Preceptorships Offer Students Valuable Hands-on Experience

What Is a Preceptorship Anyway?

Preceptorships let students shadow experienced practitioners, observing a variety of therapeutic modalities and clinical conditions, as well as day-to-day business practices.

Who: Naturopathic medicine students complete 132 preceptor hours, spread among at least three different practitioners. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine and midwifery students have slightly different requirements.

Where: Students work with NDs and other health care practitioners in both private practice and other settings. Preceptorships may be done in Washington, California and most other states and provinces.

When: ND students take preceptor orientation during their first year. Most students spread their preceptorship hours out over their 4 years of study.

How: Students choose from a list of pre-approved practitioners. They can also propose new preceptors.

Traci Pantuso, a Bastyr University naturopathic medicine student, wasn't sure what to expect when she signed up for a preceptorship at a health clinic on the Tulalip Indian Reservation north of Seattle.

What she found was a key part of her education, giving her experience treating patients she wouldn't have otherwise seen. She also found a mentor in primary care doctor Ravyn Ramos, ARNP, ND ('09), the sole naturopathic physician (ND) at the busy Tulalip Health Clinic. The experience has been invaluable, Pantuso says.

"I wanted more patient-contacts and more experience in general," says Pantuso. "What's been really great is the amount of time Dr. Ramos puts into helping us grow as clinicians. That has far exceeded what I expected."

"Preceptorship" falls in the category of "strange Latin words you learn in medical school." It's a way for students to learn from experienced doctors, shadowing a preceptor, or teacher, as they work. Students typically observe at first, but they may take on more responsibilities as they gain experience. Preceptorship hours count toward the clinical training requirements of Bastyr's naturopathic medicine, midwifery, and acupuncture and Oriental medicine programs.

Naturopathic medicine students choose from a list of available positions, gaining a chance to observe both NDs and conventional medical doctors in a variety of settings. At the Tulalip clinic, they can see how an ND fits into a high-demand setting. (See our related story on how Bastyr alumna Dr. Ramos established her role as the clinic's first naturopathic doctor.)

"They do a lot more than shadowing me," says Dr. Ramos. "They go into a room, take a history and physical exam, then present to me on their findings, their diagnosis and what they want to do about it. It forces them to think on their toes and learn to make decisions without me answering everything for them."

Students also complete clinical training at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the University's teaching clinic in Seattle. Pantuso says training at the Tulalip clinic has taught her how to work with patients who don't have access to supplements available at the Bastyr Center dispensary. "It means working with a patient to figure out how we can get them vitamins and minerals through diet," she says.

It's also taught her to look for root causes of illness.

"As naturopaths, we have the training to be present with our patients," she says. "A patient may come in for hypertension, and we may find out they're having a lot of stress at home. We can treat the symptom the patient's coming in with, but also treat the cause of the complaint."