Doctors, Nurses Often Use Holistic Medicine for Themselves

Release Date: August 19, 2011 | By Milly Dawson, Contributing Writer
Research Source: Health Services Research


  • Doctors and nurses use complementary and alternative medicine—for themselves—more than workers in other fields.
  • Three-fourths of health care workers use complementary and alternative medicine, compared with 63 percent of the general working population.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine can include a wide range of practices, from vegetarianism and meditation to more hands-on treatments such as acupuncture.
Follow us on Facebook

U.S. health care workers, especially doctors and nurses, use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) far more than do workers in other fields, according to a new study. CAM includes diverse therapies outside the realm of conventional medicine. Overall, 76 percent of health care workers report CAM usage, compared with 63 percent of the general working population.

Health care workers use chiropractic treatment, massage and acupuncture for conditions that conventional medicine does not address well, said study co-author Lori Knutson, executive director of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing with Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis. While conventional providers often treat common issues such as back pain with pain medication, holistic providers address root causes, she said.

The researchers used data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, analyzing responses from 14,329 working adults. Their findings appear online in the journal Health Services Research.

Among respondents, 1,280 worked in health care and fell into four categories: (1) providers including doctors and nurses; (2) technicians, for instance, sonographers; (3) support workers such as nursing assistants and (4) administrative personnel not providing patient care.

The study looked at practitioner-based CAM, such as acupuncture; self-treatment with CAM, such as practicing Pilates; and any CAM usage such as following a vegetarian diet, meditating and taking certain herbs.

Doctors and nurses had more than twice the odds of having used a practitioner-based CAM method during the prior year and nearly three times the use of self-treatment with CAM than support workers.

“As insiders, health care workers understand what’s missing in our medical system. They’re more educated than others about orthodox and alternative medicine,” said Joya Lynn-Schoen, M.D., a psychiatrist by training who instead practices alternative medicine, offering patients homeopathy, nutrition and chelation therapies. “Mainstream medicine will say, ‘Here’s a pill’ or ‘Have an operation” or ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just tired.’

“We may be opening Pandora’s box by disclosing utilization of CAM by conventional providers,” Knutson said. “I prefer to believe that this will create an opening for both provider and patient in optimizing health for the whole person.” Knutson added that consumers ought to know that providers use CAM and that health care workers should know that their peers use CAM, although perhaps without discussing it.

How shocked consumers would actually be by their doctors’ use of CAM is questionable, however. The researchers used a broad definition of CAM that includes practices as commonplace as deep breathing, meditation and massage, and ones as complex as biofeedback, hypnosis and chelation therapy, which involves administration of chemicals called chelating agents to eliminate heavy metals such as lead, arsenic or mercury from the body. To discover the depth of doctors’ and nurses’ involvement with the more esoteric approaches will require further research.

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required.

#  #  #

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or [email protected].

Health Services Research is the official journal of the AcademyHealth and is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. on behalf of the Health Research and Educational Trust.  For information, contact Jennifer Shaw, HSR Business Manager at (312) 422-2646 or [email protected]. HSR is available online at

Johnson PF, et al. Personal use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by US healthcare workers. Health Serv Res online, 2011.

Tags for this article:
Complementary and Alternative Medicine   Inside Healthcare  

Comments on this article
Please note: CFAH reserves the right to moderate all comments posted to the Health Behavior News Service. Any inappropriate postings will be removed.

Lucille MacPherson says
August 19, 2011 at 7:33 PM

They are in a position to have seen the awful side effects from taking the toxic chemicals in pills. I have experienced following doctors prescription orders and see that later the drug was removed from the market ( eg: Prepulsid and Reglan )
I now research every Rx before having the druggist fill it and generally I do without it...if possible .
Luckily I don't need Statins nor PP Inhibitors...see C Difficile. Lately I learned that the Accupril meds I was taking could contribute to Breast Cancer ( lovely ). I dicscovered that with slow deep breathing , I can lower my blood pressure without the pills.
I carefully watch my diet ( Vegetarian ) , take Vitamins, and Vitamin D. I have reached 87 years of age, drive a car, play bridge on the internet, exchange multi E Mails and research side effects with my computer.
I'm glad to see that the Medical establishment has the courage to admit that they are using CAM too.
For thousands of years Oriental and aboriginal cultures have lived well without swallowing chemicals.

Christy Redd says
August 21, 2011 at 5:13 AM

From what I know of my own doctors', family's, friends' and neighbors' usage of CAM, I don't think the CAM usage reported in this study will be all that surprising.

Eric says
August 21, 2011 at 6:53 PM

This data here are meaningless. I have never seen vegetarianism and pilates defined as CAM. It would be at least somewhat informative if it showed how many health care providers used each individual 'therapy'.

William M. Thomas, D.C. says
February 14, 2012 at 1:53 PM

I'm not surprised by this at all. I cannot speak for the other therapies mentioned, but I can say that I have many nurses, healthcare workers, dentists, etc. Not all chiropractors are the same, and the modern chiropractic approach with chiropractic and massage therapy for headaches, sciatica and other musculoskeletal problems has been very successful.

I'm not opposed to medication, as I also have a degree in biochemistry, however, most patients would rather not take medication when possible. There is a growing distrust against traditional medicine as many see it as claiming to be the "only way" to treat certain conditions. Shows like Dr. Oz, etc. help people see other options. Patients know otherwise, or would rather choose another option other than medication, which is why there is a growing movement among CAM therapies. They are not satisfied with "here's a pill", or "have an operation", when they believe that there are more options than that. Thankfully, there are.

Chiropractic care that focuses on biomechanics, posture, symmetry and the restoration of function is how modern chiropractors treat conditions. For all those who are not "believers" in chiropractic, you don't have to be for it to be effective. Anyone who has ever experienced pain, had a chiropractic adjustment and then feels better knows what that is like. The instant relief I experienced after an injury is why I became a chiropractor, myself, and why many healthcare workers don't even tell their co-workers that they see a chiropractor. May patients don't tell their doctor that they see a chiropractor because they don't want a lecture, when they already have experienced relief. No one can refute one's experience, which is why I love skeptics and love to see how people react to their first adjustment. It usually quite an amazing experience that results in sometimes, immediate relief, sometimes slow steady relief, but usually, depending on the condition and circumstances an overall positive experience. If you have questions, you can check out my website