CAM center profile: Rush University College of Nursing

A nursing program in Chicago has expanded its complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) educational offerings to include web mini-courses and continuing education (CE) conferences. The program now hopes to take some of its CAM educational modules and offer them to the general nursing public for CE credit.

In 2000, the Rush University College of Nursing received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to provide an educational program on CAM therapies for nursing faculty, students, and practicing nurses. When it received the grant, Rush planned a two-pronged approach: to integrate information on CAM therapies into the undergraduate and graduate nursing curricula, and then to develop and implement CE programs in CAM for nursing faculty and practicing nurses.

The program organizers began by developing a list of competencies—what they saw as the critical issues that nurses need to address when it comes to complementary therapy. "We came up with five broad areas," says Janice M. Zeller, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the CAM Education Program. For example, one of the competencies is "Incorporate assessment of CAM practices into standard history and physical examinations."

Both the undergraduate and graduate students share the same broad competencies. Each competency is further broken down into one or two "behavioral objectives." The behavioral objectives may vary depending on the type of student. "In some cases, we expect a higher level of performance from the master’s students," Zeller says.

The program was designed to allow it to continue in the easiest way possible after the conclusion of the grant. One way was to develop on-line modules about CAM therapies and insert them into pre-existing courses. These web-based modules address topics such as alternative healing systems; the biological basis for, safety, and efficacy of selected CAM therapies; and societal, cultural, and ethical issues pertaining to CAM therapies. There is also a web-based CAM Overview course that all students in the undergraduate and master’s program are required to complete.

"In some ways, [placing the modules into pre-existing courses] was a little more work because we had to see if the course director would be willing to set aside time for the students to take this content," Zeller says. The faculty, however, saw the CAM education as a need because students were already asking questions about the therapies.

To test student knowledge, faculty members give students a pretest at the beginning of each on-line module, and then give them the same test at the end of the module. Students are also asked to fill out a survey on their opinions about the module and what they might suggest to change it. Students are questioned about their knowledge, attitude, and experience with complementary therapies before entering the program and upon its completion.

Rush began putting its first group of baccalaureate students through the CAM education program in the fall of 2001. The master’s students are part-time and can enter the program in any quarter.

Rush is also into its second phase of its plan for the CAM program, which is developing on-site CE programs. Students can attend brown bag programs, lectures, workshops, and summer institutes. Over the next year, the program hopes to take some of the educational modules developed for Rush students, revise them, and make them available for the general nursing public to earn continuing education credits. "We are working with an outside vendor to be able to provide those materials on-line," Zeller says.

In addition, the program has received money from a private donor; the program organizers hope it will allow them to add some of the CAM education material developed for the nursing program to the university’s medical school curriculum. "We have met with the dean of the medical school as well as the CEO of the institution," she says. "They feel that our broad competencies are suitable for any health care provider, but we have to work on carving out what sub-competencies might be more relevant for medical students."

The need to teach health care providers about CAM is critical, according to Zeller. Greater numbers of Americans are using complementary therapies and are spending more out-of-pocket on CAM, in some cases more than they spend on conventional therapies. "Essentially, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak."

"We are trying to educate our students for today but also realizing that this is such a rapidly changing field," she continues, "they need to know how to evaluate information when it arises, and where to go to get cutting-edge information as it develops over time."