As the profile of Naturopathic Medicine in North America has been on the rise in recent years, I have increasingly been contacted by prospective Naturopathic Medical students who are interested frank feedback on my education and career as a Naturopathic Doctor in Vancouver, West Vancouver, North Vancouver & Port Coquitlam.
In fact, just this week, I received emails from three different individuals who, despite hailing each from different continents, all posed near-identical reiterations of this basic question.
When synchronicity blugeons me on the head like this, I can't help but take notice. :)
So, without further adieu, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a Naturopathic Medical career in the Greater Vancouver region of BC.
Lets start with some pros.
In short, my experience as a naturopath in the GVRD has been very rewarding thus far.
I mean that primarily in an emotional and spiritual sense, although this profession can no doubt be financially lucrative.
Of course, the value of doing something for which you have a passion cannot be underestimated, and certainly cannot be properly in mere dollars and cents.
On the other hand, there have naturally been downsides as well.
For instance, after completing my undergraduate Systems Engineering degree, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to both naturopathic (ND) and conventional allopathic (MD) medical schools.
While that doesn't sound like much of a downside, you'll see what I'm getting at soon! :)
I chose the former because, after having just left the cold, analytical world of engineering, I was careful to avoid thrusting myself back into another rigidly-mechanistic and numbingly-clinical program.
The scope of education at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine was certainly well-rounded enough to allow for training in somewhat non-clinical or alternative disciplines, such as electrotherapy and exercise rehabilitation training.
Additionally, the inclusion of the naturopathic core treatment disciplines:
- Botanical Medicine (Herbalism)
- Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM / TCM)
- Therapeutic Nutrition
- Psychological Counseling (including that of patients and their loved ones in near-death cases, or even through the death process, and cognitive behavioral therapy), and
- Physical Medicine (Naturopathic Physical Manipulation, similar to chiropractic, as well as Massage, Hydrotherapy, UV light, and ultrasound therapies)
gave me a plethora of useful skills that I still regularly use in my daily practice.
Nonetheless, as most graduates of the seven fully-accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools:
- Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine
- Bastyr University
- Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
- National College of Natural Medicine
- Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
- University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine
- National University of Health Sciences
would no doubt attest to, there's no shortage of clinical work involved in getting the ND degree!
With extensive training in conventional clinical and biomedical sciences, such as:
- Lab Diagnosis
- Clinical Biochemical Connections
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Differential Diagnosis
- Physical Clinical Diagnosis
as well as an additional post-graduate phamaceutical therapy course, I along with many of my collegues have attained sufficient training to prescribe all but the most restricted pharmaceuticals along MDs.
However, note that this does not imply that I choose to prescribe pharmaceuticals on a daily or even monthly basis.
Instead, as eloquently stated by Dr. Christoph Kind, ND, the president of the British Columbia Naturopathic Association (BCNA),
So, despite their seeming differences, there are many similarities between the depth, direction and focus of study in naturopathic and conventional (allopathic) medical schools alike.
This chart highlights the similarities between accredited ND and MD education - as well as the striking differences between the fully-accredited ND programs administered by the aforementioned seven schools (the leftmost two columns in the chart) and the non-accredited "ND" knockoff degrees issued in non-regulated states (the rightmost two columns).
As for my experience in my early years of practice, there were again some positives and some negatives.
One of the positives was that, by the completion of my ND degree, I had received a plethora of clinical training - over 2000 hours devoted specifically to seeing patients and making real-life treatment decisions - via the Boucher student clinic and intership.
This naturally helped to create a relatively smooth transition into the working world.
In fact, the interships I had completed presented me with job opportunities at multiple clinics on graduation.
As a result, I was able to begin part-time work between preparations for my week-long board exams, and this transitioned nicely into full-time work immediately thereafter.
On the other hand, due to the relatively low profile of NDs in North America today, as well as the degree of competition in Vancouver and, to a lesser extent, Port Coquitlam, I could not simply put out my shingle and magnetically begin attracting patients.
Admittedly, this magnetic force has become increasingly stronger in recent years.
However, I reason that has more to do with the positive word-of-mouth being spread by some of my wonderful patients than the modest increase in either Naturopathic Medicine's public image or the general demand for NDs in the GVRD, particularly in the heavily-saturated Vancouver city proper.
However, going back to the beginning of my career, I certainly could not then rely on word of mouth.
Instead, I was forced instead to wear the dual hats of physician and entrepreneur, and to manage the health of my business in tandem with that of my patients.
Despite having been well-trained for this businessman role, it was one I once long resisted, idealistically (and very stubbornly) shunning self-promotion in favour of intensive focus on patient care - which, after all, was what I became a doctor to do!
But at the end of the day, if one chooses to take the road less traveled, it's only natural that one must learn to blaze a trail.
And once that path has been cleared, the possible destinations to which it may be followed are limited only by a Naturopathic Doctor's drive, passion and imagination.