As the benefits of massage therapy and other forms of complementary medicine are researched and publicized, a growing number of physicians refers patients to such therapies. However, new research shows that non-white medical students are prone to reject the complementary therapies rooted in their individual cultures.

Despite the growing popularity of complementary therapies, many medical schools do not include CAM teachings within basic medical education. So researchers at four medical schools—one in the U.S., two in the United Kingdom and one in New Zealand—conducted two surveys to measure the attitudes of medical students toward complementary therapies during their first and fourth year of medical training in schools that offer some complementary-therapies education. The study is published online in Medical Teacher.

“The first study we conducted with first-year medical students indicated that overall, students wanted more information about CAM in their curriculum,” said Hakima Amri, Ph.D., director of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, and co-investigator and lead author of the U.S. component of the study.

Amri says in the first study, U.S. medical students wanted more courses about complementary therapies than students in Hong Kong, for example. The second study continued to support that trend, with the least interest in CAM measured in Asian and black students.

Amri says, overall, females, older students and those who had used complementary therapies had more positive attitudes towards holistic treatment of health conditions and became more positive in their attitude over time. However, males and non-users of complementary therapies had more negative tendencies toward the effectiveness of complementary therapies and continued to become more negative over time.

“One explanation for the decrease in positive attitude about CAM may result from the students’ increased medical knowledge and contact with skeptical clinicians, which are not counter-balanced by CAM teaching,” Amri explains.

The authors note limitations of the study and recommend additional research to understand more about attitude change over time with respect to CAM practices.