The fact that Western Medicine doctors are experts in their respective fields doesn’t necessarily mean they will come up with the best solution for their patients. Let me explain why.
When I challenge something that Western Medicine promotes or what an individual doctor has recommended, I often face the same reaction, whether expressed or implied. It goes something like this:
“Hey, doctors are the experts.” “They studied medicine for many years, they know what they’re doing.” “I don’t understand these things, but I trust my doctor’s expertise.” “He is an expert, not me.”
All these reactions are natural and valid. No doubt, doctors studied for many years to be able to practice medicine. Not only that, they have to update their knowledge through continuing medical education regularly. And for sure, it’s very important to have trust in your doctor’s expertise.
But that’s unfortunately not the whole picture. Even when we rightly consider doctors as experts, we have to ask what exactly they’re experts in.
A general but still revealing answer is this: Doctors are experts in what they’ve been trained for.
There should be no disagreement here. Western Medicine doctors are experts in Western Medicine. TCM doctors have expertise in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Functional Medicine doctors are experts in Functional Medicine. Each of the many types of medicine has its own system of education and training to build up the relevant expertise.
So let’s take a look at what Western Medicine doctors are trained for. In other words, what they become experts in. But before that, a short personal account will help you understand the big picture better.
How I Became an M.D. – And Realized Something
I started studying medicine because I wanted to help patients cure their diseases. I thought of illness as a temporary condition, something to recover from sooner or later. Simply put, I wanted to be part of a profession that helps people regain and maintain their health.
But as the years of my medical study continued, I started to realize that Western Medicine doesn’t really cure patients. Instead, I mostly saw chronically ill patients being treated with pharmaceuticals on a continuous basis, with no end in sight. Where handfuls of pills couldn’t help, surgical procedures were involved.
We were told nothing else could be done, as most of the chronic diseases are “incurable,” caused by “genetics,” or simply happening due to “old age.”
Since distinguished professors were all saying it, I took it for granted. After all, they were the experts, not me.
So my initial expectations of curing patients of their diseases changed to the prospect of following guidelines and protocols that were not really curing anyone, just managing their symptoms. I didn’t like that perspective. It wasn’t what I signed up for, perhaps naively.
As a result, I decided not to practice medicine, despite obtaining the celebrated M.D. degree. I didn’t want to spend my career following “best practices” that I saw as incapable of getting patients back to health.
My classmates didn’t see it as a problem, and I respect that. They trusted they were doing the best they could for their patients. And truth be told, at that time I didn’t know anything better for the patients myself.
As a matter of fact, it took me more than 25 years to come up with a comprehensive framework to match my original expectations of medicine. As you know, I summarized my findings as the 12 RCM Principles, complemented by the 12 RCM Attitudes.
What were my classmates supposed to do during those years? Sit and wait? For sure not. In due course, they became experts in whatever area of medicine they decided to specialize in.
And like other doctors, most still think that Western Medicine is the only viable option for their patients, despite not being able to cure their diseases.
Why’s that? We’re back to medical training. Like any other profession, doctors practice what they’ve been trained for.
Western Medical Training
The foundational and by far most important part of the training takes place at a medical school. Any further training, such as residency or fellowship training, just reinforces and builds upon what doctors are taught at medical schools.
Historically, medicine developed as the art of healing, but that’s not what doctors are now trained for in medical schools. Without them realizing it, they’re effectively trained to treat diseases with pharmaceuticals (or, to a lesser extent, surgical procedures). On a more subtle level, they’re also taught to be dismissive of anything else.
That’s it. These two things are the essence of modern medical education. Obviously, you first learn subjects like anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, but all that knowledge is later directed toward training in pharmaceutical (or surgical) treatments while disapproving of anything else.
Now, if you live your whole life in a cave (and it can be quite a satisfying and comfortable cave), you don’t realize that you live in a cave. For you, the cave represents the entire world, and your life is built around this world. You learn from elders who have more experience living in your world.
Western Medicine represents such a world. It was built by pharmaceutical companies, so they’re also in charge of creating the rules governing this world. Like the cave, it’s just a small section of the entire world, but most inhabitants don’t realize it. They even actively dismiss every idea that there can be something real outside the cave.
Let’s look closely at the two main rules governing the world of Western Medicine. They are rarely explicitly stated, but are present in every facet of western medical training.
Rule No. 1: Treat Diseases with Pharmaceuticals
Since pharmaceutical firms created the rules, they unsurprisingly serve their interests. For pharmaceutical firms, a patient cured is a customer lost. Chronically ill patients, on the other hand, make their best customers, as they are literally customers for life.
Consequently, aspiring doctors are taught that “there’s a pill for every ill” and trained to select the “right” tablets for each medical condition. They are no longer set to become masters of the original art of healing – instead, they’re trained to be experts in the “art” of prescribing.
They’re trained to see signs and symptoms of diseases as something that needs to be silenced by pharmaceuticals, not as important indicators of the underlying root causes. Curing patients of any chronic disease is declared impossible due to “unknown causes” and replaced by continuous treatment of patients.
If new signs and symptoms emerge, future doctors are trained to address them with other pharmaceuticals, not to see them as more emphatic messengers that root causes can no longer be ignored.
They’re told to see the side effects of pharmaceuticals as necessary collateral damage, so they take them for granted, not as something that can be avoided if the root causes of illness and health are addressed first. Discontinuing medication is not considered an option – you either replace previous pills with new ones or suppress the side effects with additional medication.
Rule No. 2: Dismiss Anything Else Than Pharmaceuticals
Medical students and doctors are intelligent people. If Rule No. 1 were the only tacit rule, they would eventually challenge the status quo. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies have done their best to “preemptively” disparage and ridicule anything other than their pharmaceuticals-based medical model.
In no area of science or practice other than Western Medicine you hear so many deprecating and emotionally charged labels regarding competing or alternative views and approaches. They’re meant to discourage anyone from even thinking about them.
Here are some common examples of such labels:
- “pseudoscientific” or “debunked”
- “quackery” or “charlatanism”
- “discredited,” “disproven” or “unproven”
- “anecdotal” or “putative”
- “unsafe and ineffective” (the necessary counterpart of “safe and effective”)
- “harmful,” “associated with adverse effects” or outright “dangerous”
- “snake oil.”
If nothing denigrating can be said about a therapy or natural substance, then the following boilerplate dismissals (and their variations) are used:
- “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that …”
- “There is no scientific evidence to prove/show that …”
- “Claims that … are not backed by sound evidence.”
- “Available scientific research does not support claims for the effectiveness of …”
- “Strong scientific evidence to support claims that … is lacking.”
- “There is very little reliable scientific evidence available at this time that …”
- “No clinical trials have been conducted to assess the safety and efficacy of …”
Now, which medical professional wants to be associated with all that pseudoscientific and unproven stuff?
They don’t want to be seen as “fools” who believe something that is not “backed by science.” And they certainly don’t want to be accused of “harming” their patients by recommending anything not mentioned in the treatment protocol they have to follow.
So they quickly learn to dismiss anything other than pharmaceutical treatment. Yes, there are exceptions like surgical procedures, but anything that interferes with the pharmaceuticals-based medical model is destined for dismissal. In particular when it’s natural, traditional or inexpensive.
It’s not because the doctors don’t want the best for their patients. It’s just much easier to go with the flow and accept the status quo. It takes a lot of time, money and energy to become a fully qualified medical doctor, and most of them naturally don’t want to jeopardize this investment by fighting the same system that provides for them (and their families) every month.
Yes, some traditional therapies and natural substances have been used for millennia, and dealing with root causes rather than patching up negative outcomes generally makes sense, but that’s not what the guidelines call for. The established environment doctors find themselves in is simply too powerful to be changed from within.
If you learn and practice something for many years, it becomes part of your identity. No one likes their identity to be questioned, but that’s what you’re effectively doing by asking your doctor questions suggesting that the course of treatment he prescribes might have better alternatives.
At this stage, your doctor’s dismissal of any non-pharmaceutical treatment is based primarily on his instinct to protect his or her identity, not just on following the flow and accepting the status quo. From the pharmaceutical firms’ point of view – mission accomplished.
That’s one of the reasons doctors carry on prescribing pharmaceuticals despite prescription drugs being the third leading cause of death, right after heart disease and cancer. After all, no pharmaceutical company or regulatory agency warns them that pharmaceutical drugs are “harmful,” “dangerous,” or “unsafe and ineffective.” They warn them of everything else.
Another strong reason for following the guidelines is avoiding responsibility for the result. So long as doctors follow the protocol, they’re legally “off the hook,” regardless of the outcome. However, if a doctor prevented 10 times more deaths by avoiding pharmaceuticals, he wouldn’t be celebrated for his achievement, but instead investigated for the deaths he didn’t prevent.
Most western medical doctors are good and intelligent people, but they’re not immune to the environment in which they learn and practice their profession. They’re well-educated experts, but only in what they’ve been trained for.
And sadly, in an environment dominated by pharmaceutical companies and their root conflict of interest, western medical doctors are mainly trained to treat diseases with pharmaceuticals and be dismissive of anything else. They become experts in managing signs and symptoms of diseases, not in curing them.
Naturally, this training significantly limits the treatment options they’re able and willing to recommend to their patients. Only pharmaceuticals and surgery are available in their toolbox. They’re also very likely to discourage their patients from trying anything other than pharmaceutical (or surgical) treatment, despite various side effects and associated mortality.
Therefore, if taking pills for the rest of your life isn’t your preferred option, you should seek advice from medical practitioners that received training in more root cause-based therapeutic approaches, such as Functional Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine or Integrative Medicine.
Remember, each patient’s responsibility for their health includes the understanding that professional guidance often significantly depends on the training of the chosen healthcare practitioner. Actively seeking different expert opinions is an integral part of critical thinking. After all, it’s your own health at stake.