How do you succeed in a career you love? If you’re Donese Worden, it’s through a strong belief in yourself and in the medicine you practice, vast and varied education and experience, and keen marketing and communication skills. With this winning combination, Dr. Worden has managed to do what many people only dream of: to succeed — from day one — in a career that’s both deeply satisfying and financially rewarding. Though she started her ND career at an integrative clinic, Worden now operates her own private practice and will soon open a second practice to better serve the needs of her growing patient-base. Not one to keep her success to herself, Worden opens her practice to medical students and medical residents and devotes herself to community education about the profession. We recently spoke with Dr. Worden to learn the secrets of her success …
The power of an integrative practice
AANMC: When you graduated, you started out in an established, integrative practice with MDs, RNs and physical therapists. What are the advantages of that type of start-up situation? DW: The advantage is that you don’t have to get into the whole business side of it. The practice is already marketed. You already have a referral base. You just get to be a doctor, which is helpful when you first graduate. AANMC: These integrative practices are a growing trend, especially for those just getting into the field. How did the integrative nature of the practice benefit you? DW: I was able to ask questions of some very good experts and continue to learn. At my facility, there were these pain-management guys — anesthesiologists, but also pulmonologists and cardiologists — so I had a wealth of knowledge to grow from. Naturopathic physicians are very good at taking time with the patient to dig and to find the root of the problem, but we also need to get good at reading MRIs and doing some of the basic diagnostic tests and really understanding those are very important too. So that was invaluable to me. You know when I graduated, I would have thought I would have never, ever, ever recommended a corticosteroid. But there is a time and place for all of it. In patients who have a nerve that is being compressed, if you don’t get a steroid on that you’re going to have nerve damage. I had to learn those things when I was in the fray of it, you know and get my nose out of the air, saying, ‘I’m a naturopathic doctor and I would never recommend these services.’ AANMC: That’s what a lot of people think: that if you’re a naturopathic physician, you only recommend herbs and vitamins. DW: Right, and you can’t do that. Our country has some of the best emergency medicine in the world, and those services are not naturopathic medicine. If you’re having a heart attack or you’ve broken a leg or you have a crushed nerve, I believe you need allopathic medicine. And then, when it’s really time to heal and get to the root of the problem, that’s where naturopathic medicine comes in.
Lessons in listening
AANMC: What element of your training have you found to be the most valuable when it comes to your career? DW: Learning how to spend time with the patient and listen. The patient knows what’s wrong. If you listen carefully and spend enough time with them, they will let you know. They will lead you toward knowing what is wrong with them. That’s the value in how naturopathic physicians practice. AANMC: I would think that’s the reason a lot of people get into this field — they see value in that. But many students also question, ‘Can I really make a living as a naturopathic doctor?’ What’s been your experience? DW: No problem whatsoever, and for anyone who says they can’t, their problem is not with naturopathic medicine. It is a wonderful and very marketable profession. People cannot wait to hear about it. They can’t believe there’s a licensed doctor who does this. They’re beside themselves. And word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire. If NDs have trouble in their practices, it’s with something else; it is not with the profession itself.
Seriously speaking … about salary
AANMC: You were saying you’re going to hire some residents in your practice. What could those residents expect to earn? DW: I’m probably going to pay them a little more than what the school clinic would because they’re residents. Unfortunately, that would still not be as much as what I think they should be paid. I do have a couple of students who are graduating now for whom I secured positions with other physicians, and they may start at $40, $45 or $50,000, which I still think is very underpaid. I went in and marketed myself as something that was unique and different and did well from day one, and then realized how much money I was making. It was a very good salary, and it was nice to have in the beginning. And I built my patient base there, so when I was ready to leave, I had an entire practice to take with me. AANMC: Do you feel naturopathic doctors sometimes undercharge for their health care services, compared to their counterparts in traditional medicine? DW: Absolutely. Absolutely. 100 percent. What we offer and can offer is invaluable and I think part of the problem is the mindset of many naturopathic doctors. It’s not the public and what they’re willing to pay. They’re willing. It’s not that. Some NDs are thinking, ‘Well, they can’t afford that. Let me help them. Let me keep my prices down.’ And then their practice doesn’t thrive. That’s ridiculous. They have paid for a medical school education and their pay should be comparable if not more than medical doctors. AANMC: There was a survey done by the AANMC which showed that better than 70 percent of naturopathic doctors were satisfied financially with what they were making in their practices, but 98 percent felt satisfied with their work. DW: Yes. I think that what they’re satisfied with financially is still lower than what they deserve, but they’re satisfied because they love what they do. You’re drawn to this profession because you love people and you want to heal and you want to help. That’s what makes the difference.
Rewards and belief
AANMC: So what would you say have been the biggest rewards for you in your career? DW: I think there’s a daily reward. A hug from a patient. A grateful tear that says, ‘Finally, someone has found something. It’s not all in my head. Other doctors told me I was crazy!’ Just that daily moment when you see that you may make a change in someone’s life. You give them a ray of hope and that ray of hope is the best medicine they could ever have. AANMC: With the success you’ve seen in this profession — even as a new doctor just starting out — what advice would you give someone who’s considering becoming a naturopathic doctor? DW: Believe in the medicine and believe in yourself. You will get patients, and you will help people get better when you truly believe in the medicine and you believe in yourself — and that’s it. I’d ask them: Do you believe in this medicine? Do you know that it works? If so, and if you’re passionate about it, then it just happens. Things come to me … I’m not out there looking for it. These things come when you believe. And that may sound spiritual, way out there, but that’s the truth of it. What’s the recipe for success? Believe. Believe in something greater than yourself and it all happens.
That is how Dr. Donese Worden lives and works — believing in herself and in the medicine to which she has dedicated her career. That belief breeds trust on the part of her patients — patients who oftentimes turn to Dr. Worden after failing to find answers in conventional medicine. Dr. Worden says she hears a sigh of relief from patients … relief to have found a doctor who believes in them. It’s not difficult to see why ‘things come to her,’ as Dr. Worden puts it. Her medical education did not end when she graduated from SCNM. She has trained with various European doctors, earning certifications in neural therapy, advanced applied psycho-neurobiology, psychoneuroimmunology, advanced autonomic response testing, color and light therapy, apitherapy, and advanced darkfield microscopy. Like many top NDs, Dr. Worden continually practices advancing herself, increasing her value to her patients.
A freelance writer and copyeditor, author Tami Kegley has written numerous articles for print and the Web. She has also produced daily health segments, special reports and documentaries as a producer at KOMO TV in Seattle, Washington.