What it is Like Practicing Naturopathic Medicine in a Rural Setting
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Posted by: Margaret Hammitt-McDonald | OANP Member
Since my medical office stands two blocks from the beach, it’s fair to say I work in paradise. Visitors to Cannon Beach—the city’s website estimates as many as 200,000 annually—express their envy when they stop to chat with me on the beach and discover that I walk there every day. But despite the idyllic scenery and the million-dollar second homes, Oregon’s North Coast is a medically underserved rural area. Many of my patients work in seasonal industries (tourism/hospitality, fishing, logging), and the vast majority have medical insurance through Oregon Health Plan. My patients reflect the diversity of this small community: elders, artists and musicians, babies and children, people whose first language is Spanish, people struggling with addiction recovery, people experiencing homelessness, veterans, members of the LGBT community, teachers, other healthcare providers, and small-business owners.
Because fewer primary-care providers serve this population than in large urban centers, I have the opportunity to work with people who are new to naturopathic medicine, let alone Classical Chinese medicine, who are excited or nervous about trying acupuncture for the first time, who worry about their botanical tea tasting like the soil in their gardens (and sometimes I reassure them they can add some agave nectar to make it palatable, since drinking it adulterated this way is better than not drinking it at all), who need help quitting tobacco, whose efforts to put more fresh vegetables and fruits on their plates are assisted by a terrific local food bank that showcases produce.
My practice is busy. My fellow practitioners and I consider ourselves a community resource as well as a healing clinic: we offer yoga and Qigong classes, space for local artists to display their work, and a location for meetings. We connect our patients with medical specialists when needed, and sometimes we’ve assisted them with insurance applications and finding housing. From time to time, we’ve attended their art-show openings and concerts.
Practicing in a rural area, with a small population, offers both challenges and opportunities, and it’s never dull. I’m interested in working with OANP in their efforts to support providers working in communities like mine. Sometimes the price of working in paradise is feeling isolated, alone. But we’re not. Together, we lift up one another so we can continue to offer our healing touch, our listening ears, and our caring hearts to our patients.
If you are interested in learning more about working in a rural area, contact the Oregon Office of Rural Health.They can help you find placement, and offer loan repayment and forgiveness programs for naturopathic physicians.