National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) graduates Ashley Biscoe, ND, and Alison Egeland, ND, both of the class of 2014, opened their naturopathic medicine practice in September 2016. Their practice, Attune Functional Medicine, (AFM) is located in Broomfield, Colorado. Today, Drs. Biscoe and Egeland are complementary care providers, co-managing patient health with an integrative medical philosophy.
Now, nearing the second anniversary of AFM, Dr. Biscoe shares a wealth of experience for those considering opening their own practices. Whether you are a current student, or a prospective student thinking about becoming a naturopathic physician, read on for 5 questions to ask yourself before opening your own naturopathic medical practice.
1) Why did I choose to become a Naturopathic Doctor?
Ask yourself, “How do I want to dedicate myself to help patients, day-in-and-day-out? For me it means helping to make a difference in patients’ lives, finding work-life balance, and the challenging pleasure of being a health care entrepreneur. Stay grounded and remember what is most important to you in practicing medicine, and in life.
A lot of my time is devoted to patient care: visits, reviewing labs, doing research, and developing treatment plans. If you have always been interested in the mind/body/spirit connections of human health and well-being, naturopathic medicine may be your calling. The health of individual patients is connected to global health and society, and the skill and compassion you have to offer can help make a positive impact toward a better world.
2) Will I join an existing practice or open my own?
Just as the healing benefits of naturopathic medicine are unique to each individual, so is how you choose to practice. As life-long learners, naturopathic doctors value the free exchange of perspectives and insight. One of the greatest benefits of joining an existing practice is that you gain hands-on experience while engaging with colleagues established in the profession.
If you choose to join an integrative practice, where practitioners from various disciplines—such as NDs, DCs, MDs, acupuncturists, nutritionists, and others collaborate—you will have the ability to offer your patients a more complete range of holistic care options. Be prepared to work as a team member, and be open to giving and receiving feedback.
Patients need all of these disciplines, working together, to be fully informed and to receive the highest quality of health care. Though some medical doctors may still be slow to embrace naturopathic medicine, many others have already done so. Through rigorous training, NDs are aware of, and supportive of, cases where certain conditions require an MD’s approach. Understand the importance of referrals to colleagues—or their referrals to you—for the best patient outcomes.
Alternatively, perhaps you are an entrepreneur at heart. Some NDs prefer being a one-person practice as it allows for greater business autonomy and greater freedom in treatment approaches/modalities. However, keep in mind you may not be able to do everything yourself. If you choose not to take on a partner, you may need to consider an office assistant. There are only 24 hours in a day, and it is important to recognize which tasks you should keep and which ones you should delegate based on your personality, work style, and vision of fulfillment.
3) What are the considerations if I choose a partner?
All successful partnerships are about having good mutual communication, being trustworthy, ethical, hardworking and considerate–it is a marriage of sorts. My own experience has taught me the benefits of a strong partnership outweigh the negative aspects.
One of the most important ways we support each other is by consulting on tough clinical cases together. We can “divide and conquer” the issues such as patient load and business tasks, with one of us taking on more patients while the other works on a given business need—whatever that may be.
4) How will I keep my practice growing?
Become active in networking and read! Join the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Talk to other naturopathic doctors; your colleagues are an invaluable resource. Looking back, I would have reached out to more doctors for shadowing and mentorship. Consider active participation or a leadership role in your alumni association. Fellow practitioners have made their share of mistakes, but over time, found what works. Realize that you do not need to “reinvent the wheel,” and you should learn from their experiences.
I also recommend following the blogs, newsletters and YouTube channels of many online marketers. Read books about copywriting, marketing, and leadership. Some of the most valuable business books I have read include Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman, The Peace Process by Miriam Zacharias, and Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.
5) How will I know if I’m doing things right?
Self-evaluation is important, so take the time to reflect. This is something you may need to do frequently when you are starting out. To be sure, there are challenges. Early on, you are working crazy hours. At Attune, we were putting in 14- and 16-hour days before we opened, so we could get our office forms and policies together, set up our lab accounts, get our payment merchant finalized, and more.
You will start seeing patients and taking payment from them, but you still have to pay back your start-up costs, so there will be a period of time where you are not profitable and not really paying yourself. It is tough, but it is also worth it—remember why you wanted to practice naturopathic medicine in the first place!
It is rewarding to know that I have the tools and knowledge to take care of myself, my family and people who are suffering. It is also rewarding to know I have a business partner who has my back. My career allows for some very fun conversations at dinner parties—I love talking to people about what I do!
Something I learned helping establish a practice that I would not have guessed as a student is that you cannot help every patient, or treat every condition, and you do not WANT to. Do not be afraid to refer clients to other practitioners if they are not ideal for you. We actually state on our website which patients we believe will benefit the most from our practice and healing philosophy. It is not about turning anyone away, it is about assuring a proper fit for both parties. In the long run you will save yourself—and your clients—time and resources when the patients you serve will benefit the most from the scope of your practice.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in naturopathic medicine, I invite you to check out our digital resource – A Career Guide to Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor.