Plane Medicine

10/29/2013 12:38 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

On a recent cross country flight, I am standing in the galley chatting with the flight attendants, three strong, efficient and capable women, each with more than 30 years on the job. I strike up a conversation about the soda can flip tips one of them is collecting for the Ronald McDonald house, which leads to a conversation about the negative health effects of soda, diet soda in particular. At some point early on, the fact that I work as a naturopathic doctor comes up.

Well, this airplane galley might have been my clinic waiting room. One woman is noticeably hoarse, what could I do for her? Another has arthritis in her foot and issues with bone density. The third has diverticulitis. One's brother has ALS, and one's mother has hypertension. They want my advice on everything: diet, supplements, herbal medicine, fasting. These are educated women in their 50s who want answers. They want access to doctors who work with prevention, with diet and with non-pharmaceutical and effective approaches to healing for their own complaints and for loved ones. This is what naturopathic doctors do. This is where naturopathic doctors fit in. This is where naturopathic doctors shine.

Trained at four-year, in-residence, full-time naturopathic medical schools, NDs are trained to get patients to make the sometimes difficult changes needed to find a healthier balance. We're schooled in gentle yet effective areas of therapeutic nutrition and botanical medicine. We learn about stress reduction and the importance of finding the root cause of an illness when at all possible.

There are now naturopathic doctors working in every state, some in one of the 18 states that fully license and regulate NDs, others in states where we are not yet licensed. In the former, some NDs work as primary care providers helping to fill the shortage in family care. In unlicensed jurisdictions, NDs practice a more limited scope of training so as not to be considered practicing medicine without a license. NDs and their supporters in a number of these states are working on legislative efforts. The Senate passed a resolution this year, marking Oct. 7-14 National Naturopathic Medicine Week, declaring that people in the U.S. need to learn more about naturopathic medicine with its safe, effective, and affordable offerings. During that week, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, there were hundreds of events held and dozens of newspaper, radio, TV, blogs and tweets about ND medicine.

I did not dispense medical advice at 30,000 feet; that would not be good medicine. But it was a long flight, and I offered suggestions for colleagues across the country. Increasingly, there is interest in and desire for access to doctors who are experts in providing natural medicine options and for doctors who can work collaboratively with other care providers across the medical landscape. Find a naturopathic doctor for yourself here.

For more by Amy Rothenberg, ND, click here.

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