Although experts continue to predict a slow recovery for the delicate U.S. economy, it’s not all bad news. In fact, if you’re interested in a career in health care, then you’re in luck, because it’s a thriving field of expansion and change. Current growth and other positive trends make today a good time to become a naturopathic doctor (ND) — especially since the future prognosis for job demand in this field looks equally bright.
The current health-care system is undergoing a crisis: There are currently not enough medical practitioners to meet our nation’s vast health care needs, the prevalence of chronic disease has skyrocketed, and people are seeking new options. President Barack Obama has heeded the cries for change, and his health care reform measures have begun to set the stage for a new system in which complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers may play an integral part, and a preventive, wellness-oriented focus takes its rightful place at the forefront.
Rising demand for natural health care
Legislative policy is one thing, but the attitudes and expectations of health care consumers are arguably the most significant determinants of the ND profession’s viability, and favorable conditions prevail here as well. People are living longer, and they are seeking a higher quality of life, expecting more than just pharmaceutical symptom management. For this reason, natural health care appeals to many health-conscious Americans. Today’s population has an increasing interest in wellness practices and therapies, a growing desire for healthful aging techniques, and a renewed focus on prevention and self-directed lifestyle changes, such as dietary strategies. Out-of-pocket payment for such services is becoming increasingly common, as is health insurance coverage.
Americans are visiting NDs more frequently and spending more on natural health care services and products. A recent survey noted that more than a third of consumers use CAM, and that Americans reportedly spent close to $34 billion on CAM in 2007, a 26 percent increase from an estimated $27 billion ten years earlier.1 More specifically, the number of adult visits to ND practitioners rose 46 percent over a recent five-year period — from 498,000 annual visits in 2002 to 729,000 visits in 2007.1, 2
Labor force growth projected
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts that consumer demand for alternative health care will continue to grow because of “research and changing attitudes about alternative, noninvasive health care practices.” The DOL also forecasts that employment of physicians in general will grow faster than average for all occupations through 2014, driven in large part by the rapidly increasing older population.3
Political and legislative victories
Many other positive developments have paved the way for the naturopathic medical field to prosper. The DOL recently revised its official definition of a naturopathic doctor so that it corresponds with the modern practice of NDs serving as primary care providers, a role that includes the utilization of prescription and legend drugs.4
This new definition will enhance the profession’s credibility, enabling it to more effectively set, measure and enforce standards for itself; achieve licensing in more states and provinces; and create more opportunities for participation in student loan repayment programs.
Signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (HR 3590) includes provisions prohibiting insurers from discriminating against any provider who is state licensed. This is good news for NDs and patients, allowing for greater access to care in states where NDs are licensed.5,6 Other provisions in the bill specifically recommend increasing the number of primary care providers and CAM practitioners alike. This acknowledgement of the crucial shortage of available primary care coupled with the growing recognition of the importance of preventive health strategies well positions NDs to increase their prominence in the health care milieu.
With so many harbingers of success and expansion, the future of this progressive field looks healthy indeed, for patient and doctor alike.
Sydney Maupin is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor with an interest in promoting natural medicine and helping others to achieve holistic wellness.
1 “Costs of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Frequency of Visits to CAM Practitioners,” National Health Statistics Reports, Number 18, (July 30, 2009).
2 “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002,” Advance Data, Number 343, (May 27, 2004).
3 “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition,” (December 17, 2009) and “Employment Outlook: 2004-14,” (November 2005), Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.
4 “The Future of Naturopathic Medicine: A Message from Karen E. Howard, Executive Director of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians,” Natural Medicine Journal, (January 2010).
5 “What Does Health Reform Mean for Natural Health Providers and Nutritionists?” Bastyr.edu, (May 2010).
6 “Text of H.R. 3590: Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act,” Govtrack.us (March 23, 2010).