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Complementary and Integrative Medicine Overview

Overview

For more information on careers in this field, see the list on the right. For salary ranges, schooling requirements and more, check out the Career Explorer.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health describes integrative medicine or health care as bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way.

The Academic Consortium of Integrative Medicine and Health, which has over 63 centers throughout North America as members, including those at Harvard, Stanford, the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson, defines integrative medicine and health as the field that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic and lifestyle approaches, health care professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.

In general, complementary and integrative health care practitioners take a holistic approach to patient care, treating the patient as a whole person rather than a set of symptoms. They focus both on addressing acute symptoms such as pain, as well as on preventing and caring for patients with chronic disease. The goal of treatment extends beyond healing illness to well-being.

The patient is often an active participant in his or her treatment, making changes in lifestyle to promote good health. The health care team may include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, dieticians and other practitioners. The specific therapies recommended are drawn from both conventional and complementary medicine where there is an evidence base supporting their use.

The increasing interest in this area of medicine and health is reflected in the growing scientific evidence base, as well as data collected in 2012 by NCCIH which indicated that over 30% of adults and 12% of children used a complementary approach for their health including dietary supplements, deep breathing and yoga in the previous year.

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