Celebrating our New Colleagues

Celebrating our New Colleagues

Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

Last July, on a sudden impulse, I bought a ticket and flew from Denver to Phoenix early one Saturday morning and spent the day there. A week earlier I’d received an invitation to attend Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine’s class of 2009 graduation ceremony.

I made it there in time to get a third row seat in the auditorium and watch the festivities. It was different, at least from what I remember of my graduation from National College of Naturopathic Medicine 18 years ago. There were so many of them! A total of 53 paraded across the stage. Only 17 of us graduated in 1991.

The new doctors all looked so young. The guys were all clean shaven. The women wore high heels. There were tattoos showing on ankles.

I joked with Steve Messer who teaches homeopathy at SCNM. When we went to early AANP conventions in the 1980s, there would always be one or two tables of old timers. Bald, grey-haired guys in out-of-date suits who would talk non-stop with each other, ignoring the after dinner speeches. I looked at Dr. Messer and asked, “How did we become the old guys?”

Part of the reason we got old so suddenly is that we started out old. The average age of our class when we started school was 38. I don’t know the average age of these students, but none looked even close to 38. In 2 decades, they will still be young.

The other thing different then was that most know where they were going. Paul Mittman took a moment to brag about this class; 80% apparently already have jobs. In our class of 17, three of us stayed on as residents. [Well, Chris Melitis also stayed, working part-time at NCNM’s pharmacy. This was obviously a smart move in hindsight.] The rest of us were on our own.

More things were the same though than different. The same kinds of people are still drawn to attend naturopathic medical school as when we went. I remembered Tom Stowell’s words after I’d driven 11 hours to Minneapolis to meet him, the closest practicing ND I could find. “If it wasn’t your karma to be an ND, you would haven’t of heard of the school.” Our profession remains a vocation that people are called to.

Naturopathic school still sounds like it is an arduous experience, a marathon of study and learning. Students still think they will change the world. They haven’t discovered yet that nature doesn’t always heal, that people, even if they eat all organic, still get old and still die.

For someone who has moved a few steps closer to getting a seat at the old guys’ table, meeting these young doctors, listening to their speeches, and seeing their excitement about the future was both an enormous pleasure and an honor.

I had expected to sit in the audience surrounded by colleagues from the Phoenix area and was surprised as I scanned the auditorium for familiar faces to find that I was about the only non-faculty ND present. The guests were family and friends of the graduating students. The affair reminded me of a couple who marry down at the courthouse, with only a friend or two as witnesses. The graduation ceremonies certainly sufficed, but it was a missed opportunity for grand celebration.

If nothing else, I have learned over the years in practice that we should take every opportunity we can find to celebrate. It is a great thing that these students, now doctors, and their teachers have accomplished. Few people are called to our profession and of those that are, few have the courage and fortitude to enter and complete naturopathic medical school. We should all make the effort to attend these graduation ceremonies and stand witness. We should be there to welcome these new members into our family.

This was the first graduation I’ve attended since my own. My only excuse is that I’ve not been invited. The schools could and should make a stronger effort to extend invitations to the profession. These ceremonies belong to all of us and in the future I will not hesitate to go, even if uninvited. I invite all of you to come crash the party along with me next year.

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