The following is a transcript of a recorded conversation to help celebrate INM’s 30th Anniversary. We invite you to continue the celebration with us at our official landing page here.
DISCLAIMER & EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions of the people in this recording are their own and do not necessarily represent INM. This video and its respective transcript and social media posts do not constitute medical advice; and are not meant to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any conditions or diseases and are for educational purposes only. If you would like to find a naturopathic doctor (ND), please see our Find an ND directory at findanaturaldoctor.com.
Maurice Werness, ND, Co-Founder of INM (MW): Hi, my name is Maurice Werness. I practice in Durham, North Carolina. Most of my work involves, in my private practice, involves working with underserved populations. So I work with the major chronic diseases that are really an epidemic across these underserved populations. And I love what I do.
Valerie Campbell, MACP, Current Chair of the INM Board (VC): Maurice, welcome. Great to see you, as always. And thanks for being here.
MW: Super nice evening, Valerie.
VC: So, let’s start off with your relationship with INM because you’ve been here since the beginning.
MW: I’m already an elder, can you believe it?
Well, you know, I think it’s, I’m gonna take a bigger picture, okay? We all have these lives, and stuff happens, right? And we’re involved in certain things, and stuff goes wrong. We think it’s wrong, but it turns out to be part of the path to get us where we’re trying to get. In my particular case, I was a professional athlete. I was a tennis player. I had zero idea how to take care of my body, and my body broke down.
So when I was about 27, traveling around the world playing tennis, my body broke down. I didn’t have the money to eat right. I was eating bananas and bread and peanut butter, trying to play, you know, high-level tournaments. And, you know, basically, the wheels came off the train. And I didn’t know anything about nutrition. You know, I was your average, you know, I had a single mom, you know, not much money, fast food, eating person. Eventually, I went to see somebody who practiced naturopathic medicine. They told me, Maurice, if you eat more fruits and vegetables and learn how to manage your stress, you might be all right. In my mind, I was thinking this person is crazy. I’m actually really sick, and they’re charging me money. So, you know, but I didn’t have a choice. I did what they said. I got a job working at East West Books. They taught us how to eat vegetarian food, and they taught yoga. And my first session of meditation lasted about 30 seconds before I ran out of the place.
But I started eating more fruits and vegetables. I started doing what this doctor told me to do. And eventually, I was like, you know, about six months later, I was pretty much well. I had fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue. That’s what I was suffering from. And back then, nobody knew what it was. But that’s what happened. And so then, you know, my tennis career had run out and, you know, I thought I should be a doctor, and I should do this kind of medicine because this is what the universe gave me.
This is how I healed myself and I should bring this message to as many people as I can. And so I got into naturopathic medicine sight unseen. I went to Seattle, went to Bastyr. I had never been to that place. The first day in school, you know, I’m in an elementary school. I thought I’m going to a real medical school here. You know, elementary school.
But sure enough, there were a bunch of amazing professors there, and they taught me medicine and the kind of medicine that I really value, which is how to use the forces of nature, whether they be herbal, nutritional, or homeopathic, or mind-body. All of these things that to me, are common sense. So how I got involved with the INM, it was a matter of me being in the right place at the right time, I guess.
My fellow founders, they saw that, you know, here’s a young kid that’s super passionate about what we’re doing. And, you know, let’s put an arm around him and bring him with us.
VC: Maurice, what does it mean to you to have been a founder of INM?
MW: Well, it’s a blessing, right? Because the INM is the public-facing, you know, entity organization of naturopathic medicine. I see naturopathic medicine as being the Earth’s call for healing, right? So the INM is the vehicle through which we try to share this wisdom with the public, with people that have been, you know, we have forgotten as a citizenry, we have forgotten that the body was designed to heal itself.
We have forgotten that we are the most amazing self-generating, rejuvenating, you know, organisms on the planet. And that our awareness and consciousness are the most powerful forces in the universe. And if we can direct those towards not only our own healing but the healing of our communities, the healing of the planet, there’s nothing in my mind more important than that. It’s been a blessing to me. That’s why I stayed on the board for 30 years to get it to a place where the INM could grow real wings and fly and why I’m so grateful for this association.
VC: Yeah, and thank you for all that you have done for INM as well because enabling it to fly is, I know, a big part for you, and you have given it wings, so thank you for that.
MW: It’s just been a love affair. I guess we’ll just leave it at that.
Maurice, what’s your fondest memory of INM, of your experience with it?
MW: Well, you know, to me, it’s been about my colleagues. It’s been about the relationships that I’ve been able to nurture and that have nurtured me and really being able to support one another about what we’re up to and about how huge and inspirational what naturopathic medicine is about and how important our role in the INM is in getting that message out to the people. So, you know, to me, that’s been, you know, every minute of that has enriched my soul and lifted me up.
It’s so nice to hear you talk about the past, and then it sounds like INM as the public face for the profession, that that’s a big part of the memories that mean the most to you. Is that what you hope for going forward too? Or what are you thinking about when you think about the future for INM?
MW: Well, you know, to broaden the lens a little bit, I think the INM’s role is incredibly valuable, and here’s why:
As human beings, we have slowly or not so slowly disconnected ourself from nature. We’ve tried to do that. And as we’ve done that, you can see the consequences of our behaviors that are not in harmony with the Earth. Climate change, chronic disease, epidemics, pandemics, huge, huge levels of malnutrition, even in this country. So, you see the consequences of disconnecting from nature. Now, you see people waking up to, “Whoa, maybe I do need to plant more pollinators in my front yard to attract the bees and to support the bee populations. Maybe I should grow my own vegetables in the backyard because fresh vegetables seem to be super important. And our microbiome is nourished by; when I compost the soil to grow my vegetables in, I enhance my microbiome.”
So you’re seeing this awakening in the public at large. And that’s why it’s critical that that awakening be met with the support of the INM, with the support we offer through public education as to the science behind what the public is waking up to. You know, what is the science behind the microbiome? We can share that with them.
So that then when they go to talk to their medical doctors if they’re seeing medical doctors, that they can bring not just the wisdom of nature, the common sense of our connection of the fact that we speak the same biochemical language as nature. That’s why it’s important that we eat food that’s not full of synthetics and pesticide residues, et cetera. That is all science. That is all being borne out through science. And the INM can be a, you know, a support to these fledgling people in our population that are trying to awaken this movement and trying to assist in medicine awakening to the importance of living a lifestyle in harmony with nature. So what we do is of deep value to not only the awakening itself, but in support of that awakening that the Earth is calling forth through us.
VC: I keep I keep thinking of you as the flame thrower. Remember that was your nickname?
MW: That’s pretty much it.
VC: Yeah, you ignite these wonderful fires of knowledge and creativity. So, okay, so Maurice, if we go back to, you know, you’ve had one of the longest relationships with INM of anybody who knows INM. And so, how has your relationship with INM shaped your life and your career?
MW: I would say that the INM has been a powerful vehicle for me to connect with our profession at large and be connected in a very valuable way. So it’s allowed me to understand that, you know, the larger picture of our profession whether it be from a licensing perspective, what we’re accomplishing there, or from a regulatory perspective, the things that we’re accomplishing there. So it’s given me a wonderful place to plug in and think about and guide how we communicate those messages to the public. So it’s been a great place for me to engage.
VC: Yeah, Maurice, for you, messaging to the public, you’ve always talked about that as something really important to you. What’s that all about? What does that mean for you personally, and how INM is able to do that?
MW: I would say that as a whole, I think we, as the INM have done a really good job. And I would say that we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible. This awakening that I’m speaking of is, to me, the biggest thing happening on the planet right now. So, I think it behooves us to be super creative about how we listen to that movement and how we engage that movement. And I think there’s a powerful listening that needs to be engaged in order to be imbued by the power of that movement. This is Earth itself speaking through us. And if we listen really well, we will have the information, the wisdom, the energy to communicate that message. It’s nothing smaller than that. Absolutely revolutionary, absolutely imperative that we move in this direction now.
VC: How do you personally want to be involved with that through your connection with INM?
MW: Well, I’m here to be of service. So, however the INM wants to engage me, wants to utilize my voice, my passion, my heart. I’ve been blessed by this profession, and I’m blessed to give back to it. So, I’m, you know, I do it every day in my practice. I do it every day, you know, in my life. You know, I wake up in the morning, I, you know, if you want to, if we want to talk about like our connection to nature, right? Well, um, and how important it is that we are intimately connected.
So I wake up early in the morning, I go outside in my backyard barefoot, and I absorb the red light of the sun. That red light, as science is bearing out, that initiates our circadian rhythm, which is the commanding mechanism, if you will, of supporting all of our biological processes, from our hormones to our digestion to, you know, on and on to how the mitochondria works, et cetera. That’s how intimate our connection is with nature. So, how do we convey our deep connection? And if we’re not engaging on that level, we get all the consequences of chronic disease that we see around us.
So that’s how I manifest that. And my neighbor looks down and says, there he is out there doing Tai Chi again. And we have a conversation, and he’s awakened to it. It’s like, oh, I didn’t know that. Okay, let’s go. So.
VC: Maurice, sort of in that vein, what’s the standout accomplishment from your work with INM that stands out the most to you?
MW: Well, the biggest accomplishment I can say, there’s two things. The first one was nurturing this beautiful flying bird, if you will, from being a little fledgling organism that really couldn’t fly. And we had to get our bearings and learn how to fly. So that was like, that took 30 years, okay? So that was a lot of really grind, trudging through the darkness, figuring out how to do this and how to be really good at it. That takes a certain type of faith, blind faith, if you will, of belief that what we are doing really matters; even though sometimes the feedback we were getting wasn’t what we wanted it to be, we persevered.
To me, that was very, very powerful. And I owe a lot of people who, you know, put their arm around me and said, you know, let’s do this, let’s keep going. You know, we undervalue, I think, the value of human connection and how much it means to one another just to say, hey, let’s do this. And I’m here for you, you know, on all kinds of levels.
And just the grease to the wheel that that kind of magic of human connection provided and camaraderie and friendship allowed, you know, was juice enough to say, let’s keep going. And now we have what we have, which is an amazing organization. The second thing, that really matters to me that’s been a passion of mine is, i’ve been at our profession through the INM for many years about a concept of public health. And I’ve always thought that our medicine works best with the pandemic of chronic diseases that we see in our society.
And I’m, I practice in an unlicensed, you know, pre-licensed state. I’m in North Carolina. I’ve been here for, you know, 25 years or so. And, you know, I’ve been blessed to do well and help a lot of people. And I’ve done it through very simple means, you know, through helping people understand their connection to food and why it’s so important, helping people understand our connection to the mind-body, how, how we can regulate our stress, et cetera, and on and on. Through very simple means, and been able to have a profound effect on my community. And so I’ve always seen a public health initiative that would actually say, okay, let’s take the major chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity, and let’s actually study this. Let’s actually see.
Can we use food as medicine? And if we do, will it get the results that we want? My experience shows me we get profound results. And so the good news is that, in partnership with the INM and Standard Process and universities, including Bastyr, we are now actually at the beginning stages of, you know, recruiting participants to do a profound study to look at food as medicine and in populations that maybe are not our typical patient clientele. These are people that are of much lesser means, that struggle to find enough money for food and healthcare and things like that.
This, to me, begins to get close to our true purpose, which is, as Martin Luther King said, “of all the great social injustice in this country, the inequity in health is the most painful.” And so for us as a profession to rise up and embrace that challenge and really show the world that the power of this medicine, show the world the power of our connection to nature, to natural food, to mindfulness, and how powerful that is as a prescription for chronic disease. To me is an amazing opportunity, and I’m super excited to be doing that.
VC: Yeah, yeah, Maurice, your passion always comes through. It’s tangible and other people feel it when you talk about it. So there’s some sort of magic you’ve got going on there that allows you to do that.
MW: Hey, you blame the boss for that, okay? She runs the show, all right? Not me.
VC: Okay. When you think about INM turning 30 years old, how do you feel about it going strong for 30 years? Did you ever think that was possible, or just what do you think about that 30 years strong?
MW: Well, like I said, I think we’re just beginning. I always thought it would go, and I wouldn’t have stayed at the, you know, I wouldn’t have been tilling the soil if I didn’t think it was gonna work out. Now, it’s taken a long time. We all wanted to move faster than it did.
The universe has its own time of unfolding, and I’m super excited that we’ve stood the test of time for 30 years, and I’m extremely confident that this is just the beginning, and we’re gonna go on and on. And to be honest, I think that not enough people have known the INM, not enough people have understood the power of this organization and how important we are to the profession. And as that message gets out, you know, more and more people will come to support us and continue to allow us to prosper and get the message of the power of naturopathic medicine out to the public.
VC: When you go into your wellspring, the history that you have with INM and you think about the lessons from your time with it, what do you hope, which lessons or key lessons do you hope INM brings with it into the future?
MW: Well, I hope that we as an organization continue to allow ourselves to be inspired by what we do, to be imbued with the passion that comes from our purpose, that comes from the force that supports all of us, which is the Earth itself.
This is where we get our energy, this is where we get our passion, this is where we get our creativity. And the Earth’s creativity and magic is infinite. So as long as we stay connected to that, we will continue to be empowered by that and inspired by that and lit up by that. And so that would be my prayer that the INM would stay in touch with that, with our vital connection to nature and our profession.
And not get, I mean, I understand we have to get into the weeds and do policy, and all that stuff is super important and raise money. That stuff really matters. But let’s never lose sight of the fact that all of this is being imbued by nature. And She is super powerful, super creative, and bountiful. And if we listen closely to nature, we will be lifted by nature.
VC: Beautifully put. Beautifully put. If you were to choose one or two words that describe the legacy of INM for you, what would those one or two words be?
MW: Passion and commitment.
VC: Passion and commitment. For the reasons that you’ve already articulated, or would you like to say anything more about those?
MW: You know, I’m thinking about this word passion, right? And, you know, this is not something I dreamed up, right? Me being as we talked about, me being involved in the INM; this profession was not on my radar at all, right? This is something that the universe called forth, right? So, in the same way, the passion I have for what we do is a gift to me from the universe, right? So,
it’s a blessing that I get to experience my profession in that way.
I think the cutting edge of healing on the planet really is, other than addressing climate change, that’s obviously hugely important. But when it gets specifically to people on the planet, I think we need to tilt our lens towards the underserved. And I think, as a profession, these are people that no one is competing to help, right? We don’t have any competition in reaching the underserved, okay?
So I think a very vital place for us to look is to address the underserved and to take a broader lens around the concept of disease and understand that the inequities in terms of income and finances, and education greatly influence the disease process in the underserved. So how do we look at the effects of poverty on chronic stress, right? So poverty, to me, Martin Luther King also was big into looking at poverty and towards the end of his life, that’s what he was focused on. I think poverty is a huge issue, and it’s extremely painful and causes a ton of stress for people. And that kind of stress wreaks havoc on our health.
So if we were able to broaden our lens and start to embrace the kind of stress that are on underserved people or people working three jobs, single moms working three jobs, and try to really like, how can we like lend a hand in that process? I think that would be huge for us.
VC: I know that’s very close to your heart and something that you give a lot of your heart and soul to. So thank you for sharing that.
MW: You’re welcome. Thank you for listening.
VC: Maurice, it’s always, you know, we go back a long way now. And it’s always just fantastic to spend some time together and I respect who you are, what you do. And it’s always, I feel like I’m on a journey with you whenever we’re talking and engaging. So thank you for that.
MW: Happy 30th anniversary, INM. It’s been a complete blessing to be involved with you for these 30 years. I wanna thank everybody for all of your hard work to get us to this place. And I wanna say that we’re only just beginning, okay? We got a beautiful road ahead of us and nothing but opportunities in front of us.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine