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NIH Office of Alternative Medicine Archives 1988-1999
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Biography

Historical Note

The U.S. Congress mandated the creation of the Office of Alternative Medicine (originally known as the Office for the Study of Unconventional Medical Practices) in 1991. The OAM initially operated as part of the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health before being expanded into the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 1998.

In 1991, the Senate Appropriations Committee responsible for establishing the Office of Alternative Medicine reported that it was "not satisfied that the conventional medical community as symbolized at the NIH has fully explored the potential that exists in unconventional medical practices." The Office for the Study of Unconventional Medical Practices, as it was initially known, opened within the Office of the Director of the NIH the following year, to carry out three main tasks: 1) investigate, evaluate, and validate unconventional health care systems and practices; 2) set up a research training program to teach individuals to perform research on unconventional practices and to teach researchers about what these areas of research include; 3) establish a public clearinghouse to disseminate information on their clinical usefulness, scientific validity and theoretical underpinnings. Carrying out this mandate required the OAM, and subsequently the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, to assume the role as de facto intermediary between three broadly defined and amorphous stakeholder groups: 1) the alternative medicine community; 2) the mainstream biomedical community; and 3) the public. Its first director was Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs. A Native American, physician, and entrepreneur whose selection and tenure often sparked controversy.