Roads Less Traveled: Finding a Path to Using Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Vandhana Ramadurai, Barbara F. Sharf, Srividya Ramasubramanian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


An increasing number of health seekers in the United States are looking outside conventional medicine to address their health needs. It is estimated that in the United States, 38% of adults use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Extant research characterizes CAM users as a unified homogeneous group, with little understanding of the differences among them in terms of attitudes toward body, wellness, disease, and pivotal aspects of their personal histories. In this article, we seek to better understand the nuances of who uses CAM and why, using the following questions: How do people communicate their life stories that explain their decision to use CAM? How do the life stories enable us to understand the similarities and differences among CAM users? Based on analysis of the narratives of 18 individuals, three clusters or types of CAM users emerged: natives, immigrants, and tourists. In an effort to push our analysis further, we theorized three dimensions that help to explain CAM users' objectives, motives, and resultant sense of empowerment. Together, these dimensions comprise The Pathfinder Model of CAM Usage. The Pathfinder Model can be useful to clarify self-understanding among CAM users themselves, as well as for conventional and alternative practitioners, as they establish a working relationship and communicate with their patients during medical encounters. Understanding the path of the health seeker can help influence the quality of the relationship and the communicative strategies providers use to educate and influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1216-1228
Number of pages13
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Southwestern United States
  • complementary and alternative medicine
  • decision making
  • health seeking
  • interviews
  • narrative analysis
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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