One of the most common questions the AANMC receives from prospective students is about specialization and specialties* within the field of naturopathic medicine. This topic is highly nuanced, and ultimately, the choice of whether or not to be a generalist or choose an area of focus comes down to each individual doctor, and what he or she is seeking from their naturopathic career.
Naturopathic medical education is extremely comprehensive and trains graduates for primary care delivery. New doctors may choose to develop an interest in a specific area of medicine, or maintain a broad practice, seeing a variety of patients and conditions.
For those NDs who graduate with a passion for a particular area of focus, there are many options to pursue that interest. Some naturopathic doctors seek out residencies in a specific field. Others begin practicing as generalists and naturally gravitate toward continuing education and patients with similar health journeys. The naturopathic profession offers career path flexibility that can grow and mature with a doctor’s clinical skill and professional trajectory.
Within the naturopathic medicine community, there are several officially recognized specialty associations focused on specific areas of medicine, including oncology, environmental medicine, and pediatrics.
All specialty associations are open to licensed naturopathic doctors and ND students. Anyone who meets these criteria, shares an interest in the specific field, and wants to learn more about an area of interest is eligible to join. For instance, in order to join the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, you don’t have to be a doctor who exclusively sees cancer patients.
Each of these associations provides a host of benefits to members, from educational resources to mentorship and networking opportunities.
Dr. Joshua Goldenberg, President of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, explains why being a member is valuable to doctors and students. “Membership in our organization allows for considerable benefits including free CEU courses/webinars, ‘find-a-doc’ online resources, a sense of community, and an exclusive member forum.”
Dr. Dan Rubin, founding President of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (2004-2009), says that his organization plays an important role for members. “OncANP is of extreme value in terms of community, continuing education, like-mindedness, sharing of clinical pearls, sharing of legal advice, sharing of treatments, new diagnostics, helping each other grow within their local communities, setting the stage for other specialty organizations, protection of the public, shared legitimacy in practice, and legal protection.”
Dr. Leslie Solomonian, the newly appointed President of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, says that her organization also focuses on helping students learn more about their career options. “We are reaching out to the students in AANMC schools to engage them in building their interest and confidence in pediatric care with an eye to increasing the service naturopathic doctors can offer to families and children. Pediatric care is the epitome of the naturopathic principle of prevention—by providing education, promoting health, and establishing a strong physiological and behavioral foundation in childhood, the population as a whole is healthier.”
In addition to creating an educational and professional community for a particular area of naturopathic medicine, some specialty associations also offer formal specializations. This means they provide a path to become board-certified in a specific field.
Currently, the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians are the only two groups that have board certification exams. Several other groups are actively working toward the creation of specialty board certification examinations.
Choosing Your Path
Many students wonder how to proceed given the varied nature of specialties. Those who already have a strong desire to practice a specific type of naturopathic medicine should get involved in a specialty association as a student. Student rates are typically very affordable, and include all of the same benefits as full ND membership. If you aren’t gravitating toward a specific field, you can still join multiple associations to learn more about conditions and treatment advances. Membership can also be valuable to help guide career choices and post-graduation employment opportunities.
As a practicing ND, joining a specialty association is a way to find community and learn more about clinical best practices and recent developments in evidence and research for that area of focus. There is a path to becoming a specialist, which involves taking a board certification exam and meeting the association’s criteria—such as completing a residency and practicing for a certain number of years. This is available with the Oncology and Pediatric Associations.
Current Specialty Associations
There are 10 specialty associations that are affiliated with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and this list is growing. Here are the current professional affiliates:
Academy for Parenteral Therapies (APT)
*Use of the term specialist may vary based on regulatory jurisdiction.
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