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“Substance Vs. Fluff”: What Does it Take to be a Doctor?

by Mar 11, 2010

Home » News » “Substance Vs. Fluff”: What Does it Take to be a Doctor?

In part two of our interview with NUHS President Dr. James F. Winterstein, we explore his philosophy on setting spending priorities for the university. He explains what he believes is necessary in order to create the best educational environment for future physicians.


doctor winterstein headshotOur campus is quite large and quite attractive, yet we do not have some of the frills that other schools provide. Some visiting students tell us that other schools now have “juice bars” and elaborate gymnasiums and social centers. They ask us why we don’t have those extra amenities. The answer is because we invest more of our money in the improvements that are critical to creating better doctors.

For example, at some schools, chiropractic technique is taught in huge gyms full of tables where visiting chiropractic physicians from the community come in at various intervals to demonstrate and teach technique. Certainly you may learn adequate chiropractic technique this way.

However, National has chosen to provide four separate chiropractic technique labs with fewer tables in each. We even have a dedicated flexion-distraction technique lab. Full-time faculty members teach our technique classes with very low faculty to student ratios. This low ratio allows our students to develop relationships with their instructors, ask better questions and receive more hands-on help. This also guarantees consistency in our technique curriculum. All of these investments lead to a higher quality of education in our book.

Another example of our commitment to quality education is our requirement for a baccalaureate degree. This is something that no other institution requires, even 10 years after we established this. Even though this might arguably reduce our pool of potential applicants, we stay committed to this requirement because it improves the overall quality of students coming into the program, and thereby raises the quality of the overall educational experience itself.

Another outstanding accomplishment is that NUHS has published scientific journals since 1978. We now have three scientific journals in total and there isn’t a single other institution that has scientific journals. Not one. That’s the kind of commitment of money that in my estimation indicates a commitment to educational quality.

Our emphasis on diagnosis and primary care, the broad-scope approach of education that students get here, is not cheap. Our students are trained to become physicians, so there are no shortcuts. You can’t take any shortcuts if you’re really going to prepare someone to function as a primary care physician. Superficial amenities don’t mean a “hill of beans” when it comes to becoming a real doctor.

If you go to the med schools, let’s say the University of Illinois medical school, they’re not talking about basketball and student social centers, they’re saying: “Knuckle down bud or you’re not going to be here – this is important business and it’s not easy. Get on with it.”

Our whole society is in the economic trouble it is in today because everybody wants more and more “stuff” that isn’t a true necessity. You can’t replace real education with “stuff.” National has always been about the real thing. We want you to become a doctor. We want to provide the education that it takes to get you there. That’s the business we’re in. Anything else on our campus, or anybody else’s campus, that does not contribute to that goal is “fluff.”

That being said, students will find that our premium location puts them within walking distance of several gourmet coffee vendors, numerous restaurants and social venues, and several recreational and fitness clubs – that’s if they find National’s campus gym, fitness center and bookstore coffee too limiting. We’re close to Chicago if they want a night out on the town to blow off some steam. But if you’re preparing to be a physician, with the rigorous courses we have here at National, you should question yourself if you have too much time left over. Are you studying enough? Are you doing enough to make the grade?

Maybe part of my perspective is that when I was a student here, I was married and I had children. I didn’t have any time at all to hang out together with other people, drink tea or latte. I studied hard and took care of my family and worked in the radiology department. I guess my opinion is that when you reach the level of professional school, you should be in a place in your life where you can set proper priorities. Your purpose here should be to get your doctorate, and that takes time and commitment.

We are continually upgrading our campus facilities, and you’ll find that National’s campus is among the best. Yet if National were given a sizeable multi-million dollar donation, what would our priorities be? It would not be adding a juice bar or racquetball court. We would upgrade the anatomy lab, the physiology lab and the chemistry lab. We would make all of the classrooms as modern as possible from the standpoint of technology and educational equipment. We would look for ways to enhance our clinic equipment. After that, then I would probably build a more elaborate student center, which was originally part of our plan back in 1993, giving students a little more space to gather.

In the end, I believe that the students who choose National share our philosophy and priorities. This shared commitment to an education where “substance” trumps non-essentials, is what defines our reputation for excellence.

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