Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Kids Are Alright

By Bill Benda, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
2011 Naturopathic Champion Award Winner
I’m at the Houston airport, after three days at the American Medical Student Association’s (AMSA) annual gathering of allopathic and osteopathic students from the United States and abroad. AMSA is the planet’s largest student organization at well over 50,000 strong and is quite influential in health care policy in this country. Previously the Students of the American Medical Association, they split from the AMA in the early 60s over disagreements with the AMA’s positions on the Vietnam war, tobacco and other social issues of the times. Today AMSA holds philosophical ideals quite analogous to our most liberal institutions, including global health, service to the underserved, women’s health and commitment to being “Pharm Free” (accepting no gifts or meals from the pharmaceutical industry).
So why was I here? To witness and assist with the third attempt by the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA) in appealing to the AMSA House of Delegates for admission as full AMSA members. Naturopathic students already hold several leadership positions within AMSA, secured through empassioned petitioning at the last four conventions. You can imagine that each naturopathic knock on AMSA’s door resulted in quite spirited public and private debate as to their qualifications. This time was no exception.
When the political dust had settled, full membership had again been denied, although a resolution to create a naturopathic advisory board of NMSA’s choosing within AMSA was passed, the only other advisory board being the osteopathic advisory board formed years ago at the request of the DO students. Surprisingly, the most strident objection to the passing of this resolution came from the DO student themselves, whose own profession was in a quite similar position only a half-century ago. Sort of a “not in my back yard” syndrome, one afflicting every professional guild at one time or another.
For those of you having an apoplectic fit over your students pushing to join an allopathic medical student association, I wish I could be there to watch. The reason I have pulled back from naturopathic politics over the past year and devoted my energies to helping your students is because they hold a vision many have lost: putting aside historical grievances and ideologies to do what is best for those we have committed to serve. A glance at the mission statements of both AMSA and NMSA reveal that their respective students hold identical beliefs and desires – the belief in healthcare as a birth right and a desire for social justice for all – things that we held once upon a time, before money and position blurred our once-clear insight. Yes, the resolution for full membership was defeated and there were those AMSA HOD members who objected zealously, citing inequalities of education and lack of evidence to support unconventional therapies. But these protestations were based upon lack of knowledge and a fear of loss of power – doctrines that have brought down professions (and nations) in the past and are a remnants of a Flexnor report published nearly a century ago. The new naturopathic advisory board will take care of these misunderstandings over the next 12 months.
(A quick note to any naturopathic medical school president, dean, or faculty who may be reading this – I understand NMSA leaders are sometimes dinged for missing class time to carry out this work. You should be honoring them!)
So, for us old farts, it doesn’t matter how firmly we hold to our animosities towards each other. Naturopathic and allopathic medical students are twin children of different mothers, separated at birth and raised in contrastive households and once they rediscover each other, genetics will overcome family disagreements and disparate cultural recognition.
The idealism and purity of intention that enveloped me over the past three days made me young again, wishing I still had the time and energy to change the world. Given my age, I will have to settle for helping our progeny do so. And my advice to those who object to their efforts? Better leave it behind, cause the kids are alright . . .


  1. Thanks to you, Bill, and to the students who attended- I was at the 1st and 2nd AMSA conventions you speak of, and it's amazing to see how students have continued to pursue this venture with such enthusiasm and dedication. I truly believe that this provides an opportunity to forge relationships present and future, and am certain that AMSA and NMSA represent the ideals that will one day save the medical system! Cheers and Kudos!!

  2. Thanks, Bill. As you point out, the passion and desire that drive a student to become a physician are often the same - whether allopathic, osteopathic, or naturopathic. An NMSA-AMSA alliance is an important step in developing an appreciation for what we each bring to the table, as well as creating a healthcare paradigm that truly supports patient-centered care.