I recently did a talk for the Canadian Student Nurses Association, which took place in Winnipeg this year. I had a wonderful engaged and receptive audience of bright, young minds filled with hope for a new paradigm for the future of medicine. I was asked to speak to the cultural sensitivity surrounding the acceptance, or lack thereof, of naturopathic medicine within the conventional medical model. As I was researching areas to speak to, I came across a dissertation written by a colleague regarding the cultural differences of the student life of a naturopathic medical student compared to a conventional medical student. Firstly, the naturopathic medical student is typically older and has entered into this type of medicine because it aligns more with their personal value system. Secondly, naturopathic students are trained to operate alongside the conventional medical model, not within it, and not against it. I felt this to be an important distinction to make to this audience of future health care workers because inevitable they will be treating patients who have both a medical doctor and a naturopathic doctor.

I believe that a common misconception about naturopathic medicine is that all ND’s want to take their patients off of their prescription medications and have them take their supplements instead. This couldn’t be farther from the true intent of naturopathic medicine as a discipline itself. The goal of naturopathic medicine is to stimulate the body’s own ability to heal itself. Depending on the stage of disease or dysfunction, pharmaceutical intervention is absolutely necessary to prevent further tissue damage, or indeed death. Naturopathic medical interventions, such as nutritional therapy, lifestyle modification, acupuncture, botanical medicine and nutraceuticals, are used to strengthen key organ systems and processes necessary to stimulate healing. Eventually, it is possible that a patient may no longer have a need for their pharmaceuticals OR for their naturopathic medicines, but the road toward that goal is individual and varied.

The conclusion of my discussion with the nursing students ended with a new understanding of the role of naturopathic doctors in the primary care setting. Namely as doctors who work with a patients’ individual needs within a wholistic setting. ND’s are more than willing to work collaboratively with medical doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists and any other health professional. As well, ND’s form the bridge to cover the gap of knowledge within our broader health care system of safe use of natural medicines used concurrently with pharmaceuticals.