As a naturopathic doctor, you can have a rewarding career that offers flexibility, financial security, and the opportunity to purposefully help people on a daily basis. 1 Want to be strategic about your career in order to reach your full potential? Here are some tips from practicing NDs.
Work Backwards From Your Goal and Take That Risk
“I own one of the largest integrative clinics in Chicago, IL. We have interdisciplinary practitioners, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. I just graduated in 2019, but thrived because I had this vision: anytime I do something, I start with the end in mind and I work backwards. The moment I graduated, I knew that I didn’t quite have the resources to start on my own, so I worked with someone for a little bit. After I got my feet wet, I said, ’This is it—it’s now or never’ and that’s where you take the dive. I think when you show up, people will follow; people will find you.”
—Dr. Joel Kiselka, ND, DC (NUHS)
When you are planning the career trajectory you want, start with the end goal and work backwards from there. Making a plan this way allows you to begin with small, manageable steps that are purposeful and will lead you to your ultimate goal. Writing it down can help—start by writing a list of your career goals and prioritizing them. Then write down your highest priority goal(s) and think about what would logically come before. Write that down, then repeat the process until you get to where you are currently.
As you work towards your goal, pay attention to opportunities that arise and be open to stepping out of your comfort zone and meeting new challenges. If you really want something, and you feel ready to go for it, but there is a risk involved—risk it (within reason, of course)! It could be the one thing that makes your dream a reality. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from trusted mentors, they can often provide important insights and perspectives.
Plan for the Career You Want Before You Have it
“[At the beginning of my studies,] I wish I better understood what my intention upon graduation was. Did I plan to start my own business, or did I plan to work for somebody else or with somebody else? I think that it does make a big difference whether you plan to be an entrepreneur and run a business, or if you’re someone like me who doesn’t have much interest in that. I see the value and potential in [being an entrepreneur] because it is there, but with starting a family and having a wife who is a naturopath as well, I didn’t want to have that responsibility on top of the responsibility of taking care of my patients. Luckily, I found a spot where I’m not the clinic owner or in that capacity, but I’m compensated well, and I’m respected.
I wish I would’ve had that in mind going into [naturopathic medical school]. There’s a lot of opportunity out there regardless. If you are not planning to be an entrepreneur, you might want to know that because you might want to look at the market and look at what the positions are like for those who are employed at a clinic.”
—Terrance Manning, ND (NUNM)
Think about what you want your ND career to look like long BEFORE you finish your education, instead of expecting to suddenly have a plan as soon as you graduate. Do you want to run your own practice? Partner with someone? Work at a larger clinic? There are many flexible career paths that you could choose to follow with an ND degree, so it is a good idea to think through your options while you are working on your degree. 2
If you are not sure what you want your career as an ND to look like yet, use the resources available to you in the form of colleagues and mentors. Speak to practicing NDs who work in different roles, such as running their own practice or working for a larger clinic. Getting the perspective of people in the positions you are considering for the future can help you to determine what is likely to be the best fit for you.
Get Involved in Your Community
“As soon as you have registered your business with the state, sign up with your local entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs). This includes your local SBA and SCORE, but also women and other minority business support organizations. Most of the services ESOs provide are free and accomplish several purposes for your business. First, this establishes your presence as a naturopathic physician working within their community, thereby increasing visibility and referrals. Additionally, they inform you about networking opportunities, potential partnerships, access to grants and other types of funding. Finally, ESOs provide overall support in all aspects of your business including marketing and legal considerations.”
—Dr. Jennifer Pierre, ND (Sonoran University)
As a naturopathic doctor, it is beneficial to be an active member of both your local and wider medical communities. Look into what organizations and groups are available for you to join to help establish you and expand your network. For more business insight from Dr. Pierre, check out her upcoming May 2023 webinar on The Business of Naturopathic Medicine.
Embrace not Knowing
“You’re not going to know everything. There’s this drive to feel secure and have all the answers so that no matter what situation comes up, you feel ready to tackle it. I realized that I’ve had a lot of experience before going into running a business, and I still didn’t know everything, and that’s ok. It’s humbling to be able to just surrender to the process and to be able to understand that this is why we have a community.
I love naturopathic medicine; we’re a small army, and there’s so many colleagues you can reach out to. Whether it’s your previous peers or even veteran doctors who have been in practice for 20–30 years, they are really incredible mentors. I’ve learned so much just by reading their newsletters, learning how they operate their practice, and asking to shadow. It’s a very humbling experience in which I’ve had exponential growth, and I’m very grateful for that.”
—Dr. Joel Kiselka, ND, DC (NUHS)
“I’ve worked in a couple of different settings to see what works. I think if I had known what I know now, I would actively seek out some more business courses, training or liaise with some people who knew their stuff in that area that could coach me way back when, rather than feeling like it was such an uphill battle to figure it out all alone. And what I always say to people is I think sometimes when we start out, we’re afraid of the possibility of niche-ing. What I’ve really seen is that if you’re passionate about a certain area, what you put out there will come back to you. And I think ultimately, if you choose to focus in an area and you say no or turn some other people away, it’s actually a very positive thing because it tells you where your boundaries are, it tells you where your limitations are, and I think people really appreciate that. I think when you niche, or when you see the type of patients you want to see, your career is that much more fulfilling for you.”
—Dr. Kristi Prince, ND (CCNM-T)
Getting comfortable with the unknown is an important skill for anyone to learn. When you are on your career path to becoming a successful ND, you can’t expect yourself to always know the answer to the situations you may face. Leaning on other experts and being open to new perspectives will help drive new experiences and learning opportunities.
Instead, embrace the fact that you don’t know everything, actively seek out courses and training where you will learn new information and practice styles, and reach out for support when you need it. As an ND, you have access to a wide and varied community of naturopathic doctors and other providers, many of whom are happy to share their wealth of knowledge and act in mentorship roles. Successful NDs understand that continual learning is essential to growing and thriving as a healthcare provider.
For more information and tips on starting your career as a naturopathic doctor, head over to our Career Resources page.
Note that the quotes in this blog post have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity.