LOS ANGELES – Medical schools were once the bastion of traditional medicine, based in well-researched scientific techniques. But nowadays the scalpel is making way for the acupuncture needle.
Once considered far outside the medical mainstream, non-Western techniques like acupuncture have broken through traditional barriers. Now alternative healing techniques like yoga and prayer are among a number of required classes at prestigious medical colleges around the country like Columbia, Yale and University of California at Los Angeles that branch far from traditional classes.
At the University of Arizona, students are even being taught horse-whispering to learn to gain patients' trust.
Some experts say the wider variety of classes opens students to new methods of treating their patients in an increasingly non-traditional world.
"What all of these things are trying to do is just to look at different ways of approaching patients, approaching illness, approaching communication, and anything that can develop that is fine," UCLA Medical School's Dr. Susan Stangl told Fox News.
And more and more medical schools seem to be agreeing with her. Nearly 80 percent of American medical schools now offer alternative courses as part of their curriculum. The goal is to train doctors who can treat the patient as well as the disease.
But others in the medical community have a second opinion — and wonder if this emphasis on TLC will come at the cost of competent care.
"In a word, I would be 'horrified,'" said Dr. John Robinson, a professor of medicine at Loyola University.
Robinson said placing so much importance on softer science is potentially dangerous because it distracts students from acquiring fundamental medical knowledge that has always been the basis for care in the United States.
"There's only a certain amount of time per day we have to teach the students, and each one of these classes takes away time from pathophysiology, immunology, clinical skills," he said. "With the explosion, the exponential explosion of bio-medical knowledge, any time we lose trying to teach this to budding physicians, I think it is a potential problem down the road for patients and doctors alike."
Reaction from potential patients has been mixed. Some say they'd actually prefer to be treated by a doctor trained in alternative practices.
"I would seek out those doctors that are trained in alternative medicine," said San Anselmo, Calif., native Jennifer McGeorge. "It shows me that they are more interested in preventative forms and have an open mind to all healing arts."
Others are more skeptical of the road less traveled.
"I think doctors should only be trained in alternative medicine as an elective, not a requirement," said Grellan Harty, 28, from New York City. "I wouldn't think they are a quack, but I would definitely question whether I should go to the doctor if they decide on alternative treatment instead of traditional methods."
Supporters of the curriculum in the medical community say exposure to subjects outside traditional science helps doctors develop their bedside manner, and that students still get a firm grounding in the basics.
"I would agree this would be weird if this was all that they're studying," Stangl said. "It's really just to keep people in touch with some of the human side of the art of medicine."