How Knowledge of Alternative Medicine Can Make You a Better Nurse

Advances in traditional health science have provided patients and their caregivers with numerous options for treating illnesses and improving recovery times, but some patients still inquire about alternative therapies. As the primary contact in the healthcare process, nurses are often the first to field questions about alternative medicines. It is beneficial for nurses to be prepared when patients request information about incorporating alternative or complementary medicine into a treatment regimen.

A 2012 survey of more than 500 nurses found that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) was common among the respondents’ patients. Eighty percent of respondents reported using CAM with patients at some point, and 41 percent were engaged in a CAM regimen with patients at the time of the survey. Massage, cod liver oil and cranberry juice were some of the most commonly suggested treatments because the primary purpose of CAM is relaxation and pain management, including joint pain and urinary tract infection. Interestingly, 93 percent of the respondents who used CAM said they had no formal training in alternative therapies.

CAM programs help caregivers and patients combine functional medicine with complementary treatments to manage and reduce pain due to chronic or acute conditions, especially musculoskeletal conditions. Treatments may include acupuncture, mind-body therapy, herbal treatments, nutritional supplements and spinal manipulation. Additional methods of pain management are art and music therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).

Studies show that using CAM with juvenile patients for pain management–guided imagery and relaxation–can help children cope with pain while undergoing treatment for chronic conditions such as cancer, arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Additionally, the use of naturopathic treatments to manage ear and stomach pain in children was shown to work at least as well as conventional medicines.

To support patients and families in the use of alternative medicine, particularly as an aid in pain management, nurses should seek educational opportunities that will introduce them to the types of alternative treatments and the role they play in the treatment of certain illnesses or conditions.

Holistic nursing is a subspecialty in the profession that focuses on caring for the whole patient and is based on the idea that mind-body-spirit interactions have an effect on the patient’s ability to heal. Holistic nursing was recognized by the American Nurses Association in 2006 as an official nursing specialty, and it maintains a singular scope and standards of practice. Nurses can receive certification in holistic treatment through credentialing organizations such as the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation.

Learn more the CSUSM online RN to BSN program.


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