One of only five accredited naturopathic colleges in the nation, the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences officially opened a new medical center in Tempe recently, bringing new teaching facilities and increased treatment opportunity to the Valley.
“We expect it to be a magnet for people with chronic diseases to come from all over the country,” said Paul Mittman, president and CEO of SCNM. “There are also educational components to it that will advance our students’ experience here dramatically.”
SCNM offers a four-year doctoral program in naturopathy, an alternative branch of medicine focusing on natural remedies and holistic care. Naturopathy has historically received criticism from the larger medical community for its unconventional treatments, including acupuncture, kinesiology, nutrition and homeopathy. But Arizona officially licensed naturopathic medicine in 1935, and since SCNM opened in 1993, naturopathy has gained much wider acceptance, Mittman said.
The renovated $4 million medical center combines an electronic medical records system and updated clinical teaching facilities with naturopathic services, including a sauna, medical dispensary and light-therapy rooms.
SCNM historically offered clinical services at a facility in Scottsdale, approximately 10 miles from the college’s main campus located in Tempe near Broadway Road and State Route 101.
The new center, located on the main SCNM campus, will accommodate the college’s growing student population and offer clinical training in the center’s six classrooms, which feature closed-circuit monitors that allow students to unobtrusively observe patients receiving treatments in another room. The facility also boasts a completely electronic medical records system donated by American Medical Solutions, Mittman said.
“It’s the future of health care,” he said. “It’s important for us to make sure our students are literate in electronic medical records. It’s what everyone is going to have to use.” But beyond updated facilities and educational opportunities, the community will also benefit from the specialized care options the center makes possible, Mittman said. The center will specialize in long-term treatment options for chronic diseases like diabetes, autism and asthma.
“The school has a significant public health commitment,” he said. “We expect (the center) to have a greater impact on public health.”
Amanda Bird, a fourth-year student at SCNM, said she enrolled in naturopathic college after becoming disillusioned with mainstream medicine. Most doctors have a tendency to focus more on “politics” than people, she said — health insurance, quick patient turnarounds and generic treatments. She hopes naturopathic medicine will allow her to escape the politics of the doctor’s office.
“I didn’t even know this field existed,” Bird said. “Now, I really want to work with mental and emotional complaints … it’s great to follow patients throughout the process and really see the fruits of your labor.”
Before becoming a naturopathic doctor, Bird must complete her final year at SCNM, the second part of a two-part board exam and apply for certification through the Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board — similar to licensing for medical doctors, Mittman said.
But unlike medical doctors, naturopathic physicians take a more holistic approach to medical diagnoses. They account for variables like a person’s lifetime medical history, diet, behavioral practices and environment, Mittman said. The approach focuses on finding the underlying causes of aliments.
“Naturopathic physicians, in addition to doing routine history and clinical exams, ask very in-depth questions to find the underlying cause of a condition,” he said. “By nature, we spend a lot of time with patients … which gives us enough time to really delve into underlying causes.”
Naturopathic physicians can prescribe nearly every treatment available to a medical doctor, including prescription drugs, Mittman added. But the naturopathic method emphasizes prevention and supports the body’s ability to heal itself. With demand growing for preventive medicine and natural treatments, the new medical center will allow SCNM to help the community for the naturopathic approach.
“Patients are demanding more than drugs and surgery,” he said. “That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with drugs and surgery, but people lead complex lives and have complicated health problems. You need to take a holistic approach.”