Saturday, January 14, 2006

Relieving Blocked Qi at the University of Pennsylvania

We posted a while ago about the new alliance between the prestigious University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the Tai Sophia Institute, a local purveyor of complementary and alternative medicine.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported (link here, requires subscription) that despite some vigorous internal criticism, the medical school and Tai Sophia remain together.

The Chronicle reported that the initial news reports of the alliance lead to a backlash, but one "limited to a handful of faculty members and alumni." Medical school officials back-tracked about the nature of the relationship with Tai Sophia, claiming it was a "partnership," not an alliance. "It was never meant to be a joining of the two schools, said Gail Morrison, Vice Dean for Education. Alfred P Fishman, a pulmonologist who is now the Director of Penn's Office of Complementary and Alternative Therapies, explained that the purpose of the "partnership" is to educate "students about an area that their patients are increasingly turning to. We think it would be a mistake not to prepare our students to critically evaluate what they're seeing." Furthermore, he noted that the purpose was not to teach how to do alternative therapies, but to "better understand how they work."

That last phrase, however, suggests that Dr Fishman believes they do work. Yet as we noted before, the Tai Sophia Institute seems to go beyond the data in promoting the effectiveness of its methods. Also telling was an anecdote described in the Chronicle.

Robert M. Duggan cradles the wrist of a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine while another acupuncturist demonstrates how she would insert a stainless-steel needle into the student's scalp to relieve lower-back pain or lessen a migraine.
Sixteen medical students sit cross-legged on the floor, in rapt attention. 'If someone puts a needle in the proper place, I feel an immediate response in the pulse,' Mr. Duggan explains. 'It's like a light switch turning on.'
The students, many of them groggy from late nights of studying and hours of hospital rotations, discuss the ways in which the body, mind, and emotions are connected. Marc Hoffmann, another second-year student, recounts how a persistent lump in his throat disappared after he broke down from pent-up frustration and sadness.
Mr. Duggan's explanation - that the cathartic release of his crying relaxed his muscles and dislodged a blockage of qi, or life energy - makes sense to him. 'Maybe not as a medical student, but as a person,' Mr. Hoffmann says.
Lessons like this are taking place every week at Penn....
What was that Dr Fishman was saying about critical evaluation? In the anecdote above, the disciples of complementary and alternative medicine of the Tai Sophia Institute were telling the students what to believe, and the students were buying it. There were no critical thinking skills apparent.

When I was a fellow in general internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, I learned clinical epidemiology and critical assessment of clinical research. Now Penn students are taught about blocked qi. How far we have fallen.

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