The Holistic Nurse: Naturopathy

One of the most exciting aspects of researching this series is discovering the innovative work being done across the country. Who knew a major health system in the Pacific Northwest had an integrative medicine program?

Our amazing guest today is Dr. Ken Weizer, N.D. Dr. Weizer specializes in naturopathic cancer care for the Providence Integrative Medicine Program in Portland, Oregon. After learning about him, I want to work for him as the program’s integrative health CNL. Dr. Weizer is himself a cancer survivor and after you read about his practice in his own words, I’m sure I’d have to fight for that job. 

In addition to direct patient care, Dr. Weizer offers presentations and workshops to local support groups, as well as health care professionals. His “Laughter Is the Best Medicine” program has received high praise from participants.

I have a special affinity for his work, since my PCP is also a naturopath. To me, this practice epitomizes what health care is supposed to be about.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a closer look, brought to you by a resident expert…

What is Naturopathy, compared/contrasted with “conventional” biomedicine?

Naturopathy is the medicine that was practiced before the advent of drugs in the last 50 years. I focus treatment on lifestyle changes – exercise, diet, stress reduction. Most of my patients use both naturopathic and drug-based doctors.

What got you specifically interested in cancer care? 

My own cancer in 1989. A life changing experience. I wanted to see if there was a new and better way to treat people with cancer.

What are the benefits of working for an integrated clinic as part of a large health system? What are the drawbacks?

Benefits: Truly working with a team of doctors that know, trust, and work with each other…Seeing all the doctors in one location… Having the assurance that the naturopaths are trained and skilled in treating cancer, and conservative in their approach.

Drawbacks: Having to go to the hospital to see the naturopath…Our approach is conservative. Many people with cancer are scared and quite frankly – panicked – and think that doing more is better and using any and all methods is the way to go. For those people, we may not be the best fit, as we are going to use only evidence-based and/or rational therapies.

How do you usually get referrals?

Medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, physical therapists, social workers, counselors, other patients.

What kind of recommendations you might make beyond a pharmaceutical prescription?

I try to present the client with a comprehensive, but simple and appropriate plan. This will generally include: nutritional supplements, dietary advice, stress reduction techniques, and an exercise plan. I often refer patients to oncologists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and acupuncturists.

What kind of educational process did you go through to become a naturopath? How can people recognize a credible provider?

Naturopathy requires a 4-year doctoral program. Credible providers have a doctoral degree in naturopathic medicine.

How much do your visits cost? Does insurance cover your care?

The first visit lasts an hour and usually costs $195 out-of-pocket. Follow-up visits are usually $65. About half of the patients are covered by insurance.

How/when do you collaborate with oncologists and other medical providers who see your patients?

We are in constant collaboration. We are on the same computer system, we send each other notes, we talk with each other, we attend weekly tumor board conferences together.

Have you ever seen a patient whose needs were outside your scope? What did you do about it?

Yes. I refer them to the proper facility and physician.

What kind of evidence is available to support the efficacy of naturopathy?

A growing body of integrative care data is emerging. Perhaps it is the trend of the future. (See NCCAM’s page on Naturopathy for a list of current randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses regarding the efficacy of this practice).

How did you get involved in making presentations about laughter as good medicine? 

A patient gave me a red nose after watching the film Patch Adams. Then I heard Patch speak, and I was inspired to bring the light of laughter into the darkness of cancer. Providence has been very supportive of this.

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