New CEO Brings Passion, Vision to AANP

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This month, Jud Richland takes the reigns as CEO of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). For the past 25 years, Richland has been a national leader in influencing public health policy and promoting natural health, most recently as president and CEO of Partnership for Prevention. In his new role, Richland will be responsible for leading AANP’s federal and state advocacy efforts, expanding upon and increasing awareness of naturopathic medicine research, and helping members cultivate successful practices. Natural Medicine Journal caught up with the new CEO to discuss his experiences in and passion for promoting whole-body wellness, as well as his visions for revamping America’s health system.

NMJ: Why did you choose this position with AANP?

Jud Richland:The most important reason I sought this role is that I share the same values about health and wellness as naturopathic physicians. I believe that empowering people to take control of their own health is the foundation for living a happy, energetic, and fulfilling life. Our current health system, however, is not geared toward empowering people; it’s not geared toward treating the whole person or addressing root causes of illness. Therefore, we need to reorient the health system, and I wouldn’t have accepted this job if I didn’t think AANP was well positioned to help do so. Although the task is challenging, naturopathic physicians are agents for change, and I’ll do everything I can to help them become even more effective.

Also, I’ve said before that every AANP member I’ve met bubbles over with enthusiasm for their work. That wasn’t just a line—it’s the truth. Working with people who are passionate about what they do is very energizing.

NMJ: When and how did you become so invested in natural health?

JR: I’ve always been passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. For the past 25 years, my work has been about that, and I’ve done my best to advocate for progressive prevention policies. Just as importantly, though, I practice what I preach in my personal life in order to be as healthy as I can. I am physically active, do my best to eat right (sometimes easier said than done), and try to remove barriers that might weaken my body’s self-healing capabilities. When you experience firsthand the correlation between health and a positive outlook on life, you want everyone else to have the opportunity to be healthy.

NMJ: What are the biggest problems facing the health of this nation?

JR: Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the heart of the problem is that the return on investment for our health spending is way too low. We spend much more money per capita on health than any country in the world, yet we rank poorly on most sentinel health indicators. It’s unconscionable that we rank 33rd in the world in life expectancy, which puts us behind Cuba, and 34th in infant mortality, behind Croatia and Singapore.

Another big problem is that our health system rewards practitioners who use expensive medical technologies, conduct invasive and expensive procedures, and prescribe expensive medications. America thinks that no matter how sick we get, modern medicine will save us. Therefore, we must turn our health system on its head so that we reward those healthcare providers who help keep their patients healthy in the first place, whose practices aren’t slaves to 12-minute office visits, and who provide high-quality, whole-person care at affordable prices.

Our challenge is to help policy makers, health systems, and the public understand that there’s a better way. We know the current system is not sustainable, but it’s not enough to point out the problems. We have to identify solutions, and naturopathic physicians have many to offer. So we must learn how to be the squeaky wheel. It’s time for “physicians who listen” to be heard.

NMJ: What key experiences do you bring that can help steer AANP?

JR: The totality of my experience as an advocate for prevention and a leader of important membership and policy organizations has prepared me well for the CEO role. As the executive director of the American College of Preventive Medicine, I learned that the most important part of my job was to make sure members receive value for their membership. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, tracks his company’s performance with about 500 metrics, 80 percent of which relate to customer satisfaction. At meetings, he puts an empty seat at the table to represent the most important person in the room: the customer. As an association executive, I feel the same way about members. I want to help AANP members feel connected to their community of colleagues. This includes activating effective volunteerism in legislation and public education. I want to create tools and opportunities that can help members grow professionally and do everything I can to help naturopathic medicine grow.

I’ve also learned a lot about policy change. I’m very fortunate to have been involved in several successful policy efforts that have significantly affected people’s health. It’s one thing to make the case that your cause is good and just—and I have no doubt we can do this at AANP—but it’s another thing entirely to get policy makers and decision makers, who face lots of competing interests, to act on your behalf. I aim to use my skills and experiences to help AANP achieve its most important policy goals.

NMJ: What are your top three initiatives as the new CEO?

JR: AANP’s board has done a spectacular job of articulating the association’s goals, and I intend to work toward them. First, we need to make sure every individual has access to a naturopathic physician if he or she so desires. There are a number of marketing, public policy, and educational strategies we can employ to achieve this goal.

Second, we need to ensure every naturopathic physician has the opportunity to be successful. This involves creating institutional environments that are supportive of naturopathic medicine and providing members with the tools to build rewarding and successful practices.

Third, we need to accelerate the pace at which healthcare institutions and the healthcare system at large evolve toward an emphasis on wellness and prevention. We must help the system recognize the benefits of hiring naturopathic physicians, and many of AANP’s policy goals aim to do exactly this. We’ll also need to work closely with partner organizations to expand the integrated healthcare movement, which of course includes naturopathic medicine.

Cutting across all of these goals is the need to support research on naturopathic medicine and aggressively disseminate information about these scientific underpinnings.

AANP already plays a role in influencing policy that is disproportionate to its size. But we have an opportunity to step up our game even more. We need to set clear policy priorities and act in a focused and aggressive way and get results. My experience is that success breeds success. Each policy victory we achieve will make it that much easier to achieve the next success.

About the Author

Melaina Juntti is a freelance writer and editor in Madison, Wisconsin, who focuses on natural health and wellness. Her work has appeared in WellnessTimes.com and Men's Journal, Delicious Living, Natural Foods Merchandiser, Natural Solutions, Inside Triathlon, and Triathlete magazines.