This article is likely only useful to someone considering natural medicine school or very interested in it.
I’m about to be halfway through my 6-year program in Naturopathic and Chinese medicine. This seems like a good point for some general comments on the program and natural medicine.
About four years ago I was premed but reading lots of highly fringe “natural” therapies, primarily very odd diets. Such reading with additional reading on various negatives regarding conventional medicine basically led me to the program I’m currently in. First point: had I gone into a regular M.D. program, I’d likely not know what good natural/integrative medicine looked like, I would rather have an education I resisted and an alternative that ultimately didn’t work either.
In this program I’ve met many incredibly intelligent people, many working on a daily basis to tease apart which natural and conventional therapies are effective and safe, and which therapies are not.
What you get in a conventional M.D. education, I believe, are facts, the way things are as of the most recent study. In my school we get options, many of them. Various other comparisons can be made here as well: conventional: generally the go-to for emergencies, integrative: great for chronic illness, issues no one can figure out–difficult cases. conventional: therapies for a given condition are chosen based on standard of care and optimally same for every patient with the condition. Generally set in stone, if it doesn’t work then too bad, may be harmful but also may provide quick and easily tracked relief from symptoms. integrative: therapies individualized to patient, as well as doctor’s individual experience regarding certain types of therapies. More variability allows for more flexibility and very often cures which conventional doctors never thought possible, but also sometimes treatments/doctors that might be doing nothing at all.
To point out the underlying text that might be hard to detect: I’ve come to respect and better understand conventional treatments. Previous to my education at NCNM, conventional treatment was bad, and natural was good. Now, there are helpful and unhelpful aspects of various therapies, all which must be weighed.
So far I’ve been speaking in terms of therapies, I’d like to shift out from conventional/integrative comparison and just talk about my program, not just therapies but views-points, of which there are also many.
For the list below, if unspecified, I’m saying that the therapy and view-point are linked. For example, chiropractic manipulation has its own body of views which accompany it.
View points and treatment options: conventional (drugs, surgery, etc., can often be a referral), chiropractic manipulation (called naturopathic manipulation therapy for legal reasons, classes taught by chiropractors), acupuncture, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, homeopathy–classically prescribed as well as using groups of remedies (UNDAs/organotherapies) or modern prescribing practices, cell salts, flower essences, essential oils, massage therapy, craniosacral therapy, nasal specifics*, reiki*, aromatherapy, supplements and nutrition therapy from the perspective of western conventional nutritional views/studies, Ayurveda*, chinese medicine, Nourishing Traditions, temperament/miasm, others, herbal treatment from the perspective of modern studies, traditional western herbalism, chinese herbalism, anthroposophic or miasm/temperament, also various combinations of these views for example traditional western herbalism informed by recent studies on herbs.
*These and some others listed are not required learning at the school, but are options that I could learn on my own
So now my job is to discern, to use all of my available faculties to decide which of these viewpoints and therapies seem to be most effective in my hands. While I’ll use many of these, it’s time to focus down and learn well just a handful of these as it is too much to learn them all. Recognize that I put conventional in my list, that is, everything that is learned in a normal medical school is but one set of viewpoints/therapies that I must learn. So it seems either I spend about 4 years per view-therapy listed above, or I tease out what is most important to learn and practice.
For me this means I need to know a moderate amount about conventional view-therapy to communicate with M.D.’s, refer patients, and to know when I might choose to use conventional therapies. I want to know a lot about traditional western herbalism as it is practiced by my clinical teachers, a little about chinese herbalism (patent herbs), a complete/respectable amount of acupuncture/Classical chinese medicine viewpoint, a moderate amount about homeopathy as it can provide either complete cure or side-effect-free relief of symptoms with repeat doses if properly prescribed, yet homeopathy leaves the practitioner at a loss if they get the wrong therapy (which seems easy to do), also if properly prescribed, requires its own lengthy patient interview. Additionally, I’m likely to include my knowledge of nutrition and Shiatsu massage somehow in my practice as well as various other therapies listed above in smaller or larger amounts.
Still a pretty big list, but cut down dramatically as well. Now all that is left is a bit of a schism regarding my current job. My classes only take me to the base of a climb. Thus my job is to either think about my desire to help future patients in order to truly learn what I need to learn and climb the rest of the way. Or, my job might be to merely take care of myself for now, eat right, exercise, and rest up for the climb ahead in which the whole caravan will head up with the help of expert guides–that is, waiting for clinical docs and patients in clinic that I see as a Primary student or graduated intern, to inspire me to learn. Most likely I’ll do a bit of both, learning more in clinic, but mostly because I’m thinking about my desire to help future patients. Currently I’m in the rest phase, it is a difficult part for me as I know there is much I don’t know that I will need to know. I’m uncomfortable resting, but too burnt out to do anything else. Writing this makes me think I should practice patience, study extra if I like, but to not wear myself out. People say this is a marathon, I’d say it’s climbing Mount Everest.