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Why study the careers of CAM practitioners?

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is an interesting social phenomenon for at least one, very simple, reason: one in ten people every year and one in three in their lifetimes use, and usually pay out of pocket, for CAM in the UK, when they have access to 'modern scientific' healthcare free at the point of use.

Sociological studies of health and illness have traditionally focused on the practice of medical doctors to the neglect of understanding individuals' own ways of dealing with health problems within their family or community. In fact, most cases of illness (especially milder symptoms) are never seen by doctors. CAM therapists constitute a 'mid-way' between formal medical care and informal care by family or friends.

Research into CAM is growing, especially studies that look at why patients use CAM therapies and the effectiveness of individual treatments. However, we still know surprisingly little about the practitioners of these types of therapy. CAM is a rapidly growing way for people to seek health advice and care, so it is important to understand more about the knowledge and skills that underpin this kind of healthcare, and how practitioners attempt to ensure the safety and quality of their practice.

Most complementary therapists work independently rather than having established career structures like doctors, nurses or midwives, so it will be interesting to find out how they ensure they have enough support and continue to develop their skills.