From the Executive Director: Transition, Adaptation and Opportunity

Transition, Adaptation and Opportunity

It’s summer in the NW – sort of.  While the rest of the country is experiencing the worst drought since the 1950’s, Western Washington has had one of the coolest springs/early summers on record.  My intention here isn’t to write about the weather, per se, but the change of seasons, and the larger change of climate, is a readily apparent example of transitions, the need for adaptation, and the challenge of opportunities.

For the WANP, Summer is a time of transition from one board of directors to the next.  Our last active board meeting is in July and then the new board begins its term in September.   This year we’re saying goodbye and thank you to Drs. Kris Somol, Summer Beattie, Catherine Darley, Setareh Tais, Elizabeth Trautman and Melinda Bower.  They have all given their time and creative attention to improve our association and our profession.   They have also been a very congenial and collaborative group and I’m going to miss working with them.

Also leaving the board – finally, some may say! – after nine years of service, is Dr. Doug Lewis.  Dr. Lewis served as President for five years (2006 – 2011), was Treasurer twice and also the chair of the Governmental Affairs committee.  He was involved in all facets of our organization – from finding our office space, fixing computers, and hiring the first WANP executive director (me!) to shaping the current structure and reputation of the WANP.  Overall, he has emphasized WANP relationships – with legislators, the Department of Health and our membership in general and this has reflected in many ways the arrival of our profession.  So, a very special thank you to Dr. Lewis and all the best to him and his practice – which can now get his full attention!

The naturopathic profession isn’t big enough to maintain a host of separate organizations, and it is time to consider what form of intra-professional relationships are most supportive of where we are now and where we go next. This is a time to adapt, to change, and to transform our organizational self in order to better bring naturopathic medicine to a country and culture sorely in need of it.

Seasonal change like this prompts regular opportunities and adaptations.  It brings a new group of individuals together and a new set of talents, interests and inspiration.   As a result, the WANP is much more fluid than static, and always a reflection of a particular board at a particular time.   Each board gets to deal with both persistent and unique issues that arise from the social, legislative and professional environments that we interact with.  As in the human body, the ability to adapt is necessary for healthy functioning and optimal growth and homeostasis.

This is a year of transition and adaptation for the AANP as well.  The transition there is more significant than just a change of board.  Not only does the AANP have new leadership, but there is a flow of interest and energy from quite a few members to assess and question the structure and function of the association.  Because of the significance of the transition this year, it is also a time of significant opportunity.

In a few weeks, the AANP convention will be held in Bellevue, and for the last couple of months I have been participating on a committee of the House of Delegates to plan a leadership summit that will immediately precede the convention.  This has had me thinking a lot about the relationship between the state associations and the national association and what opportunities may be present for us all.

First, I want to highlight some of the challenges that I’ve noticed in the relationship we currently have.  Essentially, I see more competition than collaboration and and overall lack of coordination. Competition is evident most clearly in the areas of membership, sponsorship dollars and continuing education events.

In Washington, most of our members do not belong to the AANP, and the last time we checked there were at least 100 NDs in Washington who belonged to the AANP but not the WANP.  Many of our doctors report they are unable to afford both memberships and they have to make a choice of which association to support. This is a loss for both organizations, and weakens of our abilities on multiple levels.   Not only does our presence in legislative and public arenas suffer by having fewer members, but it damages our professional self identity as well.

Competition for sponsorship dollars is similarly challenging.  In seeking company contributions to support the WANP, we commonly hear “We already support your profession.  We give to the AANP.”  While perhaps this is sufficient for the sponsor, it does nothing to support the legislative and administrative needs of our state association – and the state level is where healthcare laws are made. Even federal healthcare reform will be disseminated through state laws – so loss of this type of support significantly limits our effectiveness and ability maximize naturopathic legislative presence.

In terms of continuing education, a visit from the AANP conference can have a negative impact for the hosting state.  This November’s WANP conference will likely draw fewer attendees because of the AANP convention in August – and this reduces state association revenue further.   In addition, when the AANP convention is in Washington, we inevitably lose some members who join the AANP in order to attend that convention at lower ‘member’ rates.

At the same time, I think there is a distinct need for a national association and ‘container’ for our profession.  In fact, this container is essential if we want naturopathic medicine to have the impact on healthcare that we think is possible.  For me, the AANP convention has always been a time of reaffirming connection to our professional in a context larger than individual or state differences.  While less easy to define, I contend this function is also essential – as it contains and defines our larger association or tribe in the context of our larger culture.  Such affirmation is renewing and should be nurturing and inspiring as well.

In my opinion, the naturopathic profession isn’t big enough to maintain a host of separate organizations, and it is time to consider what form of intra-professional relationships are most supportive of where we are now and where we go next.   This is a time to adapt, to change, and to transform our organizational self in order to better bring naturopathic medicine to a country and culture sorely in need of it.

Historically, there was a time when kingdoms transformed into nations.  While I’m not able to flesh out that analogy with much more detail, I’d like to suggest we are at a similar point in our own process.  What structure would be most effective for our profession – now?  What structure would facilitate collaboration more than competition?  What more can we do together than on our own? I’m not going to speculate here on the best way to do this – I’m sure there are those who know of methods and models and examples – but I do want to start a conversation.

Our country and our culture wants a more natural, effective, safe and sane form of healthcare.  That’s the large transition we are in the midst of.  Naturopathic medicine embodies these qualities – now – but we need to continue to evolve in order remain relevant, and our organizational structures need to reflect this as well.

What do you think?  Let’s talk.

In health,

Bob May, ND

Executive Director

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