Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ruminations from Tacoma . . .

By Bill Benda, MD

I have always found AANP annual conventions fascinating, although exhausting, most likely because as a non-ND I attend exclusively as Board member, lecturer, and journalist. No alumni reunions or interesting practice enhancement presentations for me, replaced instead by meeting after meeting after presentation after exhibitor appreciation after AANP after HOD after SALT after NMSA after NDI, with a final acronym of zzzzzzzzz.

And still I look forward to it every year. There is something about this particular field of medicine, a certain cultural attitude I resonate with. Probably a déjà vu of my formative years in the 60s and 70s, life relatively unencumbered by social protocol or political correctness. Only it seems I get to exhibit less inhibition this time around; as I am not a native of this tribe, I am a bit more free to travel in and out of the lectures and social gatherings. A bit more lonely as well - a hybrid of participant and observer, collecting thoughts and perspectives rather than disbursing tales of what I’ve been up to since “the last time I saw you.”

The crowd in the conference center seemed a bit more sparse than prior years, fully expected by staff and convention planners in economically challenged times (although the hotel bar appeared to not suffer from inattention). And there were a few novel presentations, such as the “naturopathic approach to global warming” and “here come electronic medical records.” But this is the year that I discovered the real future of naturopathic medicine, unwittingly lured by an innocent request to fill the role of moderator at the annual ZRT Cup, an answer-the-medical-question competition between our seven naturopathic medical colleges for bragging rights, a trophy, and a check for $10,000. I find these students to be a treasure – innocent and worldly, full of desire to change a world that still confuses their (and our) minds and souls. I can easily perceive a distinct difference between them and us, a touch of purity and excitement and energy (in them). I don’t know where they coalesce in the evenings, but it doesn’t appear to be at the bar, at least not before this writer’s curfew. I imagine they are off somewhere strategizing how to fix this global mess we have gotten ourselves into. Or drinking in their rooms. Who knows?

Back to the ZRT cup competition. The early rounds were populated primarily by students participating or awaiting their turn, along with a few institutional mentors. But the competition was hot, with each panelist hungry for the opportunity to elevate their school to the top of a seven-institution academic pyramid. And one by one they rose or fell, with the final round to be between Bastyr and NCNM the following evening.

And what an evening it was. Beautiful room, full bar, and packed standing room only with students and graduate supporters (quite noisy supporters at that). As moderator I had my back to the crowd, but could feel the heat of expectation on my backside. No place for goofs on my part here – there was far more than the $10,000 prize at stake. NCNM won handily, although not so much from superior knowledge as from a somewhat risky strategy that paid off far more than left them stranded: hit the buzzer early, and trust you’ll know or figure out the right answer. A bit of aggressive behavior coupled with confidence bordering on cockiness, which certainly will come in handy when they enter our healthcare system.

Following the night of the ZRT came days of keynotes, and yes, more meetings. The Gala on Saturday night was quite sweet, and thankfully we finally had a band playing music I could dance to. After the final set, its off to the hotel bar, where last calls were called for over a half hour before security showed up to inform the naturopathic crowd that, yes, we are done for the night.

Sunday is the day most conventioneers reserve as a travel-home-hung-over day, but for our young charges it marks the annual Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA) conference. I won’t list the speakers or content for the weary reader, but will emphasize that this fledgling organization already has a seat at the AANP board table, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the Naturopathic Coordinating Council (NCC), and the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC). If any of you eyeing this diatribe truly wish to invest in the future of your profession, support this organization. Now. With money. And time. And volunteerism in any way possible.


  1. Bill, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support of NMSA, naturopathic medicine, and a better healthcare system. You truly have a vision of the future and recognize the impact that NMSA will have on improving it. This time my friend, you brought tears to my eyes. All loving smiles from Texas, Jonci.

  2. Dr. Benda~

    You must be worth it, I'm writing this twice. :)

    I truly enjoyed your presence as the moderator of the ZRT cup as someone who was very real, sensitive, down to earth, and a fun pleasure to meet. As a member of the SCNM team and someone who hadn't been a participant in a competition like this in about 18 years, I truly enjoyed being apart of something that was uplifting and empowering confidence to learn naturopathic medicine. I was truly impressed with you in your willingness to accommodate my hearing impairment, even asking me during the competition if your tone was okay. I thank you for your humanely connection, while appreciating our knowledge and the equality of all of us. Whether the game itself was based on quick-risk strategies, innate knowledge, or sudden bright or lucky lights turned on, the fun, learning, competition, knowledge, and perseverance was there. As a student who is still "learning the ropes" while also having "been around the block" a few times professionally, it was enlightening to be apart of a competition that helped me renewed myself, break out of an old shell, and helped me realize that I knew more than I thought I did. All I can say is, how nice. So for me, your role was awesome and inspiring and I'm grateful to you for it. I hope you'll be back again!

    NCNM ZRT Cup Team: Congrats to all of you!

    What was someone who didn't hit the bars doing? Having great conversations, admiring awesome glass art and one of the most up-scale hotels I've ever been in, SLEEPING off the midst of adrenal fatigue so well known to med students, taking salsa lessons from my great ZRT teammate Taylor (what a talent!), soaking up the gadgets and gifts from the vendor hall (I almost took that ion-balancing bed home with me), listening, and refreshing in the breezes and scenic views of Tacoma. Are we finding ways to affect change in the world through naturopathic medicine? You betcha, we're just breathing it in, and having some fun too.

    While a short trip on my end, it was an equally fascinating time with many wise reflections...thank you for the opportunity to be apart of the connections.

    Jennifer Coomes
    2nd Year Student, SCNM
    ZRT Cup Participant2nd Year Student, SCNM
    ZRT Cup Participant