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Career Paths with Sara Gilham, ND

Practicing Naturopathic Medicine in an Allopathic Setting

Dr. Sara Gillham earned her medical degree at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, in 2011. Prior to earning her medical degree, Sara was active in clinical research. Her involvement ranged from work in women’s health at the University of California - San Francisco, to assessing the health benefits of meditation, Qi Gong and neurofeedback as a graduate student researcher. She completed her residency at the Center for Natural Medicine where she focused on endocrine and cardiovascular health. While concluding her residency, Sara developed a proposal outlining how an allopathic medicine company, ZoomCare, could benefit from the services of a naturopath. Consequently, she was hired as ZoomCare’s Clinical Manager of Wellness.

Why did you choose the profession you are in?

There are two different answers to this question: first, the answer to why I chose a degree in naturopathic medicine, and second, the answer to why I chose a job in an allopathic medicine setting. First: I chose naturopathic medicine because I love that it is both highly scientific and highly holistic. We are encouraged to delve into the nitty-gritty biochemical mechanisms underlying pathology and effects of chemical and mechanical treatments on the body, but we are also encouraged to thoroughly understand each patient’s mental, physical, and spiritual status and the effects these have on their health. Second: I chose to work for an allopathic company because I see bringing allopathic and naturopathic medicine together as the most effective way to help the maximum number of people. By offering naturopathic care in a conventional medical setting we are succeeding in educating our conventional colleagues in the efficacy of naturopathic medicine, and we are reaching patients who might not otherwise consider naturopathic care.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of going into the field?

Naturopathic medicine is amazing and provides a much needed holistic compliment to the heroics of allopathic medicine, but it is not for the faint of heart. At this point in time, medical centers are not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars recruiting NDs, as they are MDs; salaried positions that allow providers to focus exclusively on practicing their art are still the exception; licensing and insurance coverage issues are complicated - in short, becoming an ND comes with a constellation of challenges not faced by our allopathic colleagues. So, with that in mind, my primary piece of advice is to ask yourself: am I a trailblazer, am I resourceful, or persistent, or entrepreneurial, or thoroughly capable of creating my own opportunities? If the idea of hitting the pavement hard to create something out of nothing inspires you - whether it’s imagining and managing your own practice, marketing yourself and building your own client base, or convincing a company to create a job for you - this could be an excellent fit and an amazing ride for you. If not, that’s okay! It’s hard, and in a very specific way, that is definitely not for everyone.

Where do you think Naturopathic Medicine is going in the future?

In the future, I suspect that naturopathic and allopathic medicine will become more and more similar, and that NDs will become more and more common in conventional medicine settings. I don’t think that it is going to be because NDs become more like MDs, though; I think it will be just the opposite.

I expect that over time MDs will incorporate more holistic care approaches, allowing NDs broader acceptance and the opportunity to be both true primary care providers and natural medicine specialists, much as cardiologists are the heart specialists, and neurologists are the brain specialists. I see this as a great thing because ultimately more patients will benefit from their MDs having a broader tool set, and from NDs being able to offer their expertise as an integral part of the highly accessible standard medical community.