As reported by the Winston Salem Journal, August 13, 2005.

Alternative Therapies Big Business for Medical Schools

Researchers in field for education, not for money, a manager says

By M. Paul Jackson

Once thought of as just a fad, alternative therapies have become anything but - and for local and national medical schools, they have become big business.

More hospitals and medical schools are beginning to offer programs teaching alternative therapies to students, because more patients are demanding alternative treatments and doctors who can discuss them, health-care experts said this week.

For medical schools, the public's interest in alternative therapies seems to be paying off. Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center officials estimated that the medical school will receive about $25 million in government grants to study alternative therapies this year, up from the nearly $10 million it received last year.

Alternative therapies are "not just folk medicine," said Kathi Kemper, the Caryl Guth chairwoman for the holistic and integrative medicine program at Wake Forest. "It's really the cutting edge of medical research."

According to the Nutrition Business Journal, a California research and consulting newsletter, consumers spent nearly $20 billion on herbal supplements in 2003, a 20 percent jump from 1999. Numbers from last year were not available.

Wake Forest seems to be leading the charge in alternative health-care education.

The medical school is one of 27 schools in the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, a national group of medical schools that design programs to teach and study alternative health therapies.

Other schools in the consortium include Georgetown University, Duke University and the University of Connecticut.

Nationally, more academic institutions are beginning to explore alternative therapy programs, said Sally Norton, the education project manager for the program for integrative medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The rise in alternative therapies "is a population decision," she said. "Customers have reached out to this particular care for a number of different reasons."

As a result, more universities are offering alternative-therapy programs to prepare students about patients' needs, Norton said.

Last month, Wake Forest also created the Section for Complementary, Holistic and Integrative Medicine, which will study alternative therapies and treatment for children. It created the Wake Forest and Harvard Center for Botanical Lipids, a center to study plant supplements, in May.

About 80 Wake Forest faculty members are pursuing academic studies in alternative medicines, and the school teaches a range of nontraditional medicinal therapies, including massage therapy and the use of cranberries to treat children with urinary-tract infections.

Critics have complained that more schools are adopting alternative-treatment programs as a way to get more grant money, but Norton said that universities are more interested in developing effective education programs. "Patients who come to see conventional health-care providers are using these kinds of approaches," she said.

"They're much more mindful of a broader perception of what it means to be ill, and what it means to heal."