There is a big disconnect between the natural products industry and the naturopathic medicine profession, and if we can fix that, the impact could be huge. This is the primary reason I joined the board of trustees at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine just over one year ago. At SCNM, we have hundreds of students who will be tomorrow’s naturopathic doctors. We also have an incredible Naturopathic Medical Center and Pain Relief Center as well as nine local clinics through our nonprofit SCNM Sage Foundation that offer free health care to those most in need (women and children in domestic violence shelters, and children and families in low income areas). The work is having a big impact on public health Phoenix, and I wonder how big that impact would be if we could scale this nationally. We also have a research department that is studying botanicals, their benefits, and their modes of action in unique ways that I believe will result in some game changing knowledge for the botanical products market.
The obvious reasons we need to connect these two communities include:
- Naturopathic doctors see patients (the people we call consumers) every day and recommend products that our industry provides.
- Naturopathic doctors are strong advocates for the lifestyles and principles that expand the base of natural product consumers.
- Naturopathic doctors have the knowledge and training to apply these products to help their patients benefit.
But, there is also the not so obvious reason: Graduates of SCNM would make exceptional employees for many companies in our market.
In December 2015, I gave a presentation at the college to about 50 students and faculty on the topic of “Career Paths for NDs in the Health & Nutrition Industry." A good number of students are passionate about natural health, but do not necessarily want to go into private practice. What do they want to do? You name it. I met incredibly smart, motivated students who were interested in research, formulation, marketing, communications and yes, even sales. Think about this: In addition to formal training as an N.D. with all of that classroom/academic knowledge, each of these doctors also has many hours of actual clinical experience with patients. They have listened to them, examined them, diagnosed them, created treatment plans and monitored them, and all of this was focused on the patient outcome. Would someone like this have a unique value in your company? Let me give you some specific ideas on that:
- Marketing/Communications: An N.D. with all of this direct experience with patients (consumers) would be well prepared to help you take complex scientific information and communicate in an uncomplicated way, since they do this every day.
- Sales: An N.D. could apply his or her knowledge, experience and credibility to differentiate your science/products/value at the point of your customers (and make the sale)
- Formulation: An N.D. would be able to combine his or her academic knowledge of these ingredients with the actual clinical/patient experiences to create unique and beneficial products.
Barriers to this Connection
During my presentation and after, I had a lot of discussion with these students and faculty. I learned they have concerns about our industry. They asked about quality problems, trustworthiness, product safety and more. The tone of their questions and comments seemed to largely reflect what we often hear and read in the mainstream press; you know, the bad news about the bad companies making the bad products. I spent a good deal of time explaining that even with these problems, many incredible companies produce high-quality, science-based products with real value. I shared some ways for them to evaluate companies to try to figure out which is which. I also thanked them for their skepticism as it is a key tool that will help them ensure the best for their patients (our consumers). Bottom line is that they just don’t know us well enough, nor do we know them well enough.
For next steps, I am helping to organize some tours of manufacturing facilities here in the Phoenix area so that students and faculty can see firsthand how products are made. I think this will help them see the reality beyond the scary stories they hear from the media. And after that, we plan to have a job fair so that companies can meet those student about to complete their N.D. programs who are interested in one of the career paths I mentioned above.
During Expo West in a couple of weeks, I will be spending some time with Dr. Paul Mittman, the president of SCNM, and Dr. Jeffrey Langland, chair of our research department at the college. If you would like to meet them in person, just drop me a line at [email protected], and I will help to set it up. And if you find yourself in the Phoenix area anytime, I will be happy give you a tour of the college. Together, I believe we can make an incredible difference that benefits the natural products industry, the naturopathic profession and most importantly the patients/consumers we serve.