ACA Member Works to Enhance Diversity in Chiropractic and Naturopathic Professions

It was not so long ago that conversations about the value of diversity and how to achieve it were uncommon in chiropractic and other healthcare professions. But things are changing thanks to ACA members such as Nakiesha Pearson, DC, ND, vice chair of the ACA Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). ACA Blogs caught up with Dr. Pearson, who participates in initiatives for both the chiropractic and naturopathic professions, to learn what drives this dedicated advocate to “do the work” to promote diversity and challenge disparities in health care.

You have degrees in chiropractic, naturopathic medicine and chiropractic advanced clinical practice. What motivated you to explore these different care paths?

I received my chiropractic degree first in 2010.  My interest in the chiropractic profession was nurtured by my undergraduate advisor. Her son was a graduate of National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) and a sports chiropractor with Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. At the time I was working on a degree in kinesiology and was interested in working in a sports-related field.

I was introduced to naturopathic medicine when I became a student at NUHS; however, I did not pursue the degree until after I graduated with my chiropractic degree. While in school my interest shifted from sports to primary care.  My new interest led me to pursue a family practice residency program.  During the residency program, I was able to obtain my naturopathic degree and my master’s degree in advanced clinical practice.

How long have you been teaching? What do you love about it?

I have been teaching for a total of nine years. I taught for three years as a resident and six years as a full-time faculty member.

I teach the Evaluation and Management of the Lumbar Spine, Abdomen, and Pelvis and the Advanced Diagnosing and Problem Solving (the students’ standardized patient lab) classes. I also teach the Special Populations class in the master’s of advance clinical practice curriculum.

I love seeing students mature through the program. They take the evaluation and management class early in their program and the standardized patient lab falls late, before they reach clinic.  There is a lot of growth that happens between those two classes, and it is a privilege to witness.

How did you become involved with the EDI Committee?

I learned of the ACA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee through a colleague, Dr. Dana Madigan, who is also a member. I appreciated the important work that was being done and wanted to get involved.

The EDI Forum last year, which you moderated, was an enlightening discussion about the lack of minority representation in chiropractic. What was the feedback?

The feedback I have received was all positive.  The attendees seemed to be very receptive of the conversation and agreed that the profession needs more diverse representation.

I think the most eye-opening part of the discussion was learning about the different activities that stakeholders in our profession were already doing to work towards increased minority representation.

Did you learn something new during the EDI Forum?

Each panelist spoke passionately about the action steps we all can take to support the growth of representation among racial, gender, and sexual orientation-based minority groups.  It was very empowering and refreshing to hear what was already being done and what we could start doing now to support this mission.

Often when in conversations with others regarding diversity and equity in health care, I get the sense that many want to see change but feel they do not have the tools to support the needed change, or feel the task is too overwhelming and that meaningful progress will take too long.  Hearing the doctors speak about their experiences put the end goal into perspective for me and hopefully for others, too.

In addition to being the vice chair of the EDI Committee, you were recently elected chairperson of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) EDI Committee. What similarities are you seeing in the two professions?

Being a part of AANMC’s DEI Committee and the ACA EDI committee has made me more aware of how traditional professional standards and norms can occasionally be stumbling blocks to change.  One of the conversations that I have had on both committees is about the idea of buy in. There is the potential to be met with push back when the stakeholder you are proposing change to does not have a clear understanding of why change is necessary.

In respect to minority representation, both professions have a need and an opportunity to increase the number of minority students and doctors.  They also have an opportunity to better support the maturation of those students through the program and into the profession.

Does being involved in another profession give you a special lens through which to view diversity issues?

As I mentioned before, there are many similarities in the diversity issues each profession faces, similarities that I feel leave the door open for future collaboration.

Although there are similarities, there are differences in how the two professions are approaching those diversity issues.  The naturopathic profession has two committees with the lens of diversity.  The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) DEI committee and the AANMC DEI committee.  The AANMC committee focuses mostly on supporting collaborative efforts to improve diversity and diversity practices within academic communities; whereas the AANP has a broader focus that includes supporting diversity and cultivating cultural competency among practicing physicians.

What progress have you noticed so far, and what do you hope to see in the future?

The open dialogue has been a positive change.  When I was a student and a new doctor, you just did not hear these types of conversations being had across the profession.  There were no committees—or none that I was aware of—examining these issues.  We now have the schools examining their curriculums for ways they can combat academic and clinical bias; doctors in the field actively seeking knowledge and training on how to provide culturally competent care to their patients; and leaders in our professional organizations examining ways to support an increase in minority leadership.  Although the road to improving the diversity landscape of the profession is long, it is still refreshing to see our current progress.

I would love to see the profession expand its reach of care to more diverse communities.  My hope is to see more minority representation in leadership roles as well as an increase in minority enrollment among the colleges.

With what message would you like to leave our readers?

Do the work.  Disparities in health care are not just minority issues but issues that affect us all. To have meaningful change and progress, we all must do our part.