The Naturopathic Student Loan Crisis

8260828342_75c94d4227_zThe second part to my ND Confessions series has been published on Science-Based Medicine.org today. ND Confessions, Part II: The Accreditation of Naturopathic “Medical” Education explains the U.S. Department of Education accreditation process for naturopathic schools.

I suspect that accreditation of naturopathic programs serves a financial need for the schools at the expense of students, who are convinced, like I was, that they are in a bonafide “medical school.”

Naturopathic doctors take on a lot of student loan debt

I checked my student loan balance this morning while preparing for this post. I owe a little over $333,000 in federal student loans. To call this amount daunting and depressing is an understatement.

Since I thought the ND degree meant I’d have job prospects as a real primary care physician, I assumed I’d have no problem paying back student loans, just like most medical doctors. I also thought I’d be eligible for federal loan repayment programs. I quickly learned, as have my former colleagues, that naturopathic doctors have dismal job prospects and earnings.

The average naturopathic doctor makes $60,000 a year in private practice. To put this in perspective, the average primary care physician income is about $186,000. Despite Bastyr insisting that naturopaths are trained as primary care physicians, their income certainly does not reflect it. (Nor does its training.)

Shortly before I quit practicing naturopathy, I was discussing my student loan situation with an older, financially successful naturopath who went to school in the 1990s. He confessed that had I borrowed private loans for naturopathic school, he would have recommended that I claim bankruptcy to erase the loans, just like he did after graduating from National College of Natural Medicine. He said this was not an uncommon practice for naturopaths graduating from the accredited schools a few decades ago.

Now, private lenders no longer offer loans to naturopathic students (see links 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Perhaps private lenders caught onto the bankruptcy declarations, or maybe they realized that based on their incomes, the likelihood of naturopaths repaying debt is poor.

Medical and health professional students are eligible for several loan, scholarship, and loan repayment programs administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Unlike other health professionals, naturopaths are not eligible for any of these services, including aid programs specific to primary care.

In some circumstances, naturopaths may be eligible for debt repayment programs, but this is variable and depends on the state. Overall, the state programs that help naturopaths reduce student debt are few and far between. It is a shame that naturopathic schools and organizations are misrepresenting the reality that ND degree holders are undertrained and not highly regarded in the medical community.

Naturopathic doctors are worried

A Facebook-er, who graduated from Bastyr, recently posted that she feels she will never be able to pay back her naturopathic student loans within her lifetime. She even went so far as to say that if given the choice, she would not “do it over again.” The assumption on my part is that she wouldn’t attend naturopathic school again due to the high cost of education and low incomes for naturopaths. Sadly, hindsight is 20/20.

Around the same time, another Facebook naturopath from Bastyr linked to an article discussing the Whitehouse’s “cracking down” on for-profit colleges. He posted that he wondered how naturopathic schools would be affected by the new U.S. Department of Education regulations, as there “are plenty of us that don’t meet the income requirements to justify our loans.” 

Though Bastyr is a not-for-profit college, the sentiment is the same. Students are being overcharged for degrees that don’t qualify them as real doctors.

Naturopathic medicine is not just a bad health decision. It is a terrible career move.

Image credit. Michael Fleshman. Some rights reserved.
  • PrimaryCareDoc

    $333K? Wow. That’s crazy. I took out full loans plus living expenses for med school. I graduated with the balance at $160,000. After deferring for my 3 years of residency, my balance was up to $192K. I thought that was bad. My monthly payments are high, but completely manageable.

    • starri

      Mine’s (including undergrad) going to be well over $400,000. I get depressed when I think about trying to pay it off, but one more year to go. The other thing is that I’d really like to do Primary Care, but I’m not sure I can afford it.

      • PrimaryCareDoc

        Yikes. I’m sorry. If you want primary care, do primary care. Spend a couple of years doing it in a place that does loan forgiveness.

        It’s possible to make a very nice living as a primary care doctor.

        • starri

          I’ve given some thought to spending a few years as a hospitalist before striking out on my own. It’s tougher, because I’m an-ahem–nontraditional student. But as far as I know, as long as I make payments for twenty years, there’s forgiveness after that.

          • PrimaryCareDoc

            Hospitalist is not a bad way to go for a few years. It’s a pretty easy transition from residency, and the pay is usually higher. If you do it in the area where you want to eventually set up shop, it’s a great way to get your name out there.

  • John Hall

    300K+! That is a ridiculous amount of student loan debt!

  • http://naturocrit.podbean.com/ Naturocrit Podcast and Blog

    Let me suppose, for a moment:

    suppose, due to the PATENTLY false categorical labels that naturopathy employs

    and the PATENTLY impossible financial realities that naturopathy induces

    — and the future that naturopathy therein steals,

    if one had instead gone ‘a true way and a possible way’ —

    North American naturopathy and collaborators are ripe for a class action.

    That, and what’s below, are part of the script for my next Naturocrit Podcast:

    season 2 episode 1.

    Now, I remember, close to ten years ago,

    complementing Dr. Atwood of SBM at a NECSS conference in NYC

    concerning his Medscape pieces “Naturopathy: A Critical Appraisal” and

    his follow-up, “Naturopathy, Pseudoscience, and Medicine: Myths and Fallacies vs Truth.”

    I’d said it was, for me, of the caliber of the Scottish philosopher David Hume.

    And what I also said was this:

    ‘what naturopathy doesn’t know is that it is insolvent.’

    What did I mean?

    What DO I mean?

    Well, I have faith in justice, and a reckoning regarding

    the damage done by SO MUCH falseness and impossibility!

    Like here’s a little thought:

    Bastyr calls naturopathy “science-based”,

    NUHS labels all its contents science including naturopathy,

    UB placed its naturopathy within a “division of health sciences.”

    And all mandate homeopathy as an activity, presently and fundamentally,

    and so many other science-exterior ideas and activities.

    Science subset homeopathy and kind?

    How false, how impossible!

    How ripe.

    “We shall overcome…”

    -r.c.

    • http://naturocrit.podbean.com/ Naturocrit Podcast and Blog

      I posted this at SBM, but I’ll do it here too:

      Up at archive.org, I have an interesting document I just added to my account.

      It is a deposition between myself and the University of Bridgeport from 2002,

      when I decided to stop naturopathy school and sue UB.

      See https://archive.org/details/RobCullenUBDeposition2002

      The pdf is searchable, and my favorite thing I said in the deposition was this:

      “I’m embarrassed to have gone to a school that called itself health science and what I get is a whole bunch of cultic mystical weirdness […] this degree has become a farce.”

      Now it’s 2015, and that ND program is still posed as “health science” and it still has such obligatory “cultic mystical weirdness” as homeopathy and kind within it.

      The suit was an EPIC fail.

      They simply didn’t CARE.

      Here’s the description, and I’ve made the documents at that link public domain:

      “Way back in the day, I tried to sue a naturopathy school for what I consider FALSEHOOD, happening in so many ways! So, here, from the depths of my naturopathy database, is me being deposed by an ND-granting school, the University of Bridgeport, which I attended for four years, in 2002. Got NOT an ounce of sympathy from the buggers. And the State of CT told me I didn’t have legal grounds to sue, so the case was dismissed at UB’s request. Watch out. There isn’t a iota of ethicality in naturopathyland!!!”

      Imagine being in a four-year doctorate and not getting the clinic patient contact numbers one needs in order to graduate on time, and then one does the math and finds it’ll take another three years to get those numbers at the rate they were happening.

      So, that’s 7 years worth of tuition for UB for a posed-as-4-year degree.

      Now, that debt is with me for life.

      And because of that, I can’t imagine there being a statute of limitations on this matter.

      But, as I’d said, the State sided with the school.

      They are ‘in-partnership.’

      -r.c.

  • http://listenandcare.com/ Sherry Matthews

    Your student loan debts are more than daunting. I’m glad to see someone else talking about it and sharing their debt so openly, it’s definitely an outrage that the price for education has become so high.