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From COVID-19 adversity comes opportunity: teaching an online integrative medicine course

Abstract

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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