Education: Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (1997)
Active in profession (practice/teaching/admin.) since: 1997
Professional setting: Faculty member, National University of Health Sciences
Location: Lombard, Ill. (unlicensed state)
Areas of focus/specialties:
- Botanical medicine
- Pharmacognosy (pharmacology of natural medicines)
- Curriculum development and implementation
Career highlights and contributions:
- Member of the founding team for ND program, NUHS (launched in 2006)
- Assistant dean, naturopathic medicine college of professional studies, NUHS (2005 - present)
- Dean of naturopathic medicine, CCNM (2001 - 2003)
- ND program instructor, CCNM and NUHS
- Frequent guest lecturer, University of Illinois at Chicago medical school
Current professional endeavors:
Personal passions: Cooking, music and film
Favorite quote: "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Alumni Career Spotlight
Fraser Smith, ND
There are many ways for naturopathic physicians to make a difference in the field, and Fraser Smith, ND, is doing most of them. His career has encompassed four different areas: professional practice, teaching, academic administration and political advocacy. Even as a student at Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), Dr. Smith was aware of the need to increase the public’s understanding of naturopathic medicine. He began to educate his friends, family and coworkers about the field, and after graduation, he continued his educational endeavors as a teacher and administrator.
Dr. Smith’s goal to increase awareness, acceptance of and access to naturopathic medicine drives his many pursuits, which include lecturing regularly at conventional medical school and serving as president of the Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians. In this latter role, he works diligently to educate the public and policymakers about the importance of naturopathic physician licensure in Illinois. Dr. Smith also has a keen interest in ND curriculum development, which led him to his current position as assistant dean of the college of naturopathic medicine at National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Chicago, Ill., where he helped design the curriculum for the new naturopathic medicine program.
Career fulfillment in academia
AANMC: You’ve been very involved in curriculum development. What role did you play in developing and implementing NUHS's current ND school curriculum?
FS: NUHS recruited me in early 2005 to help plan the new naturopathic medicine program, so I was privileged to be part of the founding team. I took a very active role in shaping the program because of my background as dean of naturopathic medicine at CCNM. At NUHS, we took our time to consider what would constitute an excellent, well-organized curriculum for naturopathic medical students. We launched it in 2006 and it has grown rapidly since then. We're very happy.
AANMC: What led you to your present career in academia?
FS: When I was finishing my internship at CCNM back in the 1990s, I had an opportunity to do a residency there. CCNM was growing tremendously at the time and needed more educators. I discovered that teaching was one of my passions, and later I worked in administrative positions as well.
AANMC: What was the draw for you there?
Administrative work appealed to me because it provided opportunities to shape students’ educational experiences. The more I became involved in education, the more I saw that, just as in the case of patients and their health problems, there are underlying causes for students’ positive and negative experiences with curricula. I have found addressing these issues to be tremendously satisfying.
ND or MD – what’s the difference?
AANMC: What do you observe to be a basic difference between naturopathic and conventional medical curricula?
FS: There are many similarities between the two, especially in first two years when the emphasis is on diagnosis and biomedical sciences. But one unique aspect I've observed in all of the accredited ND programs across North America is that students start learning about the various naturopathic modalities and therapies from day one, rather than learning only sciences. We also teach students naturopathic philosophy and naturopathic clinical theory early on, which gives them a conceptual framework in which to place their medical education. I see that as a huge strength in our colleges.
AANMC: Any other differences that stand out to you?
FS: I think another big difference is that naturopathic medical schools still very much train strong generalists instead of specialists. NDs can go on to pursue additional advanced training, but our basic education is designed to train generalists – doctors who treat the whole patient, consider many factors of disease, and think about the different organ systems and functions in the body and how they interact.
AANMC: What trends do you observe in conventional medical curricula?
FS: There seems to be increasing exposure of conventional medical students to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) through elective courses. I frequently guest lecture at the University of Illinois in Chicago, which offers an excellent CAM elective for its medical students. This trend is going to continue. I make the time to go and participate personally because I want MD students to know what a naturopathic physician does, what our profession is and how good our training is.
AANMC: Do you notice any changes taking place in ND curricula at the different schools?
FS: The ND curricula are always evolving; we constantly get better at what we do. But I don't see any radical changes. The combination of five areas – biomedical sciences, diagnostic sciences, naturopathic therapies, naturopathic philosophy and clinical training – has been the core of what we do for some time.
AANMC: Do you find that most naturopathic students share a common motivation, something that drives them to become NDs?
FS: Yes. We have a collection of very strong students who could go in many different professional directions. I often ask them, what attracted to you to naturopathic medicine instead of conventional medicine? I've found that it's a strong shared belief in the naturopathic principles and a love of the problem-solving aspect of what we do as NDs. These students want to get down to the root causes of illness, to look at each patient as an individual and to maximize self-healing resources. This isn't to say that many MD students don't value this approach too, but aggregately it's a really strong drive in our students. And for those students who have considered both medical paths, I think it’s this perspective that steers them toward attending an AANMC school.
An integrative naturopathic education
AANMC: Explain the multidisciplinary, integrative environment at NUHS and the advantages of that integration.
FS: At NUHS, we have different colleges. The College of Professional Studies houses the doctor of naturopathic medicine and the chiropractic medicine degree programs, as well as the master of science degree programs in both Oriental medicine and acupuncture. So we're all within the same college, which is by design; it's an attempt to foster co-education and collegiality between these disciplines that share some similar natural healing philosophies. Naturopathic and chiropractic students take some classes together, such as anatomy and dissection, and they take other classes separately. This gives students opportunities to form cross-program friendships and to learn something about these other disciplines while still in school.
AANMC: What have you observed to be ND students’ typical experiences in working within the curricula?
FS: That's a very good question. After knowing different students on two different campuses, I've observed that students universally go through a period when they doubt themselves and the knowledge they have. Then eventually, when they have developed their clinical skills and are closer to graduation, their confidence grows. That transition into more self-sufficient professionals is an incredible metamorphosis.
AANMC: Tell me about your goals to further integrate naturopathic physicians into mainstream medicine.
FS: I think that's a goal for the profession as a whole. It relates to the fact that all AANMC colleges are educating students to be primary care providers – the first provider a patient sees for a condition. And we're equipping students with the knowledge base they need to interact professionally with other types of providers. Even though our approaches to medicine may be different, we still speak a common language, and that is really being an integrated part of mainstream medicine in the best sense.
AANMC: I assume that this is mainly accomplished through the curriculum design of the naturopathic program?
FS: Yes, curriculum design is a key factor. It's a good thing to look at because it contains various important elements (biomedical sciences, clinical medicine and diagnostic courses) that are a big part of the common ground we share with others in the health care world. All of the accredited ND programs in North America share this focus.
Educating beyond classroom walls
AANCM: In addition to your NUHS position as assistant dean, you play another role as president of ILANP, in which you are working diligently toward licensure for the practice of naturopathic medicine in Illinois. How do these roles impact one another?
FS: Well, I should probably order a larger hat rack. In the growing profession of naturopathic medicine, we often find that if something needs to be done, we just have to go ahead and do it. The job of getting this work licensed as it should be in Illinois has to get done, and we can't really count on anyone else to do it. House bill 5715
was introduced to the legislative assembly of Illinois, and there's much more work to do to get this bill passed. Now NUHS is certainly the largest institution in the state with a naturopathic focus, so it’s not surprising that we're pretty significant in promoting and supporting naturopathic medicine. It's natural for me to be interested.
AANMC: How do you do it all?
FS: I believe that this work is important and meaningful, and I have a lot of fun doing it. In some ways the advocacy work is more strenuous than the educating; I'm not a trained lobbyist. But it's the responsibility of all doctors to be stewards of the profession. We all have to take our turn doing this work, which is rewarding in a different way. In a sense, it's about serving the profession.
AANMC: Would you have thought you'd be involved in all of these endeavors back when you were in school?
FS: (Laughs) Probably not. I think my goals were just getting through the next set of exams and making my professors happy. I certainly thought I'd be involved in clinical situations. But I also knew that I was getting involved in an emerging profession. All throughout medical school I was constantly educating my family, friends and coworkers about naturopathic medicine – so I knew that I was part of something that was new, at least new to a lot of people, and that there were going to be a lot of opportunities to be involved in something dynamic and fresh. And that has turned out to be the case.
Dr. Smith sincerely believes in the ability of naturopathic medicine to change people's lives for the better, and he extends this enthusiasm toward all of his undertakings. He sees today’s naturopathic doctors as entering a more integrative environment, working alongside medical doctors, osteopathic doctors and chiropractic doctors. Dr. Smith dedicates much of his work to creating that optimal environment – and to preparing students to become successful practicing doctors within it.
In his experience with students, he observes that future NDs are inspired to make big changes in the health care system: "They're very troubled by the fact that chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer are still escalating, and they want to do something about that. They're the ones who want to roll up their sleeves and get involved in families to make our population healthier."
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