Top 5 reasons to choose a career in naturopathic medicine
February 3, 2013 7 Comments
Yesterday I had the pleasure of representing the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine at the University of Ottawa Health Sciences Career Fair.
While some students wanted to know what naturopathic medicine was all about or and what the program involved, the majority asked about my personal experience and why I chose the career path of a naturopathic doctor.
I’d like to share with you my top 5 reasons for becoming a naturopathic doctor and why I find my work so inspiring:
1. Health education: Teaching has always been a huge component of my work as I started out teaching skating and swimming lessons for people of all ages from babies to adults. By the end of high school I knew I wanted to be a teacher and was ready to accept an offer from Queen’s University for their prestigious concurrent education program.
Then one day my dad brought home a brochure from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) and said, “Here Ellen, you should read this and keep it open as a career option.” So I read all about naturopathic medicine and was so inspired I decided to go the the University of Toronto for their Bachelor of Physical Health and Education program instead of becoming a school teacher. It kept my options open, allowed me to complete the academic requirements for CCNM, and provided me with a co-op program where I got to watch naturopathic doctors in action.
During the co-op I learned that the Latin root of the word ‘Doctor’ is ‘Docere’ and it orginally meant ‘Teacher’. The original doctors were teachers of good health! What a great fit for me! Therefore, a career in naturopathic medicine is a career in educating and empowering others to be healthy.
2. Focus on prevention: Have you ever heard the story of the man who was sitting by the river? He was enjoying his nice picnic lunch when he heard someone screaming. He looked into the river and saw a man floating along. The man in the river said, “Help me! I’ve fallen into the river and I can’t get out!.” So the first man pulls him out of the treacherous river and saves his life and offers him a piece of his picnic sandwich. As they are eating they hear more screaming. More people have fallen into the river and need to be saved! They continue helping each other and saving more and more people from the dangerous river, however no one stops to ask, “Why are people falling into the river in the first place???”
This story can be applied to different scenarios but here it applies to the current medical system which is one of reactivity. Doctors are excellent at reacting to life-threatening emergencies and helping people feel better who have become sick (all those who have fallen into the river). Naturopathic doctors on the other hand are excellent at prevention and teaching people how to change their lifestyle to maintain wellness and prevent sickness (we are the ones preventing people from falling into the river!). I love working in a profession that focuses on prevention. Why wait until you feel sick to start making healthy lifestyle choices? Let’s make them now to prevent sickness!
A comment I hear all too frequently from clients is, “My physical exam, blood tests, ultrasounds, scopes, etc. are all normal. The doctor says I am healthy but I feel horrible!!.” Health is not just the absence of disease, it is about maintaining an optimal state of wellness. Clients like this feel unwell, yet they have not developed a pathological disease…not yet at least. However, they are on the road to falling into the river whether it be next year, 5 or 50 years from now. It is always great to see these clients shift from feeling unwell to feeling the best they ever have using the tools naturopathic medicine has to offer.
3. Treat the person, not their disease: Naturopathic medicine focuses on people-centred health care not disease-centred health care. Just because two people have the same disease label does not mean they experience their disease in the same way!
For example, one woman’s arthritis may be experienced as sore joints which are worse in the cold damp weather and they make her feel sad and weepy because now she cannot be active with her grandchildren as much as she would like. Another woman’s arthritis may be experienced as stabbing joint pains that are worse in the evening preventing her from sleeping and this makes her very angry and irritable towards others due to lack of sleep.
You can see from this example that these two women both have arthritis but how it expresses itself and affects them is very different. As a naturopathic doctor, we have the flexibility to treat each of these women as individuals with a combination of natural approaches to specifically suit their needs.
4. Wholistic view of health: As a naturopathic doctor, I am educated in anatomy, physiology, pathology, disease differentiation, immunology, pharmacology and diagnostic lab tests. This is all great in that we are trained like medical doctors when it comes to the physical functioning and malfunctioning of the body.
But what about your mental health? Your emotional health? Your social relationships? Your environment? Or how you respond to and cope with stress? These are other major factors influencing health that are often left out in the current medical model. Naturopathic doctors assess ALL of these factors and attempt to figure out which factor or factors are having the most significant influence on your health.
We can often find answers by using a wholistic model and including these other health factors in our assessment of your health. It is very rewarding when a client says, “No one could figure out what was wrong with me, but now I realize how these factors are all interconnected and I now have options for feeling better!” Naturopathic medicine allows one to take a step back and look at the whole picture.
5. Self-employment: This is one reason a lot of people wish they were made aware of before choosing to become a naturopathic doctor. I recently read a book about business and alternative health practitioners and a line that really stood out to me was, “Most people choose a healing profession because they want to help people, rarely do people choose a healing profession because they want to run a business.” However, the reality of it is that you are self-employed.
Self-employment is not for everybody. It lacks the security of a guaranteed income, health benefits, paid sick days, paid vacations, maternity leave, etc. Customers are not delivered to your door, you must be motivated, proactive and persistent in reaching out and attracting clients to your business.
I personally grew up in a family environment of self-employment. My grandparents were self-employed as grocery store owners, caterers and wholesale toy store owners. My parents were self-employed with a convenience store, a video rental store (before Blockbuster and Rogers came to town!), a fireworks retail and wholesale store and a courier/delivery business. Self-employment can be challenging but I enjoy the challenge because I am passionate about what I do. I could talk about and surround myself with naturopathic medicine all day!
So let’s talk about some of the benefits of self-employment. You are your own boss, you have full control over everything. You decide on your own hours, your fees, how much vacation you want to take. You decide if you want to work alone or with other practitioners and the location and type of work environment would best suit you.
The key thing here is choice. There are many work opportunities available for naturopathic doctors in integrative health clinics and you have the flexibility and luxury to choose what works for you and your needs. There is unlimited room for change, growth and evolution of your business and your personal self when you are self-employed. You never know what to expect and things are never stagnant and boring so if you enjoy excitement and challenge self-employment may be a good fit for you.
Overall, these are just my personal experiences and if you are considering a career in naturopathic medicine I encourage you to ask other naturopathic doctors about their experiences. We are all unique and can offer you different perspectives on what your career in naturopathic medicine might have to offer.