Association Spotlight A Conversation with AANP President, Kasra Pournadeali

Kasra Pournadeali, ND

How I got to be the president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is a good question. Having always planned to keep my head down, be a doctor, help a few people, and make a decent living, I never expected or wanted to get into politics. Of course, there is always the joke of “everyone else stepped back,” but that was not true in my case. One of my friends and classmates, Dr Regina Pacor (Massachusetts), asked me to take her spot on the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians (WANP) board as she was leaving the state. WANP had for 2 decades unsuccessfully tried to pass a scope-expansion bill, and it was thought that my ties to print, radio, and television might help. Well, it wasn’t the media relations but rather our commitment to bringing colleagues in the state together that ultimately got the job done.

After serving at WANP for just under a decade and bringing our scope and a number of other programs to completion, it was time to take a short break, that is until yet another friend and classmate, Dr Lisa Miller (California), compelled me to run for the AANP board. The conversation went something like this: “You did such a good job at WANP; why don’t you take those skills to AANP so the rest of us can benefit.” Hmm, a call to action that strokes ego and activates one’s higher cause to help others. Fundraisers take note! After that and various comments from my wife, Rebecca Dirks, ND, like “It is something you are supposed to do,” I was left with little choice but to run. The rest is history!

A Misconception About the AANP

Before I got involved in the profession’s politics, I witnessed (and adopted) the misconception that our state and national associations were not only impotent, but also poorly represented our profession. Although I’m President now, I still witness these sentiments in our community from time to time. And although they can harm morale, I can appreciate how such feelings come naturally. We are a passionate, committed, and fiery profession – like a family in some ways, and often hardest on those closest to us. I see these moments of discourse as opportunities to remind myself and others to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I use these moments as reminders that whether we are taking about the AANP, a state association, or a school, these organizations are composed of people doing their best to make a difference and help others. Over the past 16 years of service, I’ve come to realize that bad-mouthing an organization hurts – not only the organization, but the people who are trying to do something good. I’ve also come to realize the volunteers and staff in all of our organizations are, in fact, passionate, sensitive, and skilled, and are an advanced group of advocates that want nothing more that to represent us well. They want to carry our collective cause of making a difference for our patients, students, doctors, and communities. In the end, the biggest misconception is that our organizations are things, when in reality they are really a handful of dedicated volunteers who are (or would be) our friends, trying to do good, and who deserve our support. 

AANP’s Current Projects & Goals

AANP has multiple program arms, all of which are goaled to increase opportunities for our doctors and students in their efforts to serve our communities. Let’s take one program area as example: Advocacy. Our State Advocacy program includes supporting states by providing strategy, experts, an extensive resource library, trainings, communications, and even funding. Our Federal Advocacy includes efforts toward universal implementation of coverage for naturopathic doctors through the Affordable Care Act, inclusion of naturopathic medicine in the Veterans Administration (VA), and overcoming archaic Medicare language that currently excludes coverage for seniors who want to use naturopathic physicians. These are only a few examples of the multiple programs we conduct.

The AANP works on a model where the Board of Directors defines “End Statements.” An example: Naturopathic physicians will have the opportunity to be professionally and financially successful. You can read more at: http://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=19.

These overarching statements of intent for the profession are then translated by staff into priorities and projects described in a 2-year “Work Plan,” which is then implemented by staff. As an example, some of the programs for our 2014-2015 Work Plan include inclusion of NDs in the VA; inclusion of NDs in Medicare; protecting ND access to compounded medications; launching a consumer website along with the Institute of Natural Medicine; and providing online educational opportunities for our members. All goals, statements, and programs considered, the overarching intent of the AANP is to help our doctors, graduates, and students succeed.

How do we do this? Let’s take a few examples… First, we provide 2 signature events for our doctors and students to rejuvenate among their community: The AANP Annual Conference provides quality continuing education and unmatched opportunities to connect, while our legislative training, the DC Federal Legislative Initiative (DC FLI), is where one can not only learn and hone skills in legislative advocacy, but also participate in federal initiatives in the halls of Congress. Second, we have an effective “Find a Doctor” tool on the AANP website that receives 4000 views daily, and we provide multiple resources and mini-trainings in our member resource library to help new and established doctors who are either starting or building a practice.

Cause for Optimism Despite Challenges

The naturopathic profession’s biggest limitation is economic; our programs and their rate of progress are restricted only by available funding. Generally speaking, our profession is constantly outspent in lobbying at the state and national level by a factor of anywhere from 20-100 to 1. Just by these numbers, we are at a tremendous disadvantage. Many lawmakers are not even aware of us.

That said, the good news is that the environment is changing. With our DC FLI and effective state leadership, we are seeing more accomplished. We’ve seen an uptick in our legislative successes, and with congressional declaration of Naturopathic Medicine Week, more NDs providing care to lawmakers, and more NDs in media, despite our small numbers we are having considerable impact. As more of us step up and participate by supporting our causes, the faster we will get things done.

On Being AANP President

Ever since I was a student, my charge was – and it remains today – to help our graduates be successful, expand the reach of our medicine, and help those that need to access us. As the president of AANP, my mission is no different, and I now get to facilitate this shared calling by leading the board, supporting AANP staff, and representing our profession in a way that moves our programs forward.

The most challenging part of being President is keeping the various groups working together. Imagine staff and leaders from all walks of life, with strong opinions and personalities, in a room or on the phone, discussing a charged or controversial topic. Needless to say, it can produce some excitement, but at the same time, it can also be rewarding. Harnessed well, when reasonable people are at the table, a group process and good communication always produces more-thoughtful decisions.

Reasons to Support the AANP

What is the party line of various associations around the country? The association is the sole voice of __________. It is the only organization that nationally advocates for __________. If we don’t collectively support the association, we cannot be effective.

Instead, imagine this: Naturopathic doctors are licensed in every state, reimbursed equitably, and included in every state and federal healthcare program. Every person knows what an ND does, and has access to an ND. The healthcare system is patient-centered, and includes NDs and our philosophy of wellness, health promotion, and prevention. Every graduate has the opportunity to thrive in a setting of his/her choice. These goals are attainable, but only with all of us participating. The rate at which we move toward them is directly proportional to our financial commitment. Every membership and every contribution matters.

Why am I a personally a member of the AANP and multiple state organizations? Simple. Having served as a volunteer, I’ve learned that it’s not an organization I’m supporting; it’s the people that are sacrificing, to try to make things better for me. Their sacrifice matters to me. And as much and as long as I can, I will support them with money, time, energy, and voice. I challenge you to do the same. It’s the right thing to do. Our profession and the people who make it are a great gift to us. Recognize that gift, and stand with your colleagues as we do nature’s work together!

“Dr P.” Kasra Pournadeali, ND, can be reached at director@ncoh.net.

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