I think it might be the golden age for ND students.

I decided to become a naturopathic doctor towards the end of 2007, shortly after my first experience with naturopathic medicine.  Since then, when I tell people what I’m working towards, they frequently ask questions like, “What on earth is naturopathic medicine?”

I’m never frustrated by it.  I’m sure I asked a similar question when I first heard about it, too. In my case, once the word “naturopathic” came into my life, my whole world changed for the better. In light of that, when people challenge me about what I do, I’m excited to explain it because of the possibility that it will impact them like it impacted me.

Recently, though, the conversations I have about naturopathic medicine have been shifting. Instead of the discussion being focused on my explanation, it’s becoming focused on what they already know about naturopathic medicine or how they’ve heard about it.

A few days ago, I was talking to a pharmacist when he asked what I do. Pharmacists may well be as far away from NDs on the medical spectrum as you can get, so I admit, I was not expecting to have a productive conversation. Still, I told him, and he responded with a story about his close family member who started seeing a naturopathic doctor.

As a skeptic of naturopathic medicine and a life-long advocate of the conventional medical model, he chose to speak directly to the ND to make sure that his family member was in good hands. Or, more specifically, to prove that his family member should find a “real doctor.” After his conversation with the ND, he told me, “I was extremely impressed with her knowledge.” He did not suggest his family member see another doctor.

He had one conversation with one ND, and his skepticism was erased. The rest of my conversation with him was about how he would like to have attending NDs at the hospital at which he works. He even told me that he has since defended the validity and education of naturopathic doctors.

This word-of-mouth approval that’s spreading through the medical community is great for the future of naturopathic medicine as a whole. But, for us as students, it illustrates an even deeper, more beautiful point.

The truth is, if we were working towards becoming surgeons, a big part of my goal would include being better than you. If my grades are better than yours, I’ll get a better residency than you. If I perform better than the other residents, I’ll be more successful. At its worst, this could involve pushing you down and, at its best, it would mean trying to elevate myself while leaving you behind. Either way, the worse you are, the better off I am. My success would be based on out-performing you.

The incredible opportunity that we’re given as ND students at this particular time in the history of naturopathic medicine is the simple fact that for me to be extremely successful, I need you to be successful. I need you to do well on your exams. I need you to pass your boards. I need you to know your stuff. I need you to graduate and become an incredible doctor that impresses skeptical pharmacists with your knowledge.

Competing against you, out-performing you, being better than you, will not really do much to elevate my career. And pushing you down could actually hurt the entire profession. At some point, naturopathic medicine will find its way into the mainstream and our numbers will be plentiful. It might take a while, but it will happen. And at that point, our grandchildren will be free to be as cut-throat and competitive as they need to be in order to get ahead.

But we’re not there yet. We’re at the stage where it’s still a team sport. The more successful ND graduates we have, the better off we are as a whole. I want you to remember this if things become tough for you. If you fail an exam, find yourself struggling or losing your motivation, remember that I need you to do well. I need you to succeedWe all need you to succeed.

And if you need a hand, it will be there. If one of us fails, it hurts all of us. Or, more optimistically, if one of us succeeds, it helps all of us. Take advantage of this golden age for ND students and don’t hesitate to turn to your classmates if you need some help or inspiration, I know I won’t.

Post by James Munro, student in the NUNM naturopathic medicine student