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Naturopathic Leaders on Tribe, Collaboration and their 2008 Conference with Holistic MDs PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Naturopathic Leaders on Tribe, Collaboration and their 2008 Conference with Holistic MDs

Summary: In August of 2008, a small piece of interdisciplinary history will be made. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the American Holistic Medical Association will co-locate their annual conferences at the Arizona Biltmore. An earlier Integrator article focused on the decision of the AHMA board. This offers views of naturopathic medical leaders about this post-tribal, inter-disciplinary venture into ND-MD co-conferencing ...
Send your comments to
for inclusion in a future Your Comments Forum.

Holistic Priimary Care prompted this article
Erik Goldman
, editor of Holistic Primary Care, has naturopathic physicians and holistic medical doctors as two of his publication's primary constituencies. Goldman saw the Integrator article on the decision of the organizations representing these practitioners -
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) - to co-locate their 2008 conferences. He asked me to write up something for his publication.

Goldman knew that the AHMA - which has been through a period of struggle - was piggy-backing onto the much sturdier AANP's conference, entitled Embody Nature, Redefine Health. As a regular attendee of the AANP meeting, Goldman knew that many naturopathic physicians view their conference as a tribal gathering - just as the AHMA conferences have been for their members. Goldman wondered how long-time ND participants felt about the AANP board's decision to open the doors to the AHMA.

I sent a query to a few NDs - all leaders in some aspect of their profession's advancement - to see how they would respond.
I am writing a 1000 word story for Holistic Primary Care about the AHMA’s co-location of their conference with the AANP in August, and the invite to have AHMA people have equal access as speakers, member fees, etc. I would enjoy a comment or 2 from any of you, for the record, on the decision of AANP to do this. Some apparently didn’t like the tribe vibe being changed. Some think it’s cool. Any thoughts, for the record."
Here were their comments.

1.    Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO: "conventions are holidays reserved for family ..."

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
, is deeply involved with politics as a leader of a licensing effort in Colorado. Yet he takes a position whichm while it acknowledges the political value in the connection, comes down in favor of family gathering.
"You do pick challenging topics.  I think many of us have mixed feelings about this.  We spend so much of our time engaging in some form of politics  Whether it is in explaining our treatment regimes to patients, our legislative agenda to legislators, we are always working hard to move this profession forward.  So it seems logical that we use the time, money and effort we put toward our annual convention in the same direction.  Building connections with other professionals at this level makes good sense.

"Yet I confess, I see the convention as a time to be with our own, to not be engaged, to relax and enjoy friends.  I fear that we have developed a way of seeing medicine and healing that has become esoteric.  Consider the term vital force.  Our discussions over the years in understanding what the vital force is.... I don’t want to start over to explain this ....

"There are some holidays that it is traditional to invite guests, say Thanksgiving or Passover, and some holidays that we only invite close family members, say anniversaries or maybe birthdays.  I would have described the AANP convention as more like the later occasions."

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
Denver Naturopathic Clinic
Denver, Colorado
ND, Helena, naturopathic medicine, holistic
Nancy Aagenes, ND, LAc
2.    Nancy Aagenes, ND, LAc: "tribe vibe becomes expansive or the tribe suffers"

Nancy Aagenes, ND, LAc, a one-time Secretary of the Montana State Senate, completed naturopathic medical school, she quickly co-led a successful licensing push in her home states. She since served a term as president of the AANP (1999-2001).
"I feel strongly that the tribe vibe becomes expansive or the tribe suffers.  My closest associates and colleagues, those on whom I depend on a day to day basis in my practice include many medical doctors.  Not even holistic ones.  Just folks who are plain old good at what they know how to do and willing to communicate and share.  The only associate in my clinic is a medical doctor, a neurologist who is also the medical management director for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Montana.  We treat midlife women in my store and she offers them a range of possibilities that I can't offer and that some women prefer, need or choose.  Just as I offer things she can't manage.

"The vibe of the convention is changed anyway.  It is a larger group, less known to each other.  Those who want to be with their pals will always do that anyway.  I say, open the thing wide."

Nancy Aagenes, ND, LAc
Natural Medicine Clinic
Helena, Montana
NDs, collaboration
Parker, with Ometepe client
3.    Tabatha Parker, ND: "a time to get out of our naturopathic bubble"

Tabatha Parker, ND, is a co-founder of Natural Doctors International, which provided 5000 free clinic visits to the people of Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2007.
"Every profession experiences growing pains and the naturopathic profession is indeed in a growth spurt that could perhaps use a dose of Arnica to help us through the bumps.

"Being involved in the international arena of healthcare, I wholeheartedly welcome the AANP/AHMA co-location of conferences. How else can we begin to understand our place in the larger community health arena if we only live in a naturopathic bubble.

"While it is true that this is our one time of year to get together as a profession, there are few other venues where the majority of the profession congregates - so my philosophy is the more the merrier. Over the last 2 years I have attended many conferences outside the naturopathic bubble - making my way into international health circles, social justice circles and overwhelmingly the response of our small naturopathic presence is "por fin" - finally! the naturopaths are here! My guess is this type of co-conference will produce collaboration and open many new doors for our profession. Welcome to the AHMA!"

Tabatha Parker, ND
Natural Doctors International
Ometepe, Nicaragua

ND, AHMA, AANP, interdisciplinary collaboration
Bruce Milliman, ND
4.    Bruce Milliman, ND: "Hanging together, or hanging alone ..."

Bruce Milliman, ND, a multiple Integrator commentator most recently seen here commenting on the new NIH NCCAM director, poses a key question.

"Regarding AHMA, and 'is we is or is we isn't?'

"The holistic MD's - not unlike public health doctors and osteopathic physicians - share many of the challenges that ND's face. In my opinion and without question, Robert Anderson (AHMA's founding president) and Alan Gaby (a subsequent AHMA president) and many others in leadership and constituency in the AHMA are 'tribe'. They are tribe because of commitment, philosophy and practice; not because of school of origin. 

"Besides, like Jessie James famously said to his gang, "(boys) we either hang together or we hang alone."

Bruce Milliman, ND
Seattle Healing Arts
Seattle, Washington
5.    Educator Rita Bettenburg, ND: " great equalizing when people play together ..."

Rita Bettenburg, ND is a past president of the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians who currently serves as dean of naturopathic medicine at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.
I agree pretty much with what Jacob says. I also have mixed feelings. It is not their convention. But then, we hopefully will be doing a lot with each other in future and maybe this comes with trying to play in the big league. Growth can be hard. All in all I have no serious concerns though. There can be a great equalizing effect when people play together.

Rita Bettenburg ND
Dean of Naturopathic Medicine
National College of Natrual Medicine
Student Vanessa Esteves
6.   Student Vanessa Esteves: "a raging optimist on this one ..."

The guessed perspective of naturopathic medical student Vanessa Esteves, ND (cand.) might be guessed by reading an earlier Integrator article on the efforts of a group of naturopathic medical student, with which Esteves was involved, to forge ties with the American Medical Student Association.
"Thanks for asking for my thoughts on this great topic!  Sorry I have to be the raging optimist on this one...

"I have to say it's not common, but this time I'm with the cool group!  What a refreshing and collaborative concept-two groups of healthcare professionals coming together to learn from each other and network with the same goal... optimizing the healthcare of our patients!   (that is the goal.. isn't it?!)  As far as I am concerned there is an urgency for us to co-exist in the health system of today.

"As a student I am in the midst of exciting collaborations with the two groups -the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) and the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA).  ND students are attending AMSA conferences, we are participating National Integrative/Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ICAM) awareness days, MD students are advocating for NDs in the inclusion of bills to improve our profession and this year students are submitting resolutions to AMSA for the AANP and NMSA to be considered liaison groups...this is the first step to establishing a long term relationship with our friends at conventional medical schools!

"The bottom line is we all need each other to reform healthcare in this country.  I applaud both groups for putting egos aside and stepping away from the zone of comfort to meet their fellow colleagues at this massive gathering.  The AHMA and AANP are advocating for health with similar visions and therefore as we know..this is not  an easy task!    My thoughts are that we will all learn from each other at this convention...and we all still have a lot  learn."

Vanessa P. Esteves, ND (cand.)
Portland, Oregon
Comment: I realize on writing this up that I showed some bias in my selection group. My guess is that the rank and file may well be much closer to Schor than this group was. Still, the reflections on the changing boundaries of tribe are interesting, especially for any who believe that much of our more sublime, shared mission is well-described by Milliman's invocation of Jesse James.

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