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Why I Ultimately Decided to Become a Naturopathic Doctor


Photo Credit: Walnut Beach Wellness & Boutique

I am sitting here writing this blog post less than 2-weeks away from my move to Chicago to pursue Naturopathic Medical School and I'm filled with a roller coaster of emotions. As with any big life change, I'm experiencing a bit of nervousness but mostly excitement.

I initially found about Naturopathic Medicine in the summer of 2014 prior to starting graduate school. Upon finding out about this profession, it was as if the Hallelujah Chorus was being sung in the background, I knew this was my calling in life, plus it complements the work I'm already doing as a Yoga Therapist. At this time, I became utterly enamored with the philosophy and practice of this style of Medicine of which I will discuss in a moment.

That said, this journey of pursuing Naturopathic Medical School became more of a spiritual calling than just an acknowledgement of "Oh, yeah, I would really enjoy doing this work".

Over the past 5 years I have ferociously researched Naturopathic Medicine looking into the profession from all sides.

After I had this initial spark of passion manifest within me and as I dug into the research more and more, I was coming up against things that some Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) were doing that was quite questionable and even dangerous. The more I researched, the more I became disenchanted with the profession.

Some of the questionable and dangerous practices offered by some NDs have included:

1. Misuse of intravenous therapy where certain vitamins/minerals/supplements are injected via IV

2. Use of therapies that are illegal and unapproved by the FDA

3. Anti-vaccination sentiments

To be fair, it is important to note that there are both Medical Doctors (MDs) and Osteopathic Doctors (DOs) that participate in some of these unethical practices as well which I think gets lost in this conversation. That said, the profession of Naturopathic Medicine is much smaller than conventional Medicine; therefore, the unethical behavior of some NDs gives the appearance that this behavior is more concentrated within Naturopathic Medicine. There are roughly 7,000 NDs within the US and Canada and thousands upon thousands of MDs and DOs.

I realize that in writing this, I am painting a pretty bleak picture of the profession. This is not my intention. However, to move forward and progress, the truth must be acknowledged.

You're probably asking by now, "Wow, if this is the truth of Naturopathic Medicine, why are you even going into the profession?" This is a question that I spent a long time grappling with which is why I have decided to write this blog post.

One of the major set backs for me over the last year or two was the fact that there are some very vocal individuals within the conventional medicine world who are adamantly against Naturopathic Medicine and any other alternatives to the conventional model. As I continued to research these perspectives, I ended up on a downward spiral where I too believed that Naturopathic Medicine was a farce.

With a lot of inner deliberation, back and forth, and questioning of my own core beliefs/assumptions/biases, I realized so clearly, for the first time, how dogmatic I had become.

This acknowledgement was like a ton of brick falling down, it was a big realization for me. This realization spurred my blog post titled, "Uniting Medicine & Healing: A New Perspective on Finding a Middle-Ground Between Science & Alternative Therapies". I would highly suggest you read this for more perspective on this blog post.

As you can tell, making this decision has been a roller coaster ride to say the least.

That said, I would like to paint a more balanced picture for you about Naturopathic Medicine that has allowed me to finally make the decision to pursue Naturopathic Medical School.

There are many well-respected MDs & DOs that speak highly of the work of Naturopathic Physicians. Dr. David Katz, founder of The True Health Initiative and Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine is one prime example of this. In an article in the New Haven Register, Dr. Katz talks about his collaboration with Naturopathic Physicians which can be found here.

Additionally, Naturopathic Physicians are being hired at many major medical systems across the U.S, Columbia University, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Northwestern, as well as many other academic and non-academic medical institutions. A full list can be seen here.

This said, there is a major misconception that NDs are against conventional medicine, whereas this may be the case among some NDs (and even among some MDs and DOs), the vast majority of the profession is seeking to collaborate with the mainstream medical world, not fight against it. Both Doctors Leonard Wisneski, MD and Dave Johnson, MD articulate this point in their article entitled, "Why are a growing number of medical doctors collaborating with naturopathic doctors?" I would highly recommend reading this article, also.

Ultimately, for me, the question I had to answer was, "What kind of Medicine do I want to practice?" For me, this came down to how I was going to be educated in medical school and the relationships I want to build with future patients. That said, there are some key differences in how NDs are trained verses their conventional counterparts that made Naturopathic Medical School a lot more appealing to me.

Here are some of the highlights for me:

1. NDs are trained from a "Whole-Systems" approach--this means that NDs are trained to see the human body as an entire interconnected system; when something is off in one system, it has the potential to impact other systems.

2. NDs far exceed their conventional counterparts in nutritional education--the average conventional medical student receives roughly 20-25 hours of nutrition training over the four years of their medical training. ND-students receive 5-8 times that amount if not more.

3. NDs are trained to treat the whole-person and look at all factors that contribute to health including: physical, energetic, mental/emotional, social, relational, financial, and environmental.

4. NDs spend time with each of their patients. A minimum appointment time with an ND is 30-minutes but many are upwards of 45-minutes to an hour for follow-up appointments and 2-hours for an initial consultation.

5. NDs are experts in Lifestyle Medicine and are trained to form a partnership with their patients to help them successfully implement healthy lifestyle changes into their lives.

6. NDs are teachers. One of the primary principles of Naturopathic Medicine is "Doctor as Teacher," thus spending time with their patients and educating them about their health and any medical diagnoses they may have.

7. NDs are focused on re-building the building-blocks of health, by this I mean that NDs are focused on helping patients re-establish health and well-being even if one is suffering from a chronic health condition.

8. NDs believe in the body's innate ability to heal itself, this is found in the principle of "The Healing Power of Nature," thus NDs focus on treatments that remove any obstacles to optimal health and enhance the body's natural healing mechanisms.

9. NDs are trained in a whole host of other therapies in addition to their training in pharmacology thus adding a plethora of tools to their medicine toolbox. These tools include: botanical medicine, nutrition, physical medicine (massage, therapeutic exercise, spinal manipulation), mind-body medicine, and counseling/behavioral medicine.

10. NDs use a therapeutic order which promotes implementing lower-force interventions (i.e. natural treatments) focused on re-building health before immediately going to higher-force interventions such as pharmaceuticals and surgery. As a side note, NDs do have full prescription authority in some of the 20+ states that license NDs and they also are able to utilize their training in minor surgery in some of these states as well.

As I thought about these highlights, it become apparent to me that these are the kind of things that I want to be learning in medical school now; I don't want to wait until after medical school to be training in this way as many conventionally trained physicians do who receive post-doctoral training in Integrative Medicine.

Yes, there are some issues within Naturopathic Medicine and there are a lot of bridges that need to be crossed between Naturopathic Physicians and conventional ones but I am not going to let the behavior of a few individuals destroy something that quite frankly has the power to transform many people's lives and actually bring HEALTH back into healthcare.

For more information on Naturopathic Medicine, these are two excellent resources:

The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians & The Institute of Natural Medicine

This article is another excellent resource, too: "What Makes A Naturopathic Doctor Visit Distinct?"

For me, these are the most compelling reasons that I have ultimately decided to pursue a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine.

As someone living with a chronic health condition myself, I know just how important lifestyle decisions are and this is something that I look forward to sharing with my future patients.

Expect plenty more blog posts on Naturopathic Medicine in the near future.

As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out.


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