NUNM President/CEO Melanie Henriksen, ND, LAc, CNM (’05) is an integrative medicine leader, practitioner, proud NUNM alumna, and lifelong Oregonian. She brings to NUNM’s presidency a breadth of integrative and conventional medical knowledge, as well as clinical and academic experience.
Early Naturopathic Calling
Born and raised on the Oregon Coast, Dr. Henriksen knew early on that she would pursue a career in naturopathic medicine.
“Even though I do not have significant health issues myself, I, like many of our students, come from a ‘wounded healer’ background,” Dr. Henriksen said. “As a child I watched my mom and sister struggle with multiple health issues. The conventional world was not able to offer many solutions to my family. However, after a handful of visits with an ND/LAc, they both experienced ‘miracle cures,’ which now looking back I know was not the norm. But it was very impactful to me to see both of them experience dramatic health improvements after just a handful of visits.”
After high school, the future Dr. Henriksen moved to Portland, Oregon, intent on studying naturopathic and classical Chinese medicine. She took the first step toward becoming a doctor by earning a biology degree at Portland State University.
Her next step was enrolling at NUNM, where she discovered a love for women’s health.
“When I got into my natural childbirth classes, and started precepting with women’s health providers, I knew I’d found my clinical focus,” Dr. Henriksen said.
After graduating with degrees in naturopathic medicine and classical Chinese medicine, as well as a certificate in natural childbirth/midwifery, Dr. Henriksen participated in the residency program at NUNM from 2005 through 2007.
From Resident to President
Her residency years were an especially busy two-year span that also saw Dr. Henriksen establish a small private practice in Oregon City, Oregon, as a licensed primary care physician and acupuncturist. She gave birth to her first daughter in 2006, and that same year began pursuing a Master of Nursing degree from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).
By the time she graduated from OHSU in 2009 as a certified nurse midwife, she was the mother to two small children. Adding to her accomplishments, Dr. Henriksen was offered and accepted the full-time position running NUNM’s residency program.
“When I took over the residency program in 2009 we had eight different residency sites, and within two years it was up to 16,” Dr. Henriksen said. (As of 2021, NUNM offers around 50 residencies at 30 sites.)
After three years as director of NUNM’s residency program, Dr. Henriksen became NUNM’s Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and served in that capacity for the next five years, overseeing all fiscal management, program development, delivery, assessment and accreditation.
Complementing her duties at the school, Dr. Henriksen served as president or chair of almost every organization in the naturopathic profession: President of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical College (AANMC), Chair of the Council Postgraduate Naturopathic Medical Education (CPNME), Chair of the Council of Chief Academic and Clinical Officers (CCACO), member of the Naturopathic Coordinating Council (NCC), member of AANP, and Residency Consortium Committee chair for the Institute of Natural Medicine (INM), to name just a few.
Called to Midwifery
Working 70-plus hours a week and travelling frequently took a toll on Dr. Henriksen’s personal and professional lives. Facing career burnout and feeling the need to spend more quality time with her growing children, Dr. Henriksen left NUNM in 2017 and joined Kaiser Permanente as a midwife.
“Working within the Kaiser system was a fantastic experience. I worked with incredible dedicated colleagues in a fast-paced work environment where I frequently saw 20 patients a day. It was an opportunity to further hone my clinical skills, particularly in women’s health, prenatal and postpartum care, routine gynecological care and minor procedures including IUDs and endometrial biopsies,” Dr. Henriksen said.
Her time away from NUNM didn’t last long, however. When the position of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at NUNM became vacant, Dr. Henriksen stepped in on an interim basis while continuing to work as certified nurse-midwife (CNM) at Kaiser. The three-month-long interim position eventually became 18 months, during which time she trained her CMO successor.
A New Era at NUNM
Dr. Henriksen accepted the role of president on an interim basis in October 2020 and moved full time into her new role in January 2021.
In April 2021, she presented a balanced budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year – without increasing tuition for the first time in over 20 years. The budget also restored prior salary cuts and offered cost-of-living adjustments for all NUNM staff and faculty, as well as increased retirement contributions for all full-time NUNM employees.
Other hallmarks of her interim tenure include the launch of the first-of-its-kind first-year online doctor of naturopathic medicine program, the renaming of classical Chinese medicine degree titles, and investment in the NUNM Equity and Inclusion Fund.
In July 2021, Dr. Henriksen accepted a permanent position as President and CEO of the National University of Natural Medicine. She states with pride that “NUNM is my home”:
“Each time I have stepped away from this institution, something has drawn me back in. My love for this place is undeniable and whether I’m working on policy decision, participating in graduation, or in the clinic with students, my professional satisfaction is profound. Like all professions, those represented at NUNM have room for growth. However, I hear the patient testaments, I see the passion of our students, and I see the difference we do make: We are able to change lives, and that drives me, to figure out how we can do more and do better,” Dr. Henriksen said.
Dr. Henriksen serves as president of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), the nonprofit association that represents the North American naturopathic schools accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).
Previously, she has served as chair of the Institute for Natural Medicine‘s Residency Consortium, and as a board member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP).