Naturopathic physicians (NDs) go to medical school like their MD colleagues. The first two years of school follow the same track, with classes in basic science. Biochemistry, anatomy (including cadaver lab…ughh), physiology, and so on. You can’t change basic science no matter what medical philosophy you study. The last two years are where we diverge. Yes, we learn Pharmacology and all the other ologies, and we can prescribe drugs in licensed states. However, in their last 2 years, MD students enter a series of hospital-based specialty rotations (trauma surgery, emergency med, pediatrics, etc) while ND students rotate through outpatient primary care settings. The last two years of ND education also include time spent learning the modalities that set us apart: botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine, nutrition, motivational counseling, and so on. During this time, we are also honing our skills as primary care providers, managing patients under the supervision of licensed and experienced NDs. In the primary care setting, we learn continuity of care as we see patients multiple times and see the outcome of our treatments. MD training in hospital and specialty rotations, for the most part, do not follow their patients. It is usually a one and done. When ND’s graduate, we pass our clinical boards, we are fully licensable as primary care provider physicians. But just like your MD, we are not oncologists without further training.
Becoming a naturopathic oncologist is a rigorous process. In order to qualify to sit for the naturopathic oncology boards, one must complete a two-year hospital-based residency or be in practice for at least 5 years, with the last two years consisting of an 80% or greater load of cancer patients. At this time, I am in year 4 of supervising and training Dr. Jessica Campbell so she can sit for the Oncology board exam. I did my residency at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa Ok. As part of approval process, a number of case studies must be submitted and approved by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (ABNO) which is the regulatory board. These case submissions are a screening process to be sure you are following safe and well-studied protocols. Once you have been approved by ABNO, then you may sit for the board exam. Dr. Campbell will be sitting for the oncology boards in 2021. The board exam itself is extremely demanding and requires that the applicant know the minutia of all the standard of care treatments for cancer and how they interact with the tools of naturopathic medicine. This is important because different cancer treatments work through different biochemistry and physiologic pathways, have different half-life, and different sided effect profiles. It is important to understand these intricacies of standard of care before using herbs and supplements, as many can interfere with these pathways, delay or speed up clearance of the drugs and make side effects worse. This is why it is absolutely critical that cancer patients seek out naturopathic doctors who are specifically trained, and ideally board certified, in naturopathic oncology. Again, NDs emerge from medical school trained for primary care. Cancer patients need to work with a specialist. Just as you would not rely on your primary care MD to prescribe your chemotherapy, radiation or perform surgery, you should not rely on a general practice ND to co-manage your cancer care. Training matters.
At our clinic, we specialize in oncology. While we do see some patients who do not have cancer, especially family members of cancer patients, the vast majority of our patients are either recently diagnosed and in treatment or have a history of cancer. They may or may not be in remission. We are equipped to help all cancer patients, working collaboratively with their conventional oncology team, at any stage of the journey. We follow a three pronged approach. (see blog on the three-pronged approach) If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, or have a family hx of cancer and are seeking extra support, please call our clinic today to make an appointment. We have many tools in our toolbox, and we teach our patients how to regain control as they navigate their illness. No one wants a diagnosis of cancer, but once the diagnosis has happened, one can choose to be part of the process and take control of their situation. Naturopathic oncology is about taking back control of your health, guided by experts who have dedicated their lives to helping cancer patients thrive. It is vitally important if you are going to uses supplements and herbs during your cancer care that you get guidance from those of us that are formally trained in interactions, and short- and long-term side effects. It is very dangerous to go to Dr. Google and self-prescribe and not tell your oncologist what you are doing. We are trained to help you to help yourself. At this time there are 123 ND’s in the United States and Canada that have passed the Naturopathic Oncology board exams and are Fellows of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (FABNO).
Written by Cynthia Bye, ND, FABNO
Board certified in Naturopathic Medicine