Before you begin:
Many terms are currently used to describe the field of Complementary
and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The major ones are:
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(CAM): According to the NIH's National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine, complementary and
alternative medicine (CAM) includes those health care practices
that are not currently an integral part of Western medicine.
The terms "alternative" and "complementary"
originated to describe complete systems of care or specific
practices, which were outside of conventional health care
and not taught in US medical schools. Today the term is
less descriptive because many of these systems and practices
are widely used by the public and are entering mainstream
health care delivery systems. Some CAM disciplines also
incorporate many practices of Western medicine, depending
on patient need. Examples of complete CAM systems of care
are Naturopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine.
Examples of specific CAM modalities are physical medicine
and massage, botanical medicine and nutrition. Nursing,
public health and family medicine are philosophically the
closest branches of Western medicine to CAM. Holistic and
natural medicine are related terms.
- Western or conventional Medicine:
Western or conventional medicine is medicine practiced by
holders of an MD (medical doctor) degree, some of whom may
also practice complementary and alternative medicine.
- Traditional and Indigenous Medicine:
Traditional and indigenous medical systems are complete
systems of care that are rooted in the traditions of a society.
Examples are Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibetan medicine and
American Indian healing practices. This term is often confused
with a usage that refers to practices of Western medicine
as "traditional," in contrast to those that are
"alternative." The correct usage, referring to
indigenous systems of health care based on long-standing
societal traditions, evolved as Western medicine became
increasingly associated with biomedical or "modern"
- Integrative Medicine: Integrative
medicine is a new health care discipline being established
by US medical schools seeking to combine ideas and practices
of Western medicine and CAM. A less precise use of the term
refers to a wide variety of health care delivery models
ranging from individual medical doctors, providing an assortment
of CAM therapies, to a team of providers, some of whom are
licensed or trained in CAM health care and traditional medicine
- Integrated health care: This
term describes a collaborative, team care approach between
a variety of Western medical, traditional and indigenous,
and CAM licensed health care providers. It implies a comprehensive
access to a full range of health care systems based on patient
need and cost effectiveness.