Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine Integrates Community, Medicine, and the Environment

Located in British Columbia, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (BINM) is western Canada's first and only naturopathic medical school accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education.

By Alexis Lynn

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Located in British Columbia, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (BINM) is western Canada’s first and only naturopathic medical school accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. While many schools of naturopathic medicine in western Canada tend to be removed from fast-paced urban settings, BINM is situated in the heart of New Westminster. “This unique setting allows our school to act as a bridge between the reality of our increasingly urban lifestyles and the principles of naturopathic medicine,” says Dean of Student and Community Relations Cheryl-Dean Thompson, MA RCC CCC. The not-for-profit institute was founded on the philosophy of what the ideal 21st century naturopathic physician should be: “One who will have a truly caring nature and a genuine desire to serve, who will commit to the ongoing practice of self-reflection and personal growth, and who will have a passionate belief in the efficacy of complementary medicine and a commitment to leading our world toward sustainable health.”

In order to promote the development of this kind of naturopathic physician, BINM “was created on principles of inclusion, integrity, safety, respect, academic freedom, self-responsibility, and innovation,” notes Thompson. She adds, “It also meant the creation of a community in which each member felt heard, valued, and supported on their journey of self-discovery and academic exploration.”

BINM helps distinguish itself among other naturopathic schools through its academic philosophy, which incorporates principles of research-based learning theory, conventional academic wisdom, contemplative practices, and creativity within a mentorship-like context. “This provides an intensive but nurturing and highly interactive learning environment—one that invites the naturopathic student to face his or her deepest motives, to take full advantage of the many learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom, and to take responsibility for his or her ongoing personal and professional development,” Thompson says.

One of the key ways BINM promotes interactive learning and professional development is through its three external teaching sites. In order to experience different patient groups and treatment modalities, BINM encourages students to work at other clinics in addition to BINM’s teaching clinic. One clinic is the British Columbia Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA), western Canada’s largest AIDS service organization dedicated to empowering persons living with HIV disease and AIDS. At Family Medical Clinic in Victoria, student interns provide naturopathic care to low-income families at no charge. Students may also choose to experience clinic work at the Vancouver Friends For Life Society, which serves as a catalyst to enhance the wellness of individuals living with a life-threatening illness by providing complementary and alternative health and support services.

In addition to the teaching sites, Thompson emphasizes that small class sizes and experienced faculty help make BINM unique. “We steer away from the large, anonymous university model of instruction and plan instead for small, intimate classes that allow for maximum interaction among students, faculty, and staff,” she says. Thompson adds that classes no larger than 36 students help foster critical thinking skills and clinical analysis. With a total population of approximately 150, close-knit relationships between students and faculty aid in the sharing of knowledge and ideas. Additionally, the majority of BINM’s faculty maintain private practices while holding part-time positions at BINM, thus enabling them to bring their daily clinical and research experiences to the classroom.

BINM students are involved in several research projects, including the Naturopathic Medical Student Association & Helfgott Institute Nutraceutical Survey. This survey looks at nutraceutical products marketed to naturopathic medical students and used in naturopathic medical college teaching clinics, and will be assessing the manufacturing practices of the top 25 supplement companies, in accordance with the U.S. FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices. Another project at BINM, in collaboration with the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, is the development of an electronic medical record program called the Naturopathic Patient Database. The database will give researchers the ability to track community health data, such as which illnesses are treated, what treatments are used, and the final outcome of naturopathic medical treatment. This tool will also serve as a unique clinical education tool for clinic interns in assessing the effectiveness of varying naturopathic treatment protocols. Using the Naturopathic Patient Database to track community health data, the Naturopathic Clinical Outcome Study will assess the effectiveness of naturopathic medicine as a whole system and provide a framework for evidence-based practice, a feat that has been challenging thus far due to the many different treatment approaches used.

Going forward, BINM will be undertaking a green retrofit of the existing physical building. The new space, which is aimed at achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, will take into account several factors, including sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Amy Juschka, BA, MJ, communications officer at BINM, says the green retrofit shows how “we are making sure everything we do reflects naturopathic medicine and environmental stability, and basically our holistic approach to life.”

Thompson notes that the physical changes to the space reflect not only green concepts, but the notion of regeneration, as well. “That idea of recreating and giving back even more than you take is very naturopathic in its essence.” The goal, she says, is “to leave this environment in a better place than we even have received it.”

Thompson and Juschka agree that one of the key aspects of the green remodel is that the new building will be occupying the same space within the urban community. “Enhancing our internal community, and how can it be regenerative and healthy within, as well as our physical surroundings—that’s the lens we’re putting more awareness on,” states Thompson.

Another goal at BINM is to fully establish the Boucher Foundation for Naturopathic Medical Education, which will support different aspects of education and training within naturopathic medicine. The foundation is expected to launch early next year.

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Boucher's Vision:

  • To create a truly interactive, compassionate and responsible educational community;
  • To maximize each student's unique learning ability; and
  • To facilitate the development of the ideal 21st century naturopathic physician.

Boucher's Mission:

  • To provide an outstanding and distinctive education in the art and science of naturopathic medicine;
  • To reflect, support, and participate in naturopathic medical research;
  • To serve as stewards of the traditional, current, and future knowledge and skills of naturopathic medicine;
  • To cultivate a humanistic approach that respects the vulnerabilities of all persons and supports their health and well-being; and
  • To serve the healthcare needs of the community.

About the Author

Alexis Lynn is an editorial assistant with Natural Medicine Journal. She has worked as a report writer and research analyst for several market research firms in Colorado. Alexis holds a master's degree in mass communications and journalism from the University of Denver.