National College of Natural Medicine Expands Programs, Facilities, and Access

The parent school of natural medicine finds new ways to serve students

By Alexis Lynn

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Founded in 1956, the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland, Ore., is considered the parent school of natural medical education. Many leading naturopathic colleges and institutes were founded by graduates of the college, which is located in Portland, Ore. The school’s diverse, challenging curricula are focused on integrated medical education, research, and patient care. “Our goal is to make certain that naturopathic medicine and classical Chinese medicine remain at the core of our program offerings,” says NCNM President David Schleich, PhD. NCNM offers three graduate professional degrees in accredited and recognized programs that prepare students for licensed practice.

The programs presently available include:

  • Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. A four-year program of clinical sciences and holistic methods of healing and disease prevention, instilled with the ancient principle of the healing power of nature.
  • Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (MSOM). A four-year program that delves deeply into thousands of years of classical Chinese methods of diagnostics and healing, using herbs, acupuncture, bodywork, and therapeutic exercise.
  • Master of Acupuncture. A four-year program that has a foundation identical to that of the MSOM program without the herb courses. Upper-level courses focus in particular on the clinical application of acupuncture and moxibustion techniques.

While NCNM’s current program offerings are impressive, in order to remain a leader in enhancing and improving naturo- pathic medical education, NCNM is developing a number of new programs. A master’s program in natural medicine research is now under review for accreditation. Also, a graduate botanical medicine program will begin next summer, and a pre-med bach- elor of science program is set to begin in two years. A veterinary program, in which students interested in holistic and natural medicine practices can learn from naturopathic doctors and apply that to their practices, is being designed as well.

Focus on Training and Access

Increasing program capacity by adding new scholarly areas of focus is one way NCNM maintains leading-edge curricula. Schleich explains that there are two key principles guiding NCNM’s plans for growth. First, NCNM aims to establish itselfas “the trainer of choice” for naturo- pathic medicine. This means creating a wide variety of multifaceted, accredited programs. For example, “Ayurvedic medicine is a different medical system, and we’d like to make sure that NCNM has serious ayurvedic medicine training programs available for existing health- care professionals in the form of an accredited program,” Schleich notes. “Another is homeopathy. There isn’t a systematic credential in homeopathy and we are intending to create one.”

The process of becoming the trainer of choice, Schleich says, is best described in terms of a three-pronged approach for professional formation. First, colleges need to standardize curri- cula. This means that schools across the country need to offer the same intensity and level of difficulty amongst programs. Next, Schleich believes that accredited programs for higher education are essential for meeting standards in naturopathic medical education. The third aspect involves creating a large regulatory framework state by state so that naturopathic doctors can practice with protected title and protected scope. To estab- lish NCNM as the trainer of choice for naturopathic medicine, “these all have to happen simultaneously, and we all have to work together to create them,” says Schleich.

In addition to becoming the trainer of choice, Schleich notes that expanding access to NCNM will help naturopathic medical education grow. This is accomplished by creating partnerships with other schools, as well as enlarging and modernizing physical teaching facilities. We are constructing a “safe, exciting, and comfortable learning space for full- and part-time students,” Schleich says. He estimates that NCNM’s enrollment will increase to 800 full-time students by the summer of 2014 and 250 part-time students by the summer of 2015, for an overall ceiling of enrollment at around 1,000 students. “Our goal is to absolutely grow the profession in the United States and Canada. It’s critical that we have large numbers of graduates go up into every nook and cranny of the continent and establish medical practices in their communities,” he says.

Expanding access also means expanding capacity. “We have increased our physical footprint here in Portland by 300 percent. We now have three-and-a-half city blocks that we control. We just opened a new lecture center on campus and plan to build a new library as well.” In terms of fostering partnerships and improving facilities, “It’s a good time under rainy skies here in Portland,” says Schleich.

The Future of Naturopathic Medicine

With the growth and transformation of naturopathic medical education come increased efforts to mainstream natural medi- cine. “I think the future is friendly,” Schleich says. “I think it’s also a future that requires strategy, tact, maturity, and a real knowledge of history.” However, the future is also complex. “Because primary care is in distress in the United States and Canada, people don’t really know whether the mainstream medical doctor has the best advice anymore, but they don’t understand the pathways to the alternatives—they don’t know how to find us easily, and when they do many of them can’t afford us.” Schleich believes that in order for naturopathic care to become part of mainstream health- care, the industry needs to position itself in a way that is accessible to the general public. Naturopathic doctors need to be physically accessible, as well as communicate with the public using jargon- free language that the public can clearly conceptualize.

The timing for improving access to naturopathic medical education and being the trainer of choice could not be better.

According to Schleich, the opportunities for growth in natu- ropathic medicine lie in the hands of the students, and therefore the professors who train the students. “We have to not only have rigor in the classroom and clinical education experiences, but our students need to have business smarts, marketing savvy, and real confidence that the modalities and skills they bring to primary care are valued and valuable.”

While efforts are underway to expand the healing reach of naturopathic medicine, Schleich highlights the importance of not forgetting the roots of this type of medicine. “We have to be careful not to give up on our belief in energy medicine, the spiritual non-material, elements in medicine that affect health outcomes,” Schleich emphasizes. “We must never lose those philosophical underpinnings.”

For more information about academics and research at NCNM, please visit

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.