Expanding the Family: More Comments of Holistic MDs and Naturopathic Leaders on Co-Convening in 2008

Summary: One commentator on this deepening exchange between naturopathic physicians and holistic physicians notes that “most of us are quite tribal in our DNA.” He references the emotions ignited when the two guilds chose to co-locate their 2008 conferences. Here are comments from American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) trustees Roca, Roberts, Gmeiner and Sands; from American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) board members Alschuler, Guiltinan and Clark; from Bill Benda, MD, who sits on both boards; and one from a past AHMA president, Manahan, who advocated closer relationships between the two in his presidency 17 years ago. These are followed by a quick look at some plans, in development, for their August get-together. A hopeful exchange!

That the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and the American Holistic Medical Association
are co-locating their conferences in 2008 is not exactly the fall of an
iron curtain. From comments of naturopathic physician leaders in an earlier Integrator article, this may be the removal of a bundling board which has
already proved quite porous.

Yet one cannot over-state how rare it is that any two healthcare tribes choose to open themselves to the other. The failure of professions to move outside their silos is recognized as one of the leading obstacles to genuine healthcare reform. In the complementary, alternative and integrative universe, such failure manifests both in patient care and in the diminution of the influence each might have in the course of health care.

Here are additional comments, from current
board members of the two organizations and from a past AHMA president. I follow with a little information on some of the plans for the August meeting that are shaping up.

AHMA, AANP, holistic naturopathic, convention 2008

Bill Benda, MD – promoting the collaboration

1. AHMA Trustee and AANP Board Member Benda: “… the inevitability of such a gathering …”

Bill Benda, MD, has been the prime mover stimulating the AANP-AHMA relationship. An Integrator adviser, Benda serves on boards of both organizations. His vision for AHMA and AANP was the subject of a June 5, 2007 Integrator interview with Benda (
Healthcare Reform Clout from an AHMA, AANP and AHNA Collaboration? The Vision of Bill Benda, MD, the Interlocking Director).

“John, I appreciate that you have initiated this conversation
regarding AHMA participation in the AANP 2008 annual conference. As a member of the boards of both
organizations, as well as the instigator of the concept, I wish to comment upon
the inevitability of such a gathering, not from logistics or politics, but from
a social and philosophical perspective.

“The fact is that whether we choose to cooperate or resist,
this planet is changing, at all levels.
Politically. Economically. Ecologically.

And yes, in the realm of healing and healthcare as well. None of the methods of the past paradigms
work satisfactorily any more. We are all
being called upon to change, or to fall as the old paradigms fall one by
one. Transition has been the way of the
world since its conception, and will be the way until its end.

“If anything deserves the moniker ‘evidence-based,’ it is
that old ways of separation no longer apply.
War now affects all countries, not just two. What we do to our environment hurts
everyone. A culture based upon
materialism makes others poor. And a
healthcare system segregated via titles and rank by definition can never be
naturalistic, holistic, integrative, or whatever we wish to label it. We tell our patients they are equals in
choosing their care; we write it in our textbooks. The fact is that we must begin to live it
ourselves, as individuals, as professions, and as organizations. The upcoming conference is an essential first
step in this process.

“This does not mean that the AANP or AHMA will not retain
individuality and identity. It means
that that both organizations will find that their differences are as
superficial as skin color or language � we may have different tribal names and
customs, but on the inside we are essentially identical, wishing the same
future for ourselves, our patients, and our families.

“So I personally welcome these discussions, and indeed any
controversy. It will serve us all very,
very well in the end.”

Bill Benda, MD

Board Trustee, AHMA
Board Member, AANP


Molly Roberts, MD, AHMA trustee

2. AHMA Trustee Roberts: ” … the doors need to be unlocked …”

Molly Roberts, MD, MS, is an AHMA board member who works as an integrative physician at Canyon Ranch. She is a lead moderator for AHMA’s discussions on their website.

“As a member of the
AHMA Board of Trustees, I was very interested in the responses you
gathered from naturopathic physicians in the community. I was heartened to see how
similar these comments were to ones I have heard on the AHMA side of
the equation. We seem to have the same fears and the same
hopes, and we in the holistic MD/DO community have always known that we
have very similar philosophies to naturopathic physicians.

“I want to reassure
those who are concerned about this collaboration that we are
creating opportunities within the conference for community members to
come together in activities that are familiar and beloved by you. For the
AHMA members, we will still be holding our breakfast gathering, our member
meeting, and, of course, our phenomenal dance party. We will still be working
toward creating mentorship opportunities for students, residents and those new
to holistic medicine. We want to celebrate our 30th anniversary with joy and
style, and so we are very aware of our tribe’s needs in this endeavor.

“However, I also want to
acknowledge that our tribe is likely larger than we may have realized.

One of the naturopathic physicians commented about opening the doors to
non-family members on holidays. That very same analogy came up in our last
Board meeting, with the same conclusion – that the doors need to be unlocked
and opened to recognize, appreciate, honor and embrace our extended
family. We are so much more alike than we are different, and I truly hope
that the conference is successful in creating those bonds of fellowship that we
have all been dearly needing.

“My original
trepidation has melted as I find myself tapping into the great
potential for positive outcomes and for new friendships that this conference
holds for all of us. As I now see it, there is more potential for good than for
bad here, and it is my hope that those on both sides of this divide start to
see the divide as an unnecessary waste of our precious and well-intentioned

“Our national elections
over the last several years have shown the importance of every single vote, and
so too is every single member important to the success of this conference.
It is my sincere hope that August, 2008 will mark the best attended
gathering in both the AHMA’s and the AANP’s history. To do that, every
single member needs to make the commitment to show up, participate,
and join in on the celebration.”

Molly Roberts, MD, MS

Member, Board of
Trustees, American Holistic Medical Association

Co-Founder and
Co-Director, LightHearted Medicine

Physician, Canyon Ranch
Health Resorts

Tucson, Arizona


AANP president Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

3. AANP President Alschuler: ” … look forward to sharing with equally brave pioneers …”

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, recently took over as president of the AANP and will be presiding over the meeting in August. She is athe naturopathic education liaison for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

“Thank you for featuring the 2008 AANP convention and the exciting
and important step that we are taking this year in opening the convention to
the AHMA for its 2008 conference. As President of the AANP Board of
Directors, I am both pleased and proud of this upcoming alliance.

conventions have, for many years, been the heart of our profession � pumping
inspiration and renewal into the arteries of our community. I have
participated in almost 20 conventions and I am continually amazed at how
rejuvenating and inspiring each convention continues to be. This occurs
in spite of the continued growth of the naturopathic profession � both in terms
of numbers of practitioners and of the diversity of practice and philosophy.

“I am eager to partake in the upcoming 2008 convention and to enjoy the
same tribal renewal and, at the same time, to participate in the significant
and deliberate widening of our circle to include our colleagues in the American
Holistic Medical Association. I look forward to sharing with these
equally brave pioneers in holistic medicine our passion, our love of fun, our
naturopathic wisdom and perspectives. I also look forward to receiving
their expertise, views, and passion.

“It is my hope that this convention
will visibly mark a concerted effort on the part of the AANP to reach out to
our like-minded colleagues and to incorporate our profession into a strong web
of collaboration and in so doing proactively transform healthcare.”

Alschuler, N.D., F.A.B.N.O.

President, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
Naturopathic Education Liaison – Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Independent Practitioner- Naturopathic Specialists, Scottsdale AZ


Henri Roca, MD, LAc, AHMA Trustee

4. AHMA Board Member Roca: “beginning the process of uniting teh multitude of practitioners …”

Henri Roca, MD, LAc, DABHM, DAAFP
is in a key position in this dialogue as an AHMA board member who also runs integrative medicine for a hospital in one of the most wealthy enclaves in the United States.

focal point for my practice, my community work, my work on the AHMA Board, and
my personal life is holism. In the AHMA, we have visioned holism through our
Ten Principles which include honoring the body�s innate healing power and
honoring the wisdom of all healing modalities.

“It is clear we stand at the
brink of change in our system of medical (illness) care. One option is the
piecemeal integration of snippets of modalities within medical practice.
Another option, one which better serves the public in its quest for wellness care,
is the movement to holism. The latter can best be accomplished by the gathering
of all practitioners who honor such approaches.

“That the AHMA and the AANP are
coming together begins the process of uniting the multitude of practitioners
who practice and honor holism. In unity, we will likely discover synergies that
can enhance the wellness of every community and every person in this nation.

am excited to meet more of my naturopath colleagues. I am heartened to
strengthen the ties that connect us. I look forward to the development of a
wellness care system with even more hope than I had before.”


AHMA Board of Trustees

, Greenwich Hospital Center for Integrative
, Connecticut

CAM Advisory Board
, Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners


Michelle Clark, ND, AANP board member

5. AANP Board Member Clark: “more in common than differences …”

Michelle E. Clark, ND, has in common with Roca that they have each national leaders as well as being been legislative leaders for their professions in state work, in the nearly-neighboring states of Florida and Louisiana.

am so excited the AHMA has accepted our invitation to attend our
conference. I am so proud of our community and our conference that I want
other, like minded professionals, to share in our prosperity.

“We have so
much more in common with the AHMA than we do differences. Until we share time
and space with each other within a safe, open environment we will continue to
only see the differences.

“Many people talk about ‘turf wars’ in legislation,
and I for one am so proud of the AANP for being the first to step outside and
share what we have to offer the world. How will others truly know us if
we don�t share our strengths with them? And how will we learn what other
groups have to offer if we don�t take the time to get to know them as well?
When we are able to work as one team, with respect for our
individual strengths, only then will we make a lasting change in health care.”

Michelle E. Clark, ND

Board of Directors

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Chairm AANP Alliance Legislative Committee

Florida Naturopathic Physicians Association

Bradenton, Florida


Jacob Sands, AMHA resident trustee

6. AHMA Resident Trustee Sands: “to give somebody full wholistic care, a team is needed …”

Jacob Sands, MD
, serves on the AHMA board in the position of Resident Trustee. he offers a fresh perspective on the limits of an individual practitioner.

“As a member of the AHMA and a resident in internal medicine,
I am very excited about the opportunity to share space and rub elbows with the

“My view of healthcare has changed dramatically in the past few
years. I used to aspire to knowing all aspects of healthcare
(acupuncture, energy medicine, herbal medicine, massage, nutrition, and
allopathic medicine, to name a few). I thought that I would one day be
able to embody all of healthcare and take care of people myself. I
have come to realize that this dream is not possible alone. To give
somebody full holistic care, a team is truly needed (a family of healthcare
practitioners). I hope to one day be a part of that family caring for
people in a truly holistic way. I see this conference as a very needed
step in the formation of that healthcare family and am excited about the

Jacob Sands, MD

Resident Trustee, AHMA


Jane Guiltinan, ND

7. AANP Past-President Guiltinan: ” … to maximize our efforts we must collaborate …”

Jane Guiltinan, ND, immediate past-president of the AANP rightfully comments on an inaccuracy in hte reporting. Technically, the AANP invited AHMA to join them. But since AHMA is moving forward and organizing various organizational action, I have chosen to use “co-locating” to describe the action.

“Thank you for mentioning our historic plans for the 2008
AANP conference in August at the Biltmore Resort in Arizona. There is one inaccuracy in your
reporting. The AHMA is not co-locating
their conference with the AANP. The AANP
has invited members of the AHMA to attend our conference this year with the
goal of building relationships and fostering conversations to identify shared
values, goals and ideas on how we might work together to achieve those goals.

“Naturopathic medicine has much to offer in the
conversations about how to improve the health care system in this country. Naturopathic physicians are experts in
providing comprehensive whole life care emphasizing prevention, wellness, and
of course by promoting the innate healing abilities of the human body. There is opportunity now for our voice to be
heard in these conversations about transforming health, and to help catalyze
the transformation of health care from one based on disease management to one
that incorporates the principles of naturopathic medicine. The AANP is
committed to being an active and strong voice advocating for these changes.

“In order to maximize the impact and effectiveness of our
message however, we must collaborate with others, and build alliances with like
hearted organizations such as the AHMA.
Our voice alone will not get the job done. This is why we have invited AHMA members to
our annual tribal gathering, so that we can talk, and learn, and celebrate
together. I can understand how some of
our members might see this as a bad idea, inviting another ‘tribe’ to
our very special gathering. I can also
understand how some of the invited members might feel the same way. But the time is now to forge ahead, forego
turf battles, and find out just how our respective strengths can result in
synergism and mutual benefit for those we all want to serve, our patients.

“Hope to see everyone in Arizona!”

Jane Guiltinan, ND

Immediate Past -President, AANP

Clinical Professor, Bastyr University


AHMA Trustee Gmeiner

8. AHMA Board Member Gmeiner: “an an (MD) who has gone through half of Bastyr’s ND training …”

Kjersten Gmeiner, MD was the focus of an Integrator article on group services, and how they are a fit with the principles of integrative care.

“As a practitioner who has gone through allopathic medical
training and the first half of Bastyr’s ND curriculum, I have been waiting for
years for a conference with ND’s and MD’s/DO’s together. Having worked for years to integrate the
fields of holistic medicine and naturopathy, I can finally bring both my halves
to one conference! It is about time.”

Kjersten Gmeiner, MD
AHNA Trustee

Seattle, WA


Bill Manahan, MD, long-time advocate of ND/holistic MD collaboration

9. Past AHNA President Bill Manahan, MD reflects on an earlier effort to strengthen relationships

Bill Manahan, MD
, an Integrator adviser, is a past president of the AHMA. He gives me a nice pat on the back then recalls an earlier effort to strengthen relationships between the two groups by changing the AHMA membership requirements.

“Once again, you are SO
good at bringing up the issues of which no one dares to speak. Like
the fear of speaking Lord Voldemort’s name, there seems to be many topics ‘of which we cannot speak.’ But you, John, dare to
actually discuss topics such as the incongruity of the new NCCAM Director
never having done any CAM research. And now you dare to ask how ND’s with
the AANP feel about inviting AHMA physicians to their annual
conference. Thank you.

shifts don’t occur very rapidly. Most of us are still quite
tribal in our DNA, so it is difficult to be open to those from a
different tribe. Look what happened to Native Americans when they
were open to the white people coming into their land. It probably
makes a lot of sense to be careful of strangers.

“In 1991, as President of
AHMA, I got the AHMA Board to agree to open AHMA membership to naturopathic
physicians (and other licensed healers). I was quite proud of myself, and
I thought we had finally achieved a major milestone. And I thought even
in 1991 that it was long overdue – and that was 17 years ago!

“Unfortunately, I was too
inexperienced at that time (or just a lousy leader) to know that
a president has to not just convince the generals that some
action might be beneficial. He or she also has to convince the
foot-soldiers. When we sent out the AHMA Board’s recommendation
for naturopathic physician and other licensed healers’ membership in
AHMA, the vote was 70% against it. It was a rude shock for me, and one of
my more (among many) humbling moments in life. So it did not occur then
or anytime in the next 17 years. But life goes on.

“I dearly hope that we
are getting closer to a collaborative and partnership model as opposed to our
present dominator model. In my opinion, the way in which we are now
doing things doesn’t really work very well anymore. As Nancy Aagenes
so nicely stated it in your column; “the tribe vibe becomes expansive or
the tribe suffers.” I think we have seen that occur in the United
States these past seven years, and it does not feel to some of us that it
is best direction for the majority of people.

“Thanks again for your
forthright and inspiring work, John.”

Bill Manahan, MD
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Comment: I spoke with Benda prior to publishing this and he gave me a quick line-up of plans for the August conferences, still in development, to foster relationship-building between these professionals. Benda says that plans include a sponsored breakfast panel. Invited participants include the AHMA, AANP, the American Holistic Nurses Association, the American College for Advancement in Medicine, the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care and the Natural Products Association. A policy discussion on the redefining of the health care system, featuring national leaders from across the healthcare spectrum will be the feature of Saturday’s luncheon. While both organizations will have time for separate celebrations, the final banquet night will be a mixed event. Exciting developments. I’m going!

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Written by John Weeks

Explore Wellness in 2021