Just because your bachelor’s degree wasn’t in biomedical sciences doesn’t mean you can’t eventually work in the health care field. Dr. Jaquel Patterson ND, MBA, is a licensed naturopathic physician and is the current president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Not only is she an ND, but Dr. Patterson holds a degree in applied economics and management, with a focus on the food industry, as well as an MBA in health care management. She took some time and spoke to ExploreHealthCareers.org to discuss her professional journey.
Jaquel Patterson (JP): Let me start from the beginning. I went to Cornell University for undergrad, and I went in as a plant science major, as I had always been interested in alternative medicine as a kid. I was in a feeder program to go straight to medical school after college without having to take the MCAT. But when I went into the program, I was discouraged from pursuing alternative medicine as there wasn’t a clear path carved through the conventional medicine route.
I decided to switch my major to applied economics with a focus in the food industry. I think I was trying to stick to my passion for health through food management.
When I graduated, I worked for a third-party brokerage company. My tasks focused on the marketing and analytics including organic and natural food lines. While I was working in this field, I learned about naturopathic medicine and realized it was exactly what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know it was a career option.
I then went back to school, took all of the pre-medical requirements and applied to get into the University of Bridgeport.
While I was in naturopathic school, I did a lot of volunteer work for community health. I was the health chair for the NAACP chapter in Bridgeport and was involved in the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.
When I graduated, I was recruited at Lobby Day in New York and worked in a community health center in the Bronx. I did a lot of work in quality improvement, childhood obesity and hypertension. While working there, I learned I had administrative skills, and I moved up the professional ladder. My track wasn’t initially to enter into the business realm, but because I was already minded that way, through my undergraduate education and work experience, I started to apply my skills in the health care administration field.
EHC: What sparked your interest in naturopathic medicine? Was there a moment that it clicked or was it a career you’d been considering for a long time?
JP: The initial spark happened when I was a kid since my dad had always been into alternative medicine. Also, I’m half black and half Chinese, so on the Chinese side of my family, there were herbal treatments used.
Also, when I was 15 years old, my mom got sick, and we couldn’t figure out a diagnosis for many months. She was later diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. I felt that a comprehensive approach wasn’t applied and initiating factors like stress, lifestyle, diet and other approaches to care addressed. Naturopathic medicine looks at the individual holistically which is what attracted me to the philosophy.
EHC: What does it mean when you say that naturopathic medicine helps patients “get back to self”?
JP:There gets to be a point in medicine where you start prescribing so many medications and supplements, instead of thinking about why the medical issue is happening and when it began. With so many of my patients, they had a significant life experience two to three years before their health started deteriorating and so what I want to do is help them start listening to their bodies. The term “back to self” means helping patients thrive in their health and as themselves. It’s helping them get back to who they are and putting their health back into balance.
EHC: Has the degree factored into your position as president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)?
JP: I’ve always had a passion for up-leveling and promoting the profession. I came upon the profession in an unorthodox way, and I felt like there needed to be more information about who we are and what we do. I joined the board because I wanted to support licensing and lobbying so people could use naturopathic physicians as healthcare providers.
EHC: What advice would you give to those considering a major career change from a non-health care career to a health care career?
JP: The people who are the most successful in this career are those who have a passion for medicine; it should get you excited. You should want people to be empowered in their health since you’re the one coaching them. Another big thing as a provider is having humility and not making it about your ego.
For more on how to become an ND check out the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges www.aanmc.org.