With the rising prevalence of chronic disease, more Americans are choosing holistic, lifestyle-based care like naturopathic medicine. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this demand for alternative health care will continue to grow because of “research and changing attitudes about alternative, non-invasive health care practices.”
In order to make naturopathic care accessible, more states are recognizing and licensing naturopathic doctors (NDs). Currently 22 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories license NDs with three states gaining licensure approval in the last year alone: Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
While several states continue their effort toward ND licensure, NUHS naturopathic medicine graduates are still finding lucrative careers in prelicensed states like Illinois where their program is based.
Below, three NUHS graduates describe their current careers and provide insight into their success.
Raynette Ilg, ND, owner of Olive Branch Wellness Center in South Elgin, Illinois
Raynette Ilg, ND, jumped right into operating her own practice after graduating with her ND degree in 2011. Known to her patients as Dr. Ray, her practice, Olive Branch Wellness Center, which first started seeing 3-4 patients a week now sees anywhere from 30-65.
Similar to ND practices in licensed states, Dr. Ray offers guidance on supplementation and dietary changes to patients of all types. “It’s all about working the therapeutic order and making sure the basics are in place. Sometimes the most difficult case can come down to simple things,” Dr. Ray said.
The ND program at National University focuses on this type of whole health healing with a strong emphasis on nutrition, supplementation and botanical treatments. Students are trained to treat the individual rather than the disease and support the natural healingprocess.
In a prelicensed state, NDs face the challenge of not having access to every type of testing. Dr. Ray overcomes this by frequently working with MDs to get the testing required. “I find that most MDs are happy to collaborate [ND1] for the health of the patient,” Dr. Ray said.
She stresses the importance of giving and receiving referrals according to the patient’s needs and the physician’s expertise/specialties. Since she’s opened her practice she’s created a network of collaborative health practitioners ranging from holistic dentists, MDs, psychologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists, urologists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists.
Dr. Ray encourages other ND students to work in prelicensed states like Illinois too. “You won’t be practicing to the full scope of your training in all areas, but get out there and make a difference, you never know who’s life you will change,” Dr. Ray said.
Heather Bautista ND, CNS, LDN, naturopathic clinician/licensed dietitian nutritionist at Edward-Elmhurst Hospital
When Heather Bautista ND, CNS, LDN graduated from NUHS in 2014, she knew she wanted to provide nutrition/supplement recommendations to patients. So in addition to her ND degree, she became licensed as a dietitian nutritionist (LDN).
Earning this license opened Dr. Bautista’s range of opportunities, including working at the new Integrative Medicine Clinic at Edward-Elmhurst Hospital, which also includes an acupuncturist, Reiki practitioner and spiritual care specialist. “The clinic coordinator valued the ND approach , specifically our focus on nutrition and its impact on health,” she said. “The clinic also wanted a perspective other than a traditional dietician approach.”
While Dr. Bautista only provides outpatient nutrition care at the clinic, because of its location at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, the clinic has established relationships with the surrounding departments who will often refer patients. “I keep referring physicians updated on their patients’ progress, which further establishes a good relationship between us and the Integrative Medicine Clinic,” Dr. Bautista said.
Before graduation, NUHS students learn how to develop these kinds of relationships with other health care providers both in the classroom and by treating patients collaboratively within an integrative clinic. This better prepares students for future careers in today’s integrated health care environment.
One challenge Dr. Bautista faces is that insurance does not cover everything such as medical nutrition therapy despite her LDN license. She is also unable to practice as a primary care physician. However, with the growing demand and the push toward licensure, Dr. Bautista looks forward to Illinois receiving licensure in the near future. “More and more people are seeking this approach to health,” she said.
To succeed in prelicensed states, she recommends developing public speaking skills to get your message out and attract patients. She also emphasized the importance of networking and gaining trust from different practitioners. “Believe in the medicine you are taught because this is an exciting time to be in this growing field,” she said.
Maggie Pilat Rzeszuto, ND, naturopathic practitioner at Skybalance Med Spa in Schaumburg, Illinois
Before landing a full-time position in the field, Maggie Pilat Rzeszuto, ND, (NUHS ‘15) continued working part-time as a pharmacy technician while also shadowing an ND at Skybalance Med Spa in the Chicago-area. “It was a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the practice and to transition from being a student to working as a doctor,” she said. Eventually the shadowing opportunity led to a full-time position with the medical spa.
On a daily basis, Dr. Pilat Rzeszuto works side by side with several types of health practitioners, including a medical doctor, pharmacist, nurses, and aestheticians. Like most NDs, she sees patients for a wide variety of health issues. In addition to patients with aesthetic concerns like anti-aging, skin appearance and weight-loss, she also sees patients with nutritional deficiencies, gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and allergies and sensitivities. On a typical day, she uses IV Nutrient Therapy, functional medicine, dietary consultation, botanical and nutritional supplementation to treat patients.
Because she works under the license and insurance of a medical doctor, Dr. Pilat Rzeszuto is able to avoid some of the challenges of working in a prelicensed state. She hopes other students won’t be discouraged about starting a career in prelicensed states like Illinois.
“I was so surprised at the opportunities that are available here. As demand for holistic medicine and naturopathic physicians grows, which I have seen for myself during the three years since I’ve graduated, more opportunities will arise. Keep an open mind, take chances, and don’t be afraid to get creative and try to make a position for yourself,” she said.
No matter what your career, National University’s naturopathic medicine program will prepare you for a bright future ahead. “In addition to the comprehensive medical education in the classroom, National University also integrated extensive clinical experience into the curriculum that prepared me for my future as a naturopathic physician,” Dr. Pilat Rzeszuto said. “Of course, I was nervous when I first started practicing, but I quickly realized how well NUHS had prepared me to effectively and safely treat my patients.”
Because naturopathic medicine’s natural approach to health allows for a variety of versatile career options, the range of ND careers you can pursue in prelicensed states is far from limited. While NDs face some challenges in prelicensed states, NUHS graduates are proof that it doesn’t have to get in the way of a successful career. NDs have a unique skillset that is becoming increasingly valuable to patients, hospitals and health care practitioners alike.