Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Words to a Potential Medical Student

Before you enrol for that medical course, consider carefully whether it's the best path for your life. Perhaps complementary medicine is actually a better way to go, with many clear advantages...

The course is shorter. Never mind years of study and internship, you could become an aura healer in a weekend.

Insurance premiums are lower. Never mind high liability for high risk procedures - iridology has never been a high risk science. In the better alternative therapies you don't even touch the patient. In the best alternative therapies the patient doesn't even have to come to you.

Profits are higher. If you're a homeopath, you can continue to make your remedies from a small amount of the original for all eternity. If you're a naturopath you can just mark your supplements up at high rates.

More spare time. Since the tenets of complementary medicine never change, you don't have to worry about keeping up with the latest medical research, new drugs and new procedures. The stuff you'll learn on your course will be thousands of years old and hasn't changed at all in all that time.

Patient expectations are lower. If you're a doctor you're expected to make a patient better. Anything you do as an alternative therapist is evidence that your efforts are working. Either the patient gets better (which is good), or has a "healing crisis" (which is also good).

As a doctor you need to make a (correct) diagnosis before deciding on a course of treatment. As an alternative practitioner you are forbidden from making a diagnosis. It is unnecessary, and anyone found making diagnoses is automatically expelled from the League of Alternative Practitioners.

Doctors are required to successfully treat illnesses and diseases. As an alternative practitioner you are not required to cure anything, you simply allow the patient to cure themselves. If they don't it's their fault and they obviously want to be sick.

Doctors only treat the symptoms. As an alternative practitioner you will treat the whole person: mind, body, spirit, soul, past lives, emotions and wallet.

You are not required to swear the Oath of Allegiance to Big Pharma and ensure all your profits go to a bank account in Zurich. This is completely true: ask any doctor about and they will totally deny it - how much more proof do you need?

No damaging publicity from drug recalls. There has been no case of an alternative herb or a healing crystal being recalled.

Alternative therapies are more effective. You can cure cancer, diabetes, autism etc etc, all of which medical science fails at (medical science has cures for all these, but they're not allowed to use them because of the Big Pharma Oath of Allegiance).


  1. As an alternative practitioner you will treat the whole person: mind, body, spirit, soul, past lives, emotions and wallet.

    They're especially good at cutting down on obesity in that last one.

  2. Wow...seems that somebody flunked Intro to Sarcasm. Oh, and spelling class.

  3. It is clear from reading your article, that alternative therapies, if you have ever tried them, have never worked for you.

    The reason is not because they are intrinsically ineffective. After all, complementary medicine does rely on the Wisdom of the Ancients.

    The reason they don't work for you is because you are a sceptic. You therefore jeopardise any chance of them being successful. As all scientists say: QED.

    PS: I passed the sarcasm exam with honours :-)

  4. I demand that my healing crystal be recalled!!!

  5. When I was an intern, it was a running joke that if we had chosen to train at Oral Roberts, our morning rounds would have gone much faster. AT ORU, so many patient concerns would have gone to the prayer leader, who can address anything, as opposed to us mere mortals who disappointed our patients regularly with our limitations. As much as I wish everyone could be honest about what they do, it's not all deserving of cynicism.

  6. How does Reiki fit into this? Is Reiki an alternative therapy or more a state of mind, like Zen?

  7. I'm a recently graduated physician. I have to say that I understand the irony...We work so hard, we're under so much pressure. And sometimes we stop and ask: for what? Some specialities have become a nightmare in some places, like the U.S., where doctors will get for procedures that are inherently risky (Ob/Gyn, for example). In some countries, like Germany, doctors are packing up and leaving. Some specialities are underpaid, like Pediatrics. In the U.S., many doctors in risky specialities are foreigners, because they have no choice but to face the risk of being sued, while Americans are turning to Dermatology. Who wants to have to insert catheters and get sued when the patient dies?
    And all these "alternative mecidine" folks just mislead people. They have no standards to follow, almost non-existant scientific data to support 99.999% of their practice, and yet people choose to attack doctors.
    Society better think these choices over. There'll be a price to pay, in the long run.

  8. anonymous: yes, indeed, alternative therapies can cure cancer. Look up Hulda Clark (for one amongst many). Now take a deep breath.

    chris: yes, EoR has experienced, or been closely associated with, amongst others, chiropracty, reiki, bowen therapy, and herbal medicine. And no, they have not worked.

    billr: reiki is a method of obtaining money from credulous individuals. Repeatedly. It is technically termed "an income stream".

  9. I agree with anonymous(II). Society will make choices and then may suffer for those choices. For now we still have well trained doctors to fall back on after the woo fails, but what about the latest model GP - designed to cater for the Alties? When these under-trained socially precocious communicators start replacing the current generation we will be in trouble.

  10. There has been no case of an alternative herb or a healing crystal being recalled.

    Actually, there have been a few.

  11. animus: that was clearly Big Pharma operating through the stalking horse of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to suppress the real cures. Herbalists know better and do not withdraw their products themselves.

  12. Hello, skeptics!! I've noticed that this thread has gone a bit dead over the past week or two, but the topic was just too personally relevant for me to pass up.

    Also, it's a long post, but I hope at least one of you decides to bear with me.

    I am a hatha yoga teacher, an avid fan of the philosophy of respect and balance behind Ayurveda, a lover of mantras when I'm feeling stressed or mentally blocked, a promoter of herbal treatments (even if they're centuries old because, heck, how old is that carbon-based life-form we call human anyway, and where did we find aspirin again?) a dabbler in the worlds of chakras and detox fasts, a level 1 reiki practitioner who can't bring herself to charge a dime, and...gassssp!! a skeptic on her way to med school. (ok, post bac and then med school, but I'm going for it kids!!!)

    Impossible, you say? Hardly. The sad and inaccurate implication behind so much of the incredibly intelligent skepticism that I've been reading in this blog and other related blogs is that only stupid gullible people even consider alternative medicine. In fact, it is a movement, or more accurately, a series of several movements, gaining popularity even among experienced medical practitioners. A crop of reputable alternative therapy schools has popped up in the states, such as Osher, which works in direct collaboration with University of California San Francisco medical school, one of the most respected in the country for medical research. In terminal patient treatment programs such as hospice, many doctors encourage alternative therapies as viable ways of alleviating suffering and even significantly improving a patient's conditions in ways that drugs simply can't without many unwanted or even devastating side effects. The mother of a friend of mine is considering leaving behind radiology to pursue a career in reiki for hospice patients. And she is not a quack. And she is not an idiot. And she has a degree, she jumped through all the med school hoops, and she still believes the meditation and hands-on healing is essential to alleviating human suffering.

    I applaud your skepticism - as someone who often catches herself letting down her critical thinking guard, I am encouraged by those who challenge me to look for the proof. My mother and I have been arguing about reiki for years, and it keeps me on my toes. (For me, by the way, reiki is more than anything else a practice in strengthening your powers of intuition, whether you consider the energy channeling to be real or metaphor, the benefits are the same.)

    I find myself constantly wrestling with these two opposing worlds - neither one seems to be enough for me. Each on its own seems to so much to be desired. I know I am happiest when I am meditating, when I feel connected to my vital energy. but I know without some strong anti-biotics one case of dysentery could make all that nice vital energy go bye bye. And so??

    You are absolutely right in pointing out that there are a lot of charlatans out there. I can tell you from first-hand experience, since I work in this "alternative" world where overpriced crystals abound and snake oil looks tempting in its new bottles. BUT, opting for pure skepticism just leaves me depressed. Is this really all there is? Are we really doomed to continue analyzing sickness and health as something completely detached from the person who experiences it, purely by means of chemical compounds and microorganisms, until we're all a bunch of drugged-up still kinda-sad people shoving down sweets for a quick fix for our unhappiness and freaking out when all of a sudden we're all getting diabetes?

    No. I won't believe it. I can't believe it.

    The scientific method is perhaps the most amazing tool developed in human understanding in this millenium, and has revolutionized technololgy, medicine, society. But, perhaps the greatest injustice we can do to it is to imply that it produces truths. I'm sure you are all well-versed enough in this method to know that it only produces THE BEST EXPLANATION AVAILABLE AT A GIVEN TIME for a particular phenomenon, and the best way to predict that phenomenon in given circumstances. It is not "the truth." Another explanation may very well (and probably will) come along eventually to refute the old explanation and replace it with a new one that explains things even better. Because causation is such a slippery creature (some would say unprovable!) so too are the conclusions drawn from the scientific method.

    The other mistake would be to assume that the scientific method is universally objective. Be careful - the method itself may be, but those who use it certainly are not. The fact is, if you set out to prove only those hypotheses that suit you, then you're apt to reveal only certain explanations. That is, based on certain pre-conceived notions, only certain experiments will be performed. To assume that all scientists have a noble and unbiased dedication to the truth whatever it may be is to vastly underestimate human bias, or the bias of the scientific community, not to mention the purchasing power of drug companies.

    But no worries, as long as the scientific commuity remains diverse enough to entertain diverse possibilities, to pit this bias against that one so that they kind of cancel each other out in the long run. You are absolutely right - a lot of alternative therapists never bother to look into western scientific techniques. But a lot of scientists don't spend enough time (if any at all) pondering that which can't be explained by their theories. It's understandable, in a way, since so much CAN be explained, it's easy to sit on your laurels. But it's an incomplete picture. What is really going on with the placebo effect? What is the story with empathy? Why is the power of suggestions, frankly, so powerful? What are the real effects of the mind on the body, and how are they harnessed?

    To conclude, let me once again thank you all for intelligently challenging that which has gone as yet unproven in the alternative world. It is opinions like yours that inspire me to try to be a medical doctor and alternative healer simultaneously. (No don't go and ruin it by calling me names, ya heard!) But despite all the quakery out there, let me kindly request that you don't throw out the baby with the bullshit-flavored bath water. There is just so much human potential we haven't yet discovered, and so much we still don't know.

    Thank you very much.


  13. "No. I won't believe it. I can't believe it."

    Poopy head.

  14. Very well said, Sarah.

    I used to be extremely skeptical myself of anything "unscientific", but I've learned with time not to let myself be run by it anymore.

    There's just a whole world of facts out there that we either haven't yet discovered, or that haven't yet become mainstream, and keeping a closed mind about it is just plain silly.

    Just because the mainstream view used to be that no new neurons are ever created in the adult human brain, didn't make it so. Look up neurogenesis if you don't know what I'm talking about.

    I'm definitely not arguing in favour of quackery or marketing manipulation here, and I can spot most of it a mile away, but I won't let a tree full of rotten apples keep me from searching for the few perfect ones.

    Even just one such apple is enough to make it worthwhile, and yet I've found several up till now. Take lucid dreaming for instance. Just the name sounds like some weird meditation technique that gullible people indulge themselves in. And yet it's completely grounded in fact. You go to sleep, and you wake up inside your dreams, being able to control them. (You can search Google Scholar for it if you wish, there's been some good research into it.)

    You can't find the good things if your conditioned reflex is to discount everything.


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