Monday, November 16, 2009

Diversity and the Changing Face of Naturopathic Medicine

By Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO
Vice President, Quality and Education, Emerson Ecologics

final exam
Photo by DC John via Flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

I had the honor and privilege of spending a few days at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine this week. I was invited to the school as part of their naturopathic elder series, which still makes me giggle a little. Perhaps being an ‘elder’ means simply having had enough time in the profession to gain a perspective. It is true that with each passing year, I find myself settling a little further back into the proverbial armchair and surveying the profession. One element that I have been observing for awhile and was beautifully brought forward during my visit to CCNM is diversity. For many years, I have been alternatively disappointed and alarmed and the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the naturopathic profession. When I was in naturopathic school, I think there were two people of African American descent in the entire school. Even to this day, the faculty at our US schools are overwhelming Caucasian. That is the bad news. The good news is that things are finally changing. Nowhere is that more evident than at CCNM. I was amazed and impressed with the incredible ethnic diversity in both the student body, faculty and administration at CCNM. Certainly the fact that CCNM is located in Toronto, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, has helped to diversify the school. Perhaps against steeper odds, I have been also been impressed with the significant and growing ethnic diversity in the student populations at a couple of our US naturopathic schools. These trends are encouraging.

It only makes sense that the naturopathic profession, as a part of its inexorable emergence, embrace diversity. Our medicine is the amalgamation of healing traditions from around the world. Naturopathic medicine, itself, is color blind. The society within which we practice is increasingly colorful and heterogeneous. Without diminishing the significant accomplishments towards ethnic and racial diversity made by all naturopathic schools, I assert that there is more to accomplish in this regard. Adding more ethnic and racial diversity to the faculty at all schools is of paramount importance. This, in turn, will bring more cultural sensitivity to naturopathic education and will provide critical role models for students of color. We also need more of our doctors of color in leadership positions. Right now, the AANP Board of Directors are all Caucasian. It has been that way for some time. I invite our African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American NDs to run for the Board, to submit abstracts at our convention and to continue to be a visible and active part of our naturopathic community. I also urge my fellow Caucasians to exemplify cultural and racial sensitivity and inclusiveness. In the meantime, instead of leaning back into my proverbial armchair, I find myself leaning forward, eager for the next, very colorful, generation of naturopathic physicians to infiltrate all aspects of our profession.


  1. Hi Lise, thanks for this exciting & challenging post. I am glad to hear about your experience at CCNM - very encouraging!

    Tom Bull (Bastyr's Alumni Director, who is African-American) & I were also talking about this topic just a couple of days ago. As you point out, making sure that lots of ethnic and all other kinds of diversity are evident and welcomed at the levels of faculty, leadership, administration, is essential in attracting a diversity in our student bodies/future colleagues.

    It also seems to me that the mind-boggling expense of a naturopathic medical education is another big obstacle to cure. Certainly, most medical school tuition, as well as that of grad schools, and higher education in general, is way more costly than even a few years ago (the next socioeconomic "bubble" that is due to pop, maybe?) but we don't have the scholarship funding that some of those institutions have (or had, before last year). And anyway, bucking a sick system is something we are cut out for.

    warm thanks for all the good work you are doing,

  2. Per: "naturopathic medicine [...] is color blind."

    Might naturopathy also be blind to the parameters of science?