Association Spotlight: The Naturopathic Medical Student Association
VALERIE GETTINGS, CISSN
Naturopathic medical students are facing uncharted territories as they make their mark in today’s unique healthcare systems across North America. On one side, there is a grim reality as many healthcare practices face closure; however, on the other side, there is rich opportunity for students to be creative with their future business models, make connections for residencies, launch virtual practices upon graduation, and meet the growing consumer demand for wellness, natural health care, and information.1
Recently, students and naturopathic medical schools have had to rapidly adapt in order to pivot to telemedicine as well as learn through new online learning platforms. Students have been able to adapt to the technology and to learn how to connect with patients virtually – a skill that many did not anticipate they would need as our world has changed.
The Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA)2 has had to pivot quickly as well during this challenging time in order to provide our students with professional and personal development opportunities that will help them avoid burnout and be successful while in school and in their lives.
History of the NMSA
The NMSA has grown exponentially over the years, from its inception 16 years ago, to what it has become today. According to a letter from past Executive Director, Susan Yirku, in the mid-1990s,3 naturopathic students began reaching out to each other between schools and the first International Naturopathic Student Association (INSA) met at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) to begin building a student community. (This inter-institutional student gathering preceded the first meetings of the school administrators, who would eventually form the AANMC, or the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.) They then met in Portland, OR, at NCNM (now the National University of Natural Medicine). When they met at Bastyr in 2004, they formed a formal organization – the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA).
Who We Are Today
Today, the NMSA is a student-run 501(c)3 nonprofit that represents over 2300 naturopathic medical students across North America at 9 campuses. The NMSA provides over $14 000 in fellowships, scholarships, and grants; puts on over 180 yearly events; and extends state and provincial advocacy opportunities and interprofessional organizational involvement for student involvement. The NMSA’s full board consists of 7 members of the executive committee, 9 chapter presidents, Executive Director Stephanie Fogelson, and Administrative Assistant Izabela Castillo (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. NMSA Board
The NMSA has representation on several committees of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Integrative Health Policy Consortium, and it supports state and provincial licensure efforts for naturopathic medicine. In addition, the NMSA is a voting member of the World Naturopathic Federation, supporting naturopathic medicine globally. It also partners with other interprofessional organizations to increase the visibility of naturopathic medicine in North America.
The NMSA is a unified, sustainable, ethical, and professional voice for naturopathic medical students across North America. The NMSA advocates for naturopathic physicians-in-training, and inspires educational and community-building initiatives that prepare naturopathic medical students with tools, experiences, and connections necessary to become successful physicians. The NMSA serves to create opportunity, support, and represent the diversity of naturopathic medical students.
NMSA’s 3-Year Goals
The NMSA’s goals for the next 3 years are to:
- Improve support and communication, and bridge the gap between NMSA International and the chapter executive boards. This will be accomplished by connecting each position on the NMSA Executive Committee with the local executive boards.
- Increase the amount of scholarships, travel grants, and fellowships to students by 35%
- Increase the amount and quality of NMSA membership benefits by 35%
- Continue to develop the NMSA’s relationships with its major donors: Microbiome Labs, Fullscript, Standard Process, NCMIC, and Hyatt Life Sciences
- Streamline internal membership processes
- Continue to build and nurture relationships with interprofessional organizations as well as external organizations
NMSA-ANR Virtual Retreat
The NMSA has teamed up with the Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR) for an upcoming virtual retreat, August 15-16. The NMSA-ANR retreat was inspired by the requests of students for more inter-school collaboration, restoration, and connection, as well as getting back to the roots of naturopathic medicine. The retreat agenda features shamans conducting ceremonies to open and close the retreat, EFT tapping, qigong, introduction to applied kinesiology, earthing, introduction to craniosacral therapy, talk with a doc, nature connection, personal power development, forest bathing, inspirational talks, a naturopathic elder panel, and the NMSA Cup trivia competition, among others.
NMSA Business Series
The NMSA Executive Committee, led by incoming NMSA International President, Timothy Clayton, is currently working on creating a business series for students with successful naturopathic doctors and business coaches. The business series program will bridge the gap between what is taught in the CNME-accredited schools for business and tried and true business tools that have helped naturopathic doctors become successful in the profession.
The series is aimed at students in every year of their education. It emerged from a need for students to get approaches and tools that work in business, especially during a challenging pandemic, to set them up for success upon graduation. The NMSA is proud to be able to offer this series to students this year.
NMSA Inter-School Facebook Group
To address the need for more inter-school collaboration and connection, the NMSA is also working to create a Facebook group this fall that will connect all students across North America.
As we move into the fall and online class delivery, the NMSA anticipates some obstacles associated with the lack of in-person events. In addition, it will be challenging for the NMSA to provide support on campus and to work with student government associations to create supportive and engaging events. Determining how to best connect with students in an engaging virtual way will be an exercise in creativity. Typically, in the fall the NMSA runs the “How to Hack” series, aimed at reducing stress and providing support to naturopathic medical students in each year of their education.
Incoming students will be invited to the NMSA-ANR virtual retreat, so they can make virtual connections prior to starting naturopathic medical school – connections they otherwise would not be able to make with online-only class delivery.
Creating Effective Systems for Success
As I reflect on my role as NMSA International President, 2019-2020, my main focus this past year was to bring the organizational focus back to the needs of our students while maintaining our interprofessional and donor relationships.
Pulling on my past experience as a program analyst for the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (US Navy Medicine) as well as a participant in Dr Tyna Moore’s Docere Mastermind, I conducted a gap analysis to improve our systems. Starting last August, we changed our internal communication platform from Basecamp to Slack, and shifted our video conferencing platform from GoToMeeting to Zoom. In addition, we also transitioned to online banking, which is critical for an international nonprofit. With more effective systems in place, our team has been able to communicate more efficiently and strategically than ever before.
Dr Tyna’s Docere Mastermind is a business group specifically designed to help female naturopathic doctors succeed in business. As a result of representing the NMSA in in this group (beginning in 2018, due to the generosity of Microbiome Labs), I was able to learn from Dr Tyna and JR Burgess about how to reverse-engineer a company’s success targets through measurable quarterly goals and anticipated concerns. This provided a yearly vision for the team, increased productivity, and decreased stress. It also ensured our team meetings were more productive and efficient.
The generosity of Hyatt Life Sciences allowed the NMSA to hire an administrative assistant this year for the first time. This lightened the day-to-day task load of our Executive Committee, thus enabling each position to focus on the organization’s mission of supporting students. This strategic shift has allowed students to leave legacies in their positions that the incoming board will take even further.
Focusing on the needs of students this year, and taking the pulse of the student body, shifted the trajectory of the NMSA. We listened to students, sent out surveys, supported anti-racism and anti-discrimination through official statements, and worked with local chapters for anti-discrimination training, which culminated in the NMSA-ANR virtual retreat. Additionally, our executive director, Stephanie Fogelson, conducted a successful strategic planning session with our full board during our winter workshop in January. This helped identify the sector needs of our students in order to create strong and creative plans for donor involvement and support.
My biggest legacy in my position has been the creation of NMSA business tools on our membership page as a result of being in Dr Tyna’s Mastermind. Since I had my own business for 8 years prior to attending CCNM, I know first-hand the challenge of starting and maintaining a successful business. The goal of sharing useful tools from the Mastermind with naturopathic medical students was to reduce the frustration of starting a business online and to give them a place to start in the digital world.
A Bright Future
In conclusion, the future of the NMSA looks bright. While the world faces challenging times due to the current healthcare situation, the NMSA is financially healthy and is able to pivot easily to meet the needs of our students, donors, and interprofessional relationships. The NMSA has grown immensely since its creation 16 years ago to support students, and it aims to stay focused on the future of naturopathic medicine – our students.
- Institute for Natural Medicine. Naturopathic Medicine is Growing in U.S. Medical Centers of Excellence. February 21, 2018. Available from: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/naturopathic-medicine-is-growing-in-us-medical-centers-of-excellence-300601605.html. Accessed July 13, 2020.
- Naturopathic Medical Student Association. 2018. Available at: https://naturopathicstudent.org/. Accessed July 13, 2020.
- Yirku S. NMSA Historical Reference. 2014. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5wtFQAaHzW8eDBXWkRDNm1WUFE/view?usp=sharing. Accessed July 13, 2020.