I recently had the pleasure of traveling to three of our leading naturopathic medical schools – Bastyr University, NCNM, and SCNM. I don’t think it’s possible to come away from such a trip without having the highest hopes and expectations for the future of naturopathic medicine.
I contrast the energy and enthusiasm of the students I met with my last foray into the world of academia. I made the mid-career decision to pursue my Master of Public Health degree. At my very first class on the very first night of school, we listened to a fascinating introductory lecture on epidemiology. The young woman in front of me was the first to raise her hand with a question at the end of the lecture, the first question I’d heard in a classroom in the fifteen years since I was last in school. Her question… Will the final be comprehensive? Oy. This is what I waited fifteen years for?!
On my western swing, it was clear that students’ desire to learn naturopathic medicine and care for patients was the number one priority. I arrived first at the beautiful Bastyr campus. It was Haunted Trails weekend. Bastyr grads will know what that is; others have probably heard of it. I had no idea what it was, but I can tell you that I was quite happy to learn later that vampire outfits are not the usual attire at Bastyr! AANP President Mike Cronin and I met the students for a brown bag lunch. Not surprisingly, students were concerned about the scarcity of residency opportunities and about how they’re going to repay their huge student loans. Their desire to become involved in national initiatives to address these issues was exciting.
The students at NCNM had similar concerns. They wondered, too, about the challenges of becoming active, integrated participants in the health care system while staying faithful to the roots of naturopathic medicine. The desire to stay connected to the origins of the profession was brought home to me when Sussanna Czeranko, the spectacular rare book room curator at the NCNM Library, presented me with the Origins of Naturopathic Medicine, the first of a 12-volume series that documents the heritage of naturopathic medicine.
...if the students' poise and intelligence are any indication of how they will perform as NDs, then the profession's future is bright indeed...
At SCNM, I was excited to see the plan for the beautiful new building soon to be built on campus. The students were excited about their studies but concerned about the challenges they’ll face once they graduate. Residencies, jobs, and how to expand state licensure so they can practice where they want were top-of-mind issues.
My takeaway from the entire trip was this: if the students’ poise and intelligence are any indication of how they’ll perform as NDs, then the profession’s future is bright indeed. At the same time, they have serious and legitimate concerns about what awaits them as NDs.
My own feeling is that there’s no magic bullet to solve the problems of residency funding, loan repayment, and state licensure. All of the key issues facing naturopathic medicine are interrelated. As more states become licensed, we’ll create additional residency opportunities, and vice versa. As more NDs participate in insurance, we’ll see the opportunities for loan repayment increase. As today’s students mature into tomorrow’s leaders of the profession, we’ll see huge progress on every front.
None of the issues awaiting the students once they graduate are small or easy. In my next column, I’ll report on the policy priorities established by the AANP Board of Directors that aim to keep our profession prosperous and forward-facing.