U to offer graduate minor

by Amy Olson

In an effort to keep up with the growing demand for alternative healing options, the University will begin offering a graduate-level minor in complementary medicine this fall.
The University will expand its offerings of classes on topics like acupuncture and herbal medicine to better educate physicians and other health care professionals about alternative medicine, which has grown into a $27 billion-a-year industry.
The multidisciplinary program is the first of its kind in the country, said Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, medical director for the Center for Spirituality and Healing. The goal of the program is to prepare students for research in alternative medicine and to give health professionals an understanding of alternative healing practices, said Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the center.
As medicine has evolved into a science-based discipline, doctors and nurses have discarded healing practices that worked but were not backed up by scientific data, said Pam Weiss, a nurse and licensed acupuncturist who teaches a University introductory course on alternative medicine. More and more people are turning to alternative therapies, and the medical community needs to learn about both models, Weiss added.
“You can no longer be a good doctor, pharmacist or nurse without being knowledgeable about alternative medicine,” Plotnikoff said.
Graduate students will take three or four courses for a total of eight to 12 credits to earn a minor. Plotnikoff said the University offers six classes and plans to develop six more courses.
The classes are open to all graduate students. Although similar programs exist at other universities, Plotnikoff said those programs are open to just medical and pharmacy school students.
There are graduate students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work enrolled in the classes, but Kreitzer said graduate students in other disciplines including agriculture, architecture and psychology have expressed interest in the courses as well.
The University will also begin conducting research on alternative therapies; the Board of Regents approved the minor in December.
The addition of the minor program reflects the growing demand for alternative medicine. In November, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the percentage of Americans using at least one form of alternative medicine rose from 34 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 1997.
Plotnikoff said Americans spend about $5.1 billion annually on herbal medicines and make more visits to alternative medical practitioners than to primary care physicians.
Fairview-Riverside Medical Center will open its alternative medicine clinic Sept. 1, offering acupuncture, massage and herbal medicine through a partnership with the Center for Spirituality and Healing, said Fairview spokeswoman Jennifer Siltie.
The clinic is not the first in the Twin Cities area. In 1987, Hennepin County Medical Center opened an acupuncture clinic, which was expanded in 1993 to include other alternative therapies, said spokesman Dave Thompson. HealthEast Care System opened a similar clinic in 1997.