Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Daniel K. Church, PhDIn my 10 years as president of Bastyr University, the growth I have seen in both the institution and the natural medicine community as a whole has not been trivial. In my last President’s Message, I reflected on how far we have come from where we were when I first arrived, and I could not be prouder of the myriad achievements we have accomplished together in making the world a healthier place, while raising the visibility of natural medicine to the masses.

When I came to Bastyr in 2005, my goals were to increase enrollment, hire more faculty and find a permanent home for our University campus. I am humbled to see that our goals have been met and then some: The number of new students rose from 973 in 2005 to 1,210 in 2014; our core faculty members increased during the same time from 44 to 76; and we were successful in purchasing the 51-acre campus we’d been leasing in Kenmore, Wash., from the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. From a general overview, natural health has gained much more visibility, credibility and respect in the last decade. Major progress has been made. However, not satisfied and knowing there was much more to be done, we have kept going.

At some point in a race, many runners will tell you that they reach a level of consistency where they stop thinking about their strides or split times and let their bodies take over naturally. At Bastyr, the same thing happened as we started to really hit our stride in the past few years, completing a number of significant projects. Bastyr University built the first LEED platinum-certified student housing on the West Coast. We established a new campus and teaching clinic (Bastyr University Clinic) in San Diego, Calif., which has seen tremendous growth since opening in 2012. And we’ve been adding numerous accredited degree programs in recent years that branch out across many other health fields.

From the University’s record enrollment numbers to high-profile media exposure (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times, Huffington Post and National Public Radio to name just a few), to an increase in the number of states that license naturopathic doctors (17 and counting), the future looks bright for the world of natural medicine.

During this time, both Bastyr University and the natural medicine community have permeated the general public’s consciousness and emerged as a viable voice in the national health care discussion. It’s clear that more and more people are choosing to see naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, dietitians and other holistic providers for their health care. With the 2014 passing of the Affordable Care Act, 6.7 million Americans are newly insured, creating a huge shortage of primary care providers, which can be filled in part by Bastyr graduates.

As I spend my remaining months as president of Bastyr University and inch closer to my personal finish line when I retire, it is with satisfaction that I look back at our shared achievements, challenges overcome and breakthroughs made. However, for as much as we have accomplished thus far, there is still more work to be done, and I know that the University and the profession will continue to push forward.

To that end, I believe the next step of our evolution is to continue to address the social determinants of health and ensure that all patients have access to quality health care regardless of race, socioeconomic status, ZIP code or any other factor.

Did you know that 97.1 percent of our nation's health care spending is applied to half of our population, while only 2.9 percent is left to meet the needs of the remaining half? In fact, 5 percent of our population consumes half of all the dollars expended on health care. This needs to change, and we are taking steps to make sure it does.

At Bastyr University, we want our graduates to take on leadership roles that go beyond providing health care. We are, in essence, asking them to change the world for the better. But we are not asking them to do it alone. Bastyr University is also committed to social justice, and has recently formed a new Center for Social Justice and Diversity. We are also active members of the United Nations Academic Impact and host the Human Library project for our students each year.

I challenge all in the natural health community to join us in our endeavor to address social justice in our health care. Ensuring that all patients have equal access to quality health care will be a group effort. Bastyr has taken the lead on this, but it will take all of us, working together, to effect real change.

As the countdown continues toward my retirement in June 2015, I look at all we have achieved with a sense of awe and all that we hope to achieve with a sense of hope. I am confident that Bastyr University and natural medicine will be in excellent hands with the leadership we have. And I encourage us all to keep moving forward, together, one step at a time. Because for all of our accomplishments, the race continues and we have many more miles to go.