Naturopathic Physician’s Oath: Its History & Meaning

Harry F. Swope, MBA, ND, DHANP

Letter to the Editor

Prior to 1993, NCNM and Bastyr were administering different versions of an oath to their graduating classes, and these had varied greatly over time. While this allowed the graduates some participation in the expression of their values, it did not provide a unifying force for the profession. As part of an effort to draw together and build the profession, the AANP board wanted to have a single naturopathic physician’s oath that would be shared by everyone. The oath was also intended to inform people outside the profession about the doctrines and ethical values we uphold.

In 1990, Sandy Voigt, who was then Dean of Students at Bastyr, proposed to the AANP board that there was a need to create a uniform oath for naturopathic physicians.

At that time, I was volunteering with the AANP, and John Weeks – who was then Executive Director of the AANP – and Dr Tom Kruzel – who was Professional Affairs Chair – asked me to head up the effort to compose a single oath for graduating students. My task was to serve as editor for the process, drawing on a wide mix of input ranging from Dr John Bastyr, to leaders in the profession, to my friends and classmates. The list of names is too large to mention here, but numerous respected people in the profession were very engaged during the process.

After reviewing examples of naturopathic oaths that had been used previously, as well as oaths used by other professions, I sent an initial draft for a new oath to about 20 doctors that I especially respected, that included graduates of both schools. Their comments were collated, and an updated draft was circulated to the AANP House of Delegates. A further revised draft was then presented to the House of Delegates at the 1991 convention at Whistler, where it was adopted as a working version. After an additional year of feedback and editing, the final version was achieved in a committee session of the House of Delegates and was passed by the full House at the Arizona convention of 1992.

In the process, phrases and words were added and removed to try to reach a statement that was both eloquent and meaningful as we sought to make this oath truly our own. The goal was to draw on the best of what had been used before while also encompassing the spirit of the profession as a whole. The principles cited needed to represent the heart and soul of what it means to be a naturopathic physician. They are not just a bunch of high-sounding pronouncements; rather, they are a road map to how we practice.

One of the key elements that distinguishes our oath appears near the middle of it:

Through precept, lecture, and example, I will assist and encourage others to strengthen their health, reduce risks for disease and preserve the health of our planet for ourselves, our families, and future generations.

That’s a sweeping but essential description of the foundational philosophy of naturopathic medicine. Unlike other professions, we see ourselves as catalysts for change in the broadest possible terms. Our focus is on serving others.

The oath also clearly states our 5 key principles:

  • First of all to do no harm
  • To act in cooperation with the healing power of nature
  • To address the fundamental causes of disease
  • To heal the whole person through individualized treatment
  • To teach the principles of healthy living and preventive medicine

Those 5 principles outline our philosophy and our way of practicing. It’s about serving individual people and teaching them how they can be responsible for maintaining their own health. It’s about individualizing the treatment to the person, not to a disease name.

It is the first principle that is most critical. Our goal is to use methods that have very limited possibility of harm. While “modern, scientific” medicine willfully accepts the harm (mellifluously called “side effects”) inherent in their methods and focuses on the suppression of symptoms rather than addressing the fundamental causes of disease, our focus is on helping people regain the fullest possible freedom from limitations in all dimensions: mental, and emotional, and physical.

I had the honor of leading those attending the 1992 AANP convention in Arizona in reciting the newly adopted oath. I am immensely proud of how my colleagues have embodied the principles of the naturopathic physician’s oath over the 25 years since.

 

Sincerely,

Dr Harry F. Swope

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Dr. Harry Swope earned an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country before embarking on a successful career that included management positions in two of the major pharmaceutical firms. In 1985 he gave up his day job to attend NCNM, and after graduation practiced in Southern California. His service on various boards included the AANP, the CNDA, and the National Center For Homeopathy. Supported by Dr. Durr Elmore, DC, ND, DHANP, he founded and was for many years president of the Council for Homeopathic Certification.  He is currently a director of the Naturopathic Medicine Institute.

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