According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of cancer patients use complementary and alternative medicines such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and supplements. Integrative oncology is an emerging field that uses these treatments and is becoming increasingly popular amongst octors and patients alike.
Naturopathic physicians play an integral role within integrative oncology. They often work alongside conventional doctors at various cancer treatment medical centers around the world.
In this blog, an NUHS graduate Kaila Sellars, ND, ‘16 who specializes in integrative oncology at Santa Cruz Naturopathic Medical Center, shares seven reasons why you might want to consider specializing in the field.
1. You’ll help provide comprehensive care plans
Collaboration between various practitioners, including conventional medical doctors, often leads to a more cohesive and effective treatment plan. This provides the patient with the best care possible.
I’ve worked with medical and radiation oncologists, dietitians and physical therapists. Many specialists are interested in an integrative approach and are excited to work with naturopathic doctors.
2. You’ll take a more personalized approach
Naturopathic medicine emphasizes individualized care, taking into consideration each patient’s unique health profile, history, and preferences. This personalized approach is particularly well-suited for integrative oncology, which can involve complex treatment plans.
Within naturopathic medicine, there are a plethora of treatment options for patients and doctors to choose from. My treatments always include nutrition, homeopathic remedies, herbs, and often nutritional IV therapy. Depending on what works best for the patient, hyperbaric oxygen, which involves breathing pure oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber, and homeopathic mistletoe are options, too.
3. You can enhance treatment effectiveness
In naturopathic medicine, certain therapies, such as nutrition, acupuncture, and mind-body techniques, can support the body’s natural healing mechanisms. As a result, this can enhance the impact of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. By bringing together natural therapies with conventional treatments, you may be able to help patients achieve better outcomes.
This is among the many reasons why integrative oncology has become so popular. As more research comes out showing the effectiveness of naturopathic medicine, the integrative approach is rapidly becoming more accepted and mainstream in conventional settings, which is exciting.
4. You’ll help improve a patient’s quality of life during and after cancer treatment
Many naturopathic therapies are aimed at improving the patient’s quality of life, not just during but after cancer treatment. During cancer treatment, NDs help patients manage symptoms, reduce side effects, and enhance overall well-being.
After the treatment phase, naturopathic doctors can help patients transition to a healthier post-cancer life by providing strategies for maintaining health and well-being. NDs can help patients during end-of-life stages, too.
I recommend those interested in oncology become comfortable with conversations about death. Death is the final act of this life, and everyone deserves to be comfortable, out of pain, and safe. There are several naturopathic comfort-care measures that can be offered to patients such as botanicals, homeopathic remedies, stress management, and nutritional therapies.
5. You’ll have a skill in high demand
Many patients are seeking integrative approaches to cancer care that address their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. As a result, the demand for practitioners with expertise in integrative oncology is increasing.
Naturopathic doctors aren’t limited to operating solo-practices or working in multi-disciplinary clinics. In addition to cancer treatment centers, a wide variety of health care facilities are opening their doors to naturopathic doctors. Many prestigious hospitals and medical offices are now incorporating alternative medicine practices including Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, John Hopkins, Yale and the University of California, San Francisco.
6. You’ll have access to several preceptorship opportunities
Since integrative oncology is a growing field, there are plenty of local opportunities to shadow providers and NDs, which I highly recommend if you are interested in pursuing this field. These types of opportunities, particularly those available through National University of Health Sciences, were pivotal in helping me discover the field of naturopathic medicine along with my interest in oncology. It’s also important to learn as much as you can regarding the specialty of oncology.
As a student at NUHS, I decided to complete a preceptorship at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, IL where I saw firsthand how naturopathic medicine benefited cancer patients. I also completed the Yellowstone residency offered at NUHS, which, in addition to oncology, offered experience in family medicine as well. At the Yellowstone residency, I enjoyed how much I learned and the friendships that were made along the way. Montana has a great scope of practice and is a state that is often overlooked. I appreciate every moment I spent there.
There is so much to learn outside of medical school. The residency sites are all different in terms of how much research you will be doing versus patient care hours. I recommend reaching out to clinicians and asking specific questions.
7. You’ll continue to learn and innovate
The field of integrative oncology is continually evolving with new research, therapies, and approaches. This offers you the opportunity to stay engaged in ongoing learning and professional development.
Conventionally, there is more and more research occurring in the immunotherapy world. I think it is great to find specific targets to treat cancer. Naturopathically, we are always improving upon our understanding and use of herbs and finding ways to combine therapies to achieve the best results. Even once board exams are over, you should continue to focus on learning and studying.
There are many reasons to consider specializing in integrative oncology. Most importantly, you’ll be making a positive impact on patients’ lives during a challenging time. This can be an incredibly rewarding component to your future career in practice.