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From COVID-19 adversity comes opportunity: teaching an online integrative medicine course
  1. Eran Ben-Arye1,2,
  2. Yael Keshet3,
  3. Ariel Schiff4,
  4. Catherine Zollman5,
  5. Emanuela Portalupi6,
  6. Rachel Nave7,
  7. Dorith Shaham8,
  8. Noah Samuels9 and
  9. Elad Schiff2,10
  1. 1Integrative Oncology Program, Oncology Service, Clalit Health Services, Haifa, Israel
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel
  3. 3Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Western Galilee College, Akko, Israel
  4. 4Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheba, Israel
  5. 5Penny Brohn UK, Bristol, UK
  6. 6Associazione Italiana di Ricerche e Studi per la Medicina Antroposofica (ARESMA), Milano, Italy
  7. 7Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel
  8. 8Hadassah Medical Center and Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine, Jerusalem, Israel
  9. 9Center for Integrative Complementary Medicine, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Faculty of Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
  10. 10Department of Internal Medicine, Bnei Zion Medical Centre, Haifa, Israel
  1. Correspondence to Professor Eran Ben-Arye, Integrative Oncology Program, Oncology Service, Clalit Health Services, Haifa, Israel; eranben{at}


Background We examine the impact of a 5-day online elective course in integrative medicine (IM) taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, attended by 18 medical students from two faculties of medicine in Israel.

Methods The course curriculum addressed effectiveness and safety of IM practices highlighting supportive and palliative care, demonstrated the work of integrative physicians (IPs) in designing patient-tailored treatments and taught practical skills in communication regarding IM. Group discussions were conducted via Zoom with 32 physicians, healthcare practitioners and IM practitioners working in integrative academic, community and hospital-based settings, in Israel, Italy, UK and Germany. An 18-item questionnaire examined student attitudes and perceived acquisition of skills for implementing what was learned in clinical practice. Student narratives were analysed using ATLAS.Ti software for systematic coding, identifying barriers and advantages of the online learning methodology.

Results Students reported a better understanding of the benefits of IM for specific outcomes (p=0.012) and of potential risks associated with these therapies (p=0.048). They also perceived the acquisition of skills related to the IM-focused history (p=0.006), learnt to identify effectiveness and safety of IM treatments (p=0.001), and internalised the referral to IPs for consultation (p=0.001). Student narratives included reflections on the tools provided during the course for assessing effectiveness and safety, enhancing communication with patients, enriching their patient-centred perspective, raising awareness of available therapeutic options, and personal and professional growth.

Conclusions Online clinical electives in IM are feasible and can significantly increase students’ awareness and modify attitudes towards acquirement of patient-centred perspectives.

  • complementary therapy
  • education and training
  • supportive care
  • symptoms and symptom management

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  • Contributors All authors made a significant contribution to the design of the study, its implementation, analysis of the findings and preparation of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Disclaimer No funding was provided for the study, including from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.