BLOOMINGTON, Minn. –Northwestern Health Sciences University is in the midst of a groundbreaking research education project focused on integrating research into the practice of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The project is being funded by a major grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The grant, totaling more than $750,000, will be awarded over a period of four to five years.

The project is a collaborative effort between Northwestern and the University of Minnesota. Roni Evans, DC, MS, dean of research at Northwestern’s Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies, and Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN, Director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, are leading the project.

The broad objective of the CAM Education project is to facilitate “Evidence Informed Practice” (EIP) among CAM practitioners. Northwestern didn’t coin the phrase Evidence Informed Practice, but it is unique among other CAM education institutions in focusing on EIP. Other institutions teach an “Evidence Based Medicine” approach, which relies heavily on research evidence to inform clinical practice. In the EIP model, all forms of evidence matter, not just research.

“The EIP approach is very broad in scope, and considers all forms of ‘evidence’ as important in informing health care,” emphasizes Dr. Evans. This includes the clinician’s own experience, the historical experience of a profession, clinical findings, patient preferences, and research. Importantly, research is viewed as a resource, and is only one piece of the clinical puzzle. “Our approach stresses the importance of the clinician practicing his or her ‘art’ where all of these pieces are skillfully brought together to provide the appropriate care to the patient,” Dr. Evans says.

Northwestern has long demonstrated a strong commitment to research, but this project takes a first step toward integrating research into the academic programs at Northwestern and adds a stronger emphasis on critical thinking into the educational and clinical programs.

The scope of the project includes:
• establishing an EIP focused student research curriculum;
• establishing an EIP focused faculty development program;
• establishing an EIP focused post-graduate program;
• offering EIP practical experiences; and
• systematically evaluating the objectives at the program level.

Who benefits from a project of this magnitude? The changes generated by the project will impact Northwestern students, faculty and practitioners, but patients will receive the biggest benefit. “The patient is really at the center of Evidence Informed Practice. They are the ones who ultimately benefit from a clinician who effectively balances the different types of information that must be taken into account in clinical decision making,” states Dr. Evans.

During the first year, work on the project included building strong institutional commitment and participation; evaluating and analyzing the competencies, needs and skills, and potential barriers for faculty and students; creating plans and timelines for foundational course development; and securing approval for a second year of funding.

Next steps will focus on re-designing existing research-related courses to include tools to help students use research in clinical practice, and adding a critical thinking component to courses throughout the curriculum. Faculty development is already in progress, with opportunities for professional development related to teaching research-related coursework and critical thinking, and to provide tools and resources to help faculty efficiently find and use research in the classroom and in clinical practice. Additionally, online learning opportunities will be created for practitioners in the field to learn more about Evidence Informed Practice.
According to Dr. Evans, there is still much to accomplish in the relatively short time period established by the funding, but she expects the rewards to be great. “It’s been rewarding to experience the collaboration between faculty and students across programs toward the common goal of integrating critical thinking and research evidence into education. I believe this is going to distinguish Northwestern Health Sciences University as a leader in CAM education and in the health care marketplace.”

Northwestern Health Sciences University offers a wide array of choices in natural health care education including chiropractic, Oriental medicine, acupuncture, therapeutic massage and human biology. The University has nearly 900 students on a 25-acre campus in Bloomington, Minnesota.

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