For this week's research round, I will be talking about conventional medicine (aka Western medicine) and conventional practices. In my last post, I introduced the concept of alternative medicine, including what it entails, examples of alternative treatments, and controversial aspects surrounding this area of medicine. For this post, I will introduce the recent as well as pertinent historical advances that have been made through conventional practices, explain what they are, the different areas of practice, and outline the controversies that accompany them.
Just as a reminder, my inquiry question is -
"Should alternative medicine be considered as a valid substitute for conventional medicine?"
Conventional Medicine - What Is It?
According to the National Cancer Institute, conventional medicine is defined to be "A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals [treat symptoms and diseases]. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine." (1) It involves the treatment and diagnosis of disease derived from evidence-based research and study, practiced by graduates of traditional medical schools. Those who control the system of medical education have decided that this is the most adequate and effective means of treatment. (2) Conventional medicine is practiced in clinics, pharmacies, local doctors, and hospitals; it has an approach that targets the direct area of a problem, whereas we saw in my last round that alternative medicine targets the entire body, as well as the mind. (3)
- Vaccines: Vaccines were first attempted in 1796 by Edward Jenner, a physician and a scientist. He created a shot against smallpox, a well-known virus at the time. Throughout the next two centuries, vaccines were used to treat and prevent a variety of diseases, ranging from rabies to cholera. Smallpox, which, at the time, was one of the most lethal diseases ever to exist, was completely wiped out after the introduction of vaccines. Today, they are still being used to prevent various diseases and some cancers, as well as viruses such as flu strains.
- Penicillin: The discovery of antibiotics and antibodies was an extremely significant advancement to conventional medicine, as it in turn improved the understanding of various previously underdeveloped topics such as the immune system as well as immunotherapy to name a few. Penicillin, in specific, completely transformed the battle against bacteria, as it was the first antibiotic to be created. Alexander Fleming made this successful discovery in 1928, but was only recognized decades later when there was a mass production of this antibiotic for World War II. Millions of lives have been saved thanks to this discovery, however bacterial resistance has become more and more of a problem recently which has forced the continuous development of new anti-bacterial drugs and therapy.
- Stem cell therapy: Stem cells are cells that divide and reproduce upon inactivity as well as differentiate to virtually any other human body cell. Although this therapy continues to be studies for new developments, it was first discovered in the 1970s which has allowed for the treatment of many diseases and disorders, as well as its contributions to successful blood transfusions.
- Anaesthesia: Attempts to accomplish a drug similar to anaesthesia were present dated centuries ago, however it was successfully discovered in 1846 by William T. G. Morton when he conducted an experiment that proved that the anaesthetic he used would be effective for surgery. Before this, surgery was considered as a last resort, and many lives could not be saved as patients opted for death rather than undergoing procedures fully awake. Today, this discovery as well as the development of anaesthesia have not only contributed to the advancements of so many medical procedures, but it has saved countless lives.
- Medical Imaging: The very first form of medical imaging was the X-Ray, invented by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895. Its introduction initiated the development of radiology departments, which are now an extremely useful tool for diagnosis and for surgery preparation. Ultrasounds started being used in 1955, followed by the CT scan in 1967 and the MRI in 1973. Through various stages of development throughout the past couple of decades, these tools are all crucial in order to detect and treat many forms of diseases, abnormalities, etc.
- Organ Transplantation: The first successful organ transplantation was a kidney transplant, performed by Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. David Hume in 1954. The following decade, multiple other transplants were performed successfully, such as a transplant of a pancreas, lungs, heart, and liver. Today, not only are these procedures performed more frequently and save numerous lives, but they have also become much more complex and stretch further than just internal organs- some examples include successful transplantations of hands and face!
- Human Genome Project: In 2003, the completion of draft genome sequences by researches of the human genome was announced. This has aided in identifying gene sequences/mutations in disorders/diseases and improved methods of treatments. Now, in continuation of this project, the Human Microbiome Project has been announced which aims to study the bacterial systems that are present in all of our bodies.
- Face Transplants: the first face transplant ever performed was in France, 2005, with the most recent one being in 2018 on a suicide case, which involved a full-face transplant.
- Laparoscopic Surgeries: procedures done laparoscopically are minimally invasive, and involve the use of a laparoscope to observe, repair, and remove abdominal organs such as gall bladders and appendices. Recently, they have been a frequent, effective alternative to open surgery and avoid the risk of bacterial infections. (6)
Evidently, none of these advances would be possible without those from decades/centuries ago. Medicine has developed greatly and continues to rapidly progress and expand.
Areas of Practice / Career Positions
There are numerous areas of practice in Western medicine. These include:
Allergy & Immunology, Anesthesiology, Dermatology, Diagnostic Radiology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Medical Genetics, Neurology, Nuclear Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Pediatrics, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry, Radiation Oncology, Surgery, Urology.
However, career positions can specialize in these categories. For example, if you wanted to go into the area of internal medicine, subspecialties include hematology, geriatric medicine, rheumatology, etc. Subspecialties of emergency medicine can include hospice and palliative medicine, medical toxicology, and anesthesiology critical care medicine, for example. (7)
- Abortion: depending on the term of pregnancy, this procedure can be performed surgically and involves removing contents of the cervical canal/uterus, terminating a fetus. This surgery is extremely controversial, supported by the pro life or pro choice debate, on whether it should be the mother's decision to terminate or whether abortion of a living fetus should cease to be an option. (8)
- Vaccines: oppositions to vaccines have been present since the smallpox outbreak in the early 19th century, and continue to show themselves today (ex: measles outbreak). Vaccines nowadays are very effective, researched, and well-developed, and aid in prevention of many diseases such as tetanus, mumps, influenza, etc. (9)
- Human subject research: an example of this was with the disease syphilis, where poor, black Alabama men were studied for 40 years on the effects of the disease until a treatment was discovered. Many questions arise from these debates, as animals could just as well be used to study these illnesses, however controversies in medicine also arise with animal testing. However, it is also controversial to study voluntary human subjects and the effects of certain diseases on them, even though it is not a select group of people. (10)
Thank you for taking the time to read my post! In my next round, I will be taking the information gathered in my last two posts and directly comparing alternative medicine and conventional medicine. Weighing out the advantages and disadvantages of each using various examples will be the main goal, however I will need to eliminate all bias and keep this information completely objective. Finally, the analysis of comparison of both controversies will allow me to extract a conclusion which accurately allows for an unprejudiced answer to my inquiry question.
Thank you in advance for any feedback!!