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California Eager for Naturopaths to Fill Primary Care Shortage

When Bastyr University opens its San Diego campus next fall, it will be California’s only naturopathic medicine higher-education institution.

Which is quite surprising, really.

Californians hold a high level of interest in integrative medicine, as University leaders learned through their market research. The Golden State has a keen shortage of primary care physicians, an opportunity that could be filled by naturopathic doctors. And the state is one of 16 to license naturopathic doctors (NDs) to practice as primary care professionals (thanks in part to the University's advocacy to the 2003 state Legislature). Plus, California has 37 million residents — and the eighth largest economy in the world.

Given all that, it's been clear to University leaders since last summer that the opportunity to expand was as ripe as a California grapevine.

But the question of where to open a campus has taken more consideration. The University hired researchers to conduct market studies on several California locations: San Diego, Santa Ana, Irvine, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley (north Los Angeles). Prospective students who were surveyed gave San Diego their highest preference. Prospective faculty did the same. Their reasons: the city's quality of life, a culture friendly toward natural medicine, and a strong presence of medical and higher-education institutions. Market demand for an eventual clinic in San Diego was encouraging, too.

That came as no surprise to the California Naturopathic Doctors Association (CNDA), a professional group that's been supporting Bastyr's efforts to open a California campus.

“We export more naturopathic medical students than any other state," says CNDA President Simon Barker, ND, a Bastyr alumnus. "I meet with people on a weekly basis who tell me they want to stay nearby. As a Southern California resident, I'm particularly excited. Not only does it provide a source of hope and pride for us, it also provides a source of training for tomorrow's primary care doctors in California."

California's shortage of primary care doctors is one of the most acute in the nation: Only one in four counties in the state has the recommended ratio of 60 to 80 primary care physicians for each 100,000 residents, according to the California Medical Association. The problem is expected to worsen as physicians retire, baby boomers age and require more care, and an estimated 6 million Californians become newly insured in 2014 under the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

Bastyr won't fill that shortage on its own, of course. University leaders expect about 40 students to enroll in each of the first few years. Those students will be well-positioned to show what natural medicine can contribute to health care challenges – in California and elsewhere.

"NDs are in the perfect place to fill that primary care gap," says Dr. Barker. "This is a great opportunity to do that in the best way possible.”

Posted by Jon Hiskes on Fri, 08/12/2011 - 11:42am

About

This blog contains the most recent updates and developments for Bastyr University's San Diego campus, which opened in fall 2012.

The San Diego campus and clinic is located at 4106 Sorrento Valley Boulevard in the center of the city's life sciences cluster and approximately 14 miles north of downtown.

It lies within walking distance of the San Diego Coaster commuter train (which connects to more light-rail lines), and is within a short drive of the University of California-San Diego, Scripps Mercy Hospital and the VA San Diego Medical Center.