioners have developed integrated medical practices that involve these techniques and feel they are able to offer safe, patient centred and effective interventions. The UK General Medical Council advises ALL UK medical schools to teach familiarisation courses in CAM and majority of UK medical schools offer this option.

The UK National Institute for Health Research ( and the National School for Primary Care Research ( currently support and fund a number of Russell group University based research projects and research fellowships into a range of complementary medical interventions including herbal medicine and acupuncture. The Royal College of Physicians (London) has also supported conferences and currently funds research work in this field. The situation across Europe is governed by diverse national legislation but many countries such as Germany support and fund clinical practice in CAM (herbs, homeopathy and acupuncture) as well as funding university based research groups.

Destroying good quality CAM courses will only place vulnerable patients at risk from untrained and potentially unscrupulous practitioners. All the Western industrialised nations must recognise that we need to respond to patient choice and ethnic diversity in these matters and strive to provide safe, evidence based, professional practice and training within these fields of legitimate medical practice.”

Prof George Lewith


Filed under Natural Healthcare Industry, Opinion

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