Naturopathic physicians concentrate on whole-patient wellness through health promotion and disease prevention, attempting to find the underlying cause of each patient’s condition. They provide individualized, evidence-informed therapies that balance the least harmful and effective approaches to help facilitate the body’s ability to restore and maintain optimal health. We spoke with Valerie Gettings, a third-year naturopathic medical student at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, ON, Canada, about her experience in the field.
ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC): How did you choose the health care path?
Valerie Gettings (VG): I wanted to really connect, listen and make a difference in the lives of my future patients the way my naturopathic doctor (N.D.) listened to me when facing health challenges of my own. I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives through health care. I could be their partner in health, walking with them through their health challenges and empowering them to make changes in their lives.
EHC: What inspired you to enter into this field?
VG: I was inspired by my incredible N.D. who discovered the root cause of the absence seizures I was experiencing (60-80 times a day) and, in conjunction with my neurologist, helped me to overcome epilepsy within a year. We focused on changing my diet and adding in supplements and stress reduction, which changed my life!
At the time, I was working for an incredible organization. I wrote and took pictures of the great work that doctors and nurses were doing all over the world. While I enjoyed my job, something was missing in my life. Within a year, I resigned and started on the path to becoming a naturopathic doctor.
EHC: Where are you with your studies?
VG: Although [I’m a third-year student], I haven’t started practicing in the field just yet, I’ve completed over 100 hours of precepting — which is like job shadowing — with N.D.s, MDs, nurses and chiropractors across North America. I’m so excited we’re able to shadow doctors and nurses because we get to understand patient cases, how they handle difficult cases and get exposed to topics we wouldn’t learn in the classroom. For instance, I got to precept with nurses at Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, NY. I truly fell in love with pediatric emergency medicine — a field I had no interest in going into prior to starting medical school.
EHC: What are you studying at school?
VG: At the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, we have only one naturopathic medical program to become an N.D., but we learn acupuncture as part of our program. I love having another lens to look at the body with when some Western medical diagnoses can’t find an answer.
This year, in the third year, we’re learning how to combine pharmacology, nutrition, herbal and Traditional Chinese Medicine together. We’re taking primary care, pediatrics, men’s and women’s health, which help with fine-tuning our skills in the clinic. That prepares us to see any patient, regardless of age, race or gender. We’re also taking Asian medicine, acupuncture, health psychology, clinical nutrition, botanical medicine and practice management. One of the classes I’m most excited about is naturopathic manipulation. We’ll get to learn how to manually adjust patients’ necks and backs and return to them to healthy functioning. It’s like having many tools in your toolbox for patient care!
EHC: What’s your professional experience?
VG: I didn’t come from a health care background like most of my school classmates. I studied public communication and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C. From there, I did an internship in public affairs at the National Association for Addiction Professionals and another internship at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (U.S. Navy Medicine) as a program analyst. I then worked for U.S. Navy Medicine as a public affairs specialist which included working with the media, doing social media, being the ghostwriter for the Navy Surgeon General and acting as the managing editor for two newsletters. I was also the Director of Outreach for the Navy Medicine global enterprise. I held this position for seven years before I left on the path to becoming a naturopathic doctor. While I worked for the Navy, I was also a natural health practitioner and reiki master for 10 years while running my own business outside of Washington, D.C.
EHC: What advice do you have for students interested in going into naturopathic medicine?
VG: Look at what each school has to offer. I’ll offer the best advice that an incredible N.D. gave me: fall in love with the curriculum. It doesn’t matter if the school is on the beach with the most incredible sunsets and food. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re learning, you won’t enjoy the program. You’ll be even more resentful if you aren’t learning what you want to learn.
Research what you’ll be able to do with the degree you get once you’re finished with school. If you’re planning to go back to a pre-licensed state as a naturopathic doctor, find out what you’ll be allowed to do. Find out what that looks like from doctors who are currently practicing there. Also, interview someone who has gone through the program and get their perspective.
EHC: Are there any classes, programs, or activities that aren’t directly related to medicine that helped you succeed in this career?
VG: I’m excited to say that I’m the new president-elect of the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA), a student-led and student-run nonprofit organization that has chapters at each N.D. school. We’re the largest organization within the naturopathic medical profession, consisting of 2,000 members.
Getting involved with the NMSA and being the Public Policy Fellow last year allowed me to learn how to run a business, balance a major budget, empower students, work on a team and connect with top medical professionals at premier institutions. I can’t stress enough the importance of learning about business as a health care student. Sure, you may have to pay someone else to do your accounting or social media, but if you don’t know anything about accounting, it may be hard to choose the best person for the job.
EHC: Where can readers go to learn more about naturopathic medicine?
VG: If you’re interested in learning more about naturopathic medicine after exploring information on ExploreHealthCareers.org, you can hop over to AANMC.org and get a great overview about what naturopathic medicine is, what the job outlook is, the satisfaction rates of naturopathic doctors, school information and how to request info for each school, along with other information.
I also recommend becoming a member of your national organization and state organizations as a student. I’m a member of:
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)
- Canadian Association of Naturopathic Physicians CAND)
- New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians (NYANP)
Interested in hearing more from professionals in this field? Be sure to read our interview with JoAnn Yánez, the Executive Director at the AANMC.