Building Bridges: Institute for Natural Medicine Forms Collaborative Multi-Modality Medical Board

Greater public awareness, acceptance and desire for integrative therapies are prompting a growing need for interdisciplinary education for health professionals.  To address this accelerating challenge, the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM), a non-profit 501-(c)(3)working to educate the public about and increase access to naturopathic medicine, is recruiting medical doctors (MD) and doctors of osteopathy (DO ) to serve on a multi-modality advisory board that will address ways to collaborate across disciplines. The board’s mission will be to help support integration of naturopathic medicine into university education and teaching centers, primary care and community health settings, as well as clinics and hospitals.

The concept for the board was first initiated by Leonard A. Wisneski, MD, FACP, faculty of Georgetown University, George Washington University, and University of Colorado; Chair Emeritus of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium and author of Scientific Basis of Integrative Health. “Primary care should be focused on whole-person medicine,” said Dr. Wisneski. “Naturopathic doctors are educated as specialists in lifestyle and behavioral medicine, which hones in on healthy habits that support prevention of chronic diseases. And as such, they should be more readily integrated into primary care settings. This board will help facilitate that process.”

Naturopathic physicians understand the bigger context as experts in whole-person health, added Michelle Simon, Ph.D., ND, president and CEO of INM. “ND’s have a lot to share with the conventional healthcare community. And we would like to find the best way to integrate not only our doctors but our philosophy of practice into these settings.”
Dr. Simon believes that creating allies within the medical community to share information and to guide the integration is the most effective way to do this. “We can tout our own goods and trumpet our own horn, but it’s not as effective unless you have folks speaking peer-to-peer in those networks, who can really understand who we are and advocate for us.”
The effort is particularly important at this post-COVID time, Simon noted. “Health in America is front-of-mind for everyone. We’d like to leverage that opportunity and that interest and start to create pilot programs that really bring bigger ideas to fruition. The time for small ideas is past. We can’t incrementally change what we’re doing. We have to have a different approach. I believe naturopathic medicine could play a role in that and should serve or at least be at table in thinking about those big ideas. We would like to have representation in academic centers, integrative medicine settings, community health and be on the front lines of changing health for those who need it the most in underserved communities.”

The board will also help dispel myths and misconceptions about naturopathic medicine, which can be common, noted Kimberly Lord Stewart, marketing and content director for INM. The board, she added, “will also help overcome some of the problems inherent to the profession and because state licensing and regulation isn’t what we’d like it to be.”
A complementary approach

Naturopathic doctors are uniquely trained to fill some of the current gaps in our healthcare system and can address many pressing health issues. Some of these areas of specialty include using whole-person health care to support treatment of acute illness and the behavioral aspects of chronic disease, the lingering physiological, biological and neurological effects of the pandemic, non-pharmaceutical pain management, chronic disease prevention in community health centers, primary care practices, and teaching hospitals, and the growing shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural and low-income areas.

In medical school, doctors are still taught to focus on pathology, pathophysiology, and conventional treatments like drugs, radiation and surgery, Wisneski said. “They are just starting in some schools to look at lifestyle factors but not to a great degree overall.”

“Naturopaths are trained from the start in a whole-person approach,” Wisneski continued. “NDs need to be placed in the system in areas where these approaches are important,” he added. “They should be teachers in hospital systems and multi-practice groups to teach physicians on lifestyle, behavioral counseling, natural therapies and how to deal with a patient’s emotional concerns at this incredibly important time post-COVID.”

“Among the challenges the board will face is to determine where best to put its initial energy and outreach,” Simon noted. The group will also work to facilitate better communication between practitioners. Dr. Wisneski has worked with naturopathic physicians for years in different settings, and he believes there needs to be more education for them in what he called ‘med speak’: communicating with MDs/DOs in a way that they can better understand some of the therapies and semantics that naturopathic doctors use.

To that end, INM recently conducted a survey of 60 naturopathic physicians who have worked in conventional settings with MDs. From these responses, they are gathering input on determining the best practices for facilitating good communication. INM is also creating a board of naturopathic physicians who have worked in conventional settings to help catalyze the process.
From the survey, the board and its mission are generating strong interest, according to Simon. “I think it is a movement in our profession whose time has come,” she said. “There have been people who have talked about this, but now there is something that they can plug into. People are wanting to join and help out. So, that is exciting for me.”

Members of the board will participate in a series of tele/web conversations with Drs. Wisneski and Simon, which are targeted to begin later in June. Anyone interested in participating in the ND board should contact Dr. Michelle Simon at INM (michelle@naturemed.org) or in the MD/DO board should contact Dr. Len Wiseneski (lwisneski@ihpc.org).