Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Nursing

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in recent decades has been gaining popularity not only among patients but also among nurses, who actively use it in their professional activities. Despite attempts to integrate CAM knowledge into the US and Australian nursing curricula, only 3% of them report sufficient knowledge (Balouchi, 2018, p. 2). As the largest group of healthcare providers on the planet, nurses play an essential role in spreading knowledge about the effects and possible applications of alternative medicine. Despite administrative barriers and a limited scientific base, nurses are incorporating CAM into holistic patient care.

CAM has gained popularity in many countries around the world, including Europe, the United States, and Australia. Each state defines these practices differently, but in general, they are not considered a section of conventional medicine as represented by licensed physicians and nurses (Shorofi & Arbon, 2017). The techniques include homeopathy, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, dance, art and music therapy, herbal supplements, massage, reiki, and more. Buckner et al. (2018) suggest that around 60% of patients do not report to healthcare providers the use of CAM as a method of regular self-treatment (p. 276). The main reason for practicing alternative methods is to minimize chemical drugs intake (Shorofi & Arbon, 2017). Patients also often report improved immune system status, elimination of symptoms and side effects, low cost, poor results from conventional medicine, and cultural aspects as additional causes of using CAM.

Nurses, among all health personnel, are the most involved in direct communication with patients, which makes knowledge of alternative medicine essential for them. Balouchi et al. (2018) conducted a study examining healthcare providers’ attitudes towards CAM and its use in professional practice. According to the data, more than 60% of nurses are familiar with alternative medicine practices (p. 28). Moreover, 65% of the surveyed employees have a positive attitude to CAM, especially in the US and China (Balouchi et al., 2018, p. 28). The percentage of nurses using alternative methods in their professional activities is also about 65% (Balouchi et al., 2018, p. 29). CAM practice is motivated by the desire to reduce patients’ stress and anxiety. Cultural aspects also often influence the frequency of non-traditional approaches, which explains the high acceptance rates in the US and China.

The use of CAM by nurses is aimed at improving communication with patients and increasing their comfort. Since the most common practices are yoga, meditation, and mind-body therapy, they contribute to the psychological relaxation of the sick, which is especially important for seriously ill people. CAM is widely used as a complementary measure in conventional treatment (Kemppainen et al., 2018). Nurses try to learn such practices primarily through self-education in the form of the Internet, journals, patients, friends, and relatives. However, there is a scarce amount of professional training on the use of CAM in the workplace because such practices have a limited scientific basis (Zeng et al., 2018). Nurses can incorporate alternative medicine into holistic care through a variety of techniques to psychologically relax patients and relieve pain. Massage, meditation, natural products, and non-herbal supplements are already commonly used in professional activities (Shorofi & Arbon, 2017). However, nurses need to acquire sufficient knowledge of the effective and safe implementation of CAM in order to practice it with patients.

Apart from the lack of skills, there are other obstacles, including legislative and administrative ones. Alternative practices are not recognized as part of medical care in most countries, and hospitals are not designed to accommodate such practices. Therefore, first of all, nurses need to develop their knowledge of CAM and communicate about it with patients and physicians. Alternative methods can help many people minimize side effects and stabilize their psychological state. Their implementation requires awareness of the effect of a particular technique and attention to the needs of the patient.


Balouchi, A., Mahmoudirad, G., Hastings-Tolsma, M., Shorofi, S. A., Shahdadi, H., & Abdollahimohammad, A. (2018). Knowledge, attitude and use of complementary and alternative medicine among nurses: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 31, 146-157. Web.

Buckner, C. A., Lafrenie, R. M., Dénommée, J. A., Caswell, J. M., & Want, D. A. (2018). Complementary and alternative medicine used in patients before and after a cancer diagnosis. Current Oncology, 25(4), 275-281. Web.

Kemppainen, L. M., Kemppainen, T. T., Reippainen, J. A., Salmennieni, S. T., & Vuolanto, P. H. (2018). Use of complementary and alternative medicine in Europe: Health-related and sociodemographic determinants. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 46, 448-455. Web.

Shorofi, S. A., & Arbon, P. (2017). Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among Australian hospital-based nurses: Knowledge, attitude, personal and professional use, reasons for use, CAM referrals, and socio-demographic predictors of CAM users. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 27, 37-45. Web.

Zeng, Y. S., Wang, C., Ward, K. E., & Hume, A. L. (2018). Complementary and alternative medicine in hospice and palliative care: A systematic review. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 56(5), 781-794. Web.

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NursingBird. "Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Nursing." August 9, 2022.