The Institute for Natural Medicine (INM), capitalizing on what its president and CEO Michelle Simon calls a growing awareness of the importance of holistic healthcare, hopes to be at the forefront nationally of focusing on “whole person health to address the tsunami of chronic health concerns in our country.”
Simon, a naturopathic physician graduate of Bastyr University, is convinced that expectations of a “more health-savvy populous” will accelerate the demand for integrative medicine, which is defined as healing-oriented medicine “which emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient and takes into account the whole person.”
Under the leadership of Simon, who also holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of North Carolina, INM has grown since she took the reins in 2013 from a Seattle non-profit focused on creating an awareness of the value of natural healthcare to a national organization aimed at changing the healthcare paradigm.
And it will soon have a for-profit arm she plans to incorporate as a Social Purpose Corp., a business structure that in Washington makes the social purpose of the company more important than shareholders’ consideration, to help address the growth needs emerging from the 501c3’s activities, which have begun to be national in scope.
INM is focused on expanding the awareness nationally of naturopathic medicine and broadening the availability of naturopathic physicians as keys to its efforts on behalf of holistic medicine, which by definition is about lifestyle changes, noninvasive remedies, and enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.
COVID likely has helped create an awareness of "whole person' health as it became clear those with underlying health issues faced a much greater risk of greater impact or death than healthy individuals.
"COVID has provided the need for individuals to recognize that taking charge of their own health, to the degree they can, is vital," Simon said.
An awareness of the emergence of educational facilities focused on what used to be called alternative medicine, which was part of the pushback by conventional medicine, has given way to the term “integrative medicine” with clinics often offering medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, and providers of other health-related services like acupuncture to patients.
The organization’s programs involve a three-pronged effort that includes a public awareness campaign, a residency program that has expanded to three states, and a childhood-nutrition program she calls Naturally Well, which teaches grade school kids about nutrition and teaches them to cook in a nine-week, hands-on program.
It was Simon’s telling me about her Naturally Well which was launched in San Gabriel, CA, with funding from the San Gabriel Valley Medical Center Foundation Fund, noting that San Gabriel was chosen because of the incidence of chronic disease combined with low income and high ethnic diversity.
INM CEO Michelle Simon on nutrition education:
"Send me your fourth graders!"
She told me children were the focus of what her organization hopes will become a family nutrition-awareness program because experience has shown that youngsters in about the fourth grade are both old enough to be educated and old enough to take such an education effort home to basically work on their parents.
She reminded me that the national campaigns for stopping smoking and getting seat belts were mounted at the grade school level and joked that her campaign could well be called “bring me your fourth graders.”
A similar initiative is underway in rural North Carolina.
When INM was founded in 1993, naturopathic physicians were licensed in only seven states. Now 22 states and territories license naturopathic doctors and one of INM’s initiatives is to seek to get naturopaths licensed in states where they are not yet licensed.
In Washington, incidentally, naturopaths prefer to be called "naturopathic doctors" since, in some states, naturopathic healthcare providers are permitted to call themselves naturopaths without having graduated from an accredited institution.
INM’s Residency Consortium is a collection of 14 multi-provider, multi-discipline, integrative-medicine clinics in three states, a few in Southern California, most in Washington State, and one in Simon’s home state of Vermont, which she explained has “a strong scope of practice for naturopathic medicine.”
But there is still a healthcare-delivery battleground that has conventional medicine often pushing back against broadening the acceptance of naturopathic medicine and licensing naturopaths.
And sometimes the battle in one state or another bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a political fight when naturopath-licensing proponents find themselves in the legislative arena. Such was the case in North Carolina last year when a bill to permit licensing of naturopaths became a pitched battle on the legislative stage and wasn’t approved.
But in Wisconsin, legislation approved last year to license naturopathic doctors was a recent win.
The West Coast, particularly Oregon and Washington, is at the forefront of the success of naturopathic medicine with maybe half of the estimated 8,000 licensed naturopaths nationally practicing in the West. That’s logically ascribed to the fact that one of the nation’s seven naturopathic universities is located in each West Coast state.
Joseph Pizzorno,Bastyr University founder,
was a master at fighting medical-acceptance
battles for naturopathic doctors
Portland-based National University of Naturopathic Medicine is the oldest naturopathic educational institution in the country and Bastyr University on Seattle’s Eastside, co-founded in 1987 by Joseph Pizzorno, who served as Bastyr’s first president for 22 years, maybe the most respected. Bastyr’s campus in San Diego was established in 2012.
Under Pizzorno’s leadership, Bastyr became the first accredited institution in the field of naturopathic medicine in the world. He moved Bastyr to its 51-acre campus on Seattle’s Eastside in the ‘90s and now-retired president Dan Church launched Bastyr’s San Diego campus.
His credentials include having been appointed by President Clinton in 2000 to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and by President Bush to the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee in 2002,
Pizzorno was a master at fighting the medical battles and in fact, had to beat back in the Washington Legislature in 1987 in an effort to discontinue licensing of naturopaths, the success paving the way for him and two others to found Bastyr later that year. Pizzorno is the co-author of the internationally acclaimed Textbook of Natural Medicine and the best-selling Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, which has sold a million copies in six languages.
Pizzorno, a member of Simon’s board who travels the globe creating relationships, has seemed to relish his encounters with conventional medicine, including when I noted Wikipedia’s definition of naturopathy as “considered by the medical profession to be ineffective and harmful, raising ethical issues about its practice. In addition to condemnations and criticism from the medical community, such as the American Cancer Society,[naturopaths have repeatedly been denounced as and accused of being charlatans and practicing quackery.”
“Looks like the ‘Quack Busters’ got to write up the Wiki definition,” he told me with a chuckle, noting that Wikipedia entries frequently relate to donations.“ Those of us who are advancing this medicine use the number of times they go after us as a measure of success.”
Despite the decades of rejection by conventional medicine of the focus and principles of naturopathic medicine, the growing awareness of those turning to natural medicine as their healthcare of choice, or maybe their co-choice, has clearly been a major formative influence for MDs and their clinics and hospitals to develop functional medicine and integrative medicine as part of their disciplines.
In fact, the National Institute for Functional Medicine, which includes healthcare providers of various disciplines to help patients address how and why illness occurs, has a board representative of an array of disciplines. Pizzorno was elected chair of its board last December, succeeding an MD.
And Simon shared a recent major success story from Oregon where the National University of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, after what she characterized as “decades of effort,” announced it was partnering with Oregon Health Science University to launch a department of integrative medicine, which will include three ND’s on the team.
INM has its own collaborations as Simon noted that her organization is working with the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress to create a white paper on non-pharma approaches to chronic back pain, which she described as “one of the drivers of primary-care costs and a leading reason for the opioid epidemic.”
One of the nation’s most prominent healthcare facilities to put a high-visibility focus on integrated medicine is Cleveland Clinic, which in 2014 became the first academic medical center in the country to establish a functional medicine program with a focus on chronic disease management.
As the Cleveland Clinics website explains, “Functional medicine providers spend time listening to you and gathering your medical history. We use this information to identify the root cause(s) of the illness, including triggers such as poor nutrition, stress, toxins, allergens, genetics, and your microbiome (the bacteria living in and on your body). Once we identify the triggers, we can customize a healthy living plan for you.”.
But ironically, Ohio is one of the states in which naturopaths are not licensed to practice at this point.
Nor in Kentucky, where a recent $47 million donation to the University of Louisville will be used to create a new campus focused on holistic health and health promotion.
In those and the cases of other states where naturopaths aren’t licensed to practice, naturopaths can be involved in the planning and administration of healthcare, just not delivering services directly to patients.
As an example of Simon’s belief that “there is a national movement toward whole-person health, she noted the Walmart family member Alice Walton is creating a new medical school focusing on it.
“The whole Health School of Medicine will help medical students rise to the health challenges of the 21st century through a reimagining of American medical education that incorporates mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, the elements of whole health, to help people live healthier and happier lives,” Alice Walton explained of her healthcare vision.