Spotlight on Naturopathic Medicine

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care occupation employment is projected to add about 2.4 million new jobs from 2016 to 2026. One of those fields is naturopathic medicine. This year, the field will increase by 24,000 potential new jobs with 10% growth every year. We recently spoke to JoAnn Yánez, ND, MPH, CAE, the Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), to discuss this health care career. (EHC): What inspired you to enter this field?
JoAnn Yánez (JY): I lost my father to cancer at 16 months old. Nutrition, integrative medicine and conventional care that he had provided a remission. It was long enough for him to see me take my first steps and hear me say my first words. Core to my upbringing was the knowledge that there were other things that made a difference. Personal medical issues for myself and family members showed me there are many ways to address health, illness and wellness.

EHC: What was your first job in this field?
JY: After graduation, I went into residency and family practice. It exposed me to teaching and public speaking. I loved it because I could get the word out on a larger scale. Patient care was always a wonderful component of my education, but teaching provided that foundation to what would become an academic career for me.

From there I joined the accreditation board and I started to dig into the education component. Then I got involved in public policy and it snowballed.

EHC: Speaking of public policy, what was it like to work on the Affordable Care Act?
JY: It was empowering to bring the voice and opinion of many people forward to the legislative branch. It was gratifying to know that I was a part of educating people to make informed decisions to impact change on a grand scale.

EHC: How did school prepare you for this profession?
JY: As far as naturopathic education goes, we start out with the philosophy. If you’re taking anatomy, physiology or if you’re in a clinical class, the philosophy of treating a whole person is a thread throughout your education.

Additionally, there’s an emphasis and awareness that medical school is complicated and exhausting, but you need to practice what you preach. In the first week of school, we had a course called Physician Heal Thyself. It set the stage of the expectation that you’re going to busy, tired and stressed with challenging patients and projects. But, you can’t fill someone’s cup with an empty one. It’s valid and essential to the practice of naturopathic medicine.

EHC: What is it like to be the Executive Director at AANMC?
In my role, I manage the overall function and strategic direction for the organization. I ensure that all of our programs, our committees and day-to-day business supports that mission and that of our member schools. It’s a wonderful role that incorporates public policy, academia, leadership and management and helps to develop the next generation of healers.

The great thing about my job, which some people would love and some wouldn’t, is that every day is unique. This morning, for instance, I started my day with a 6:20 a.m. radio show interview, I emailed my lawyer about bylaws, I’m working on reports to be sent to the board, doing this interview and later I’ll be editing. Typically, when I’m on the road, I’m increasing awareness for naturopathic medicine, whether it be at a career fair or with student groups. Sometimes I am speaking on behalf of the association for issues that impact us since the association represents graduate education, the postgraduate work component and all the issues that students are facing.

EHC: What do you wish you knew before you chose to study naturopathic medicine?
JY: When I chose to start studying naturopathic medicine, there was no searchable internet. There was a lot I didn’t know about it before school.

I wish I knew more about the value of mentorship and having a clear plan on how to use my degree. I found out about the teaching and advocacy component after I had started working in the field. Choosing to study in the medical field is an investment in yourself and your future — you shouldn’t be spending this much money and time without completely understanding and having a plan on how you’re going to use that degree.

EHC: Was there a moment when it was confirmed for you that this was the job you were meant to be in?
JY: I was starting my senior year of college and I had been looking at conventional medicine. I had this clear vision of what type of doctor I wanted to be. I recognized the power of the mind, body, nutrition and physical medicine to patient health. I wasn’t sure if I should be a psychiatrist, or if I should get a master’s in nutrition, or if I should be a physical therapist.

I was getting frustrated at the thought of having to complete all three disciplines to get to my end goal, and finally got in touch with this doctor who was involved in integrative medicine. He told me, “If I had to do it all over again, I would have become a naturopathic physician.” He explained that they address the mind, body and nutrition. A proverbial light bulb went off and I knew this was the career for me.

EHC: What are some misunderstandings people have about naturopathic medicine?
JY: There are many myths about the profession. Some people may not realize that we are trained as primary care physicians and have that full medical education. Some may think we’re the same as homeopathic medicine.

There’s also a common misconception that we’re against conventional medicine and that is very far from the truth. We recognize there is a time for a natural healing process and there’s a time for interventional-based medicine. The data shows that we’re working together in team-based settings, and that in doing so, patient outcomes improve.

EHC: Do you have any tips for students interested in going into a health care career? Into a naturopathic career?
JY: Know your passion. Know what’s driving you to join a health care profession. Write it down because there are going to be days when life is tough, and you may need to remind yourself about your core motivations.

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