Leadership Blog Series – Naturopathic Medicine Needs More Students and Doctors of Color

Welcome to our leadership blog series! This month, Khaleed Alston-the International Board’s VP of Development-discusses the under-representation of Black people in the field of healthcare, and his own thoughts and personal experiences as a Black male studying naturopathic medicine.

Naturopathic Medicine Needs More

Students & Doctors of Color

This past weekend Portland State University hosted the 2018 Black Student Success Summit (BSSS). The BSSS is an amazing event which attracts hundreds of high school and college students of color from Oregon, to learn from and network with professionals of color. The “professionals” in attendance hold prestigious positions across a wide spectrum of industries which include everything from graphic design to medicine.

I was asked to help lead a panel along with two Black allopathic medical students to discuss the specific challenges we faced preparing for and matriculating through medical school. Needless to say, the event was a huge success and serves as a template for how we can begin to diversify our profession.

As a Black male attending naturopathic medical school in Portland, I often forget what if feels like to be surrounded by other Black people, and more specifically Black excellence. I distinctly remember DC FLI last year being the first time in roughly 8 months that I was surrounded by people who looked like me. It felt great being in Washington DC (a.k.a. Chocolate City) where head nods, smiles and non-awkward handshakes immediately became the norm.

I bring this up because minority communities are grossly underrepresented within the medical profession. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Blacks made up just 8.4 percent of new entrants to U.S. medical schools. It was also reported that fewer Blacks applied to and enrolled in medical school in 2014 than in 1978. I was unable to find statistics for Naturopathic Colleges, but I assume the percentages are even lower within the naturopathic community.

Moving forward, both the naturopathic and allopathic medical systems need to do a better job at attracting young medical students of color. Medical schools across the country need to recruit students of color while they are still in high school, which means they also must invest in these schools. Young Black and brown children are often told that they are not smart enough to become doctors. To counter this, young students need to be exposed to doctors and medical students who look like them. Doctors and medical students who will tell these young students that not only can they grow up to be doctors, but that there is a huge need for them within our communities.

So, as I prepare for my second trip in two years to DC to lobby members of congress and senate for expanded naturopathic licensure across the country, I wonder what my true motivation for the trip is. Is it because I care about naturopathic medicine and want to help spread it across the country, or is it because I need an escape to Chocolate City?

In all honesty, it is probably a little of both.

Regardless, I look forward to knowing that within 3 minutes of disembarking from my plane in DC I will be able to look across the terminal, nod at a random Black man, and have my nod seamlessly returned. Similarly, I look forward to the day when medical students of color do not need to escape to their own communities to see familiar faces.

INTERNATIONAL VP OF DEVELOPMENT, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF NATURAL MEDICINE

Khaleed is a 2nd-year medical student at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). A native New Yorker, Khaleed graduated from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. After graduation, he spent three years as an elementary school teacher at Grace Church School, where he taught 2nd- and 4th-grade students. He also taught a course on South African History and Apartheid, which cumulated in 15 high school students traveling with Khaleed to Johannesburg, SA to participate in an Entrepreneurial Leadership program at The African Leadership Academy. As a medical student, he has worked with the Food as Medicine Institute at NUNM and is interested nutrition, oncology, gastroenterology, and chronic disease. Khaleed is passionate about making naturopathic medicine more accessible to minority populations and plans to work tirelessly to promote initiatives that will expand our scope of practice and make our medicine more affordable.

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