Part 1: Naturopathic Medicine and Sonoran University

Why Change, Why Now?

– Presidential Blog –

May 20th, 2022

In September, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences will become Sonoran University of Health Sciences. The response to becoming Sonoran University of Health Sciences has been overwhelmingly positive. That said we’d like address the following questions:

  • Why “Sonoran” over “Southwest”?  
  • Why change “College” to “University”?
  • Why drop “Naturopathic Medicine” from the name? 


Since this is Naturopathic Medicine Week, let me begin by acknowledging 30 years of excellence, innovation, and accomplishments. When its founder, Dr. Michael Cronin, first convened his co-founders Kyle Hawk Cronin, Hugh Hawk, Conrad Kail, Dana Keaton, and Deborah Mainville-Knight, the number of licensed naturopathic physicians in Arizona numbered less than 40. As if their efforts to start a medical school from scratch on the site of a former Scottsdale elementary school weren’t audacious enough, Mike and his team envisioned a program filled with innovations such as intensive courses taught by experts from across the naturopathic profession, and a curriculum that encompassed Arizona’s growing scope of practice. In 1996, the College moved its fledgling program to Tempe renovating a racquet club into a modern college campus. 


The Medical Center – which began as Mike and Kyle’s busy medical practice – moved to Scottsdale in 1995. That same year, the Community Health program began offering free care to patients in Phoenix dealing with substance abuse disorder (quickly followed by partnership with an HIV/AIDS center, a mobile medical clinic, and school-based clinic, whose partnerships persist to this day). The College’s research aspirations took shape during this same time with a milestone NIH grant in 2001. Achieving these and other accomplishments within Sonoran’s first decade was nothing short of remarkable. 


Since its inception, Sonoran graduated over 1800. Today, 800 licensed Naturopathic Physicians practice in Arizona. The campus tripled in size, starting with the purchase of the Medical Center building in 2010. In 2015, the LEED-Platinum Lim Commons, established a campus hub that includes a café, Medicinary, library, teaching kitchen, classrooms, and the Neil Riordan Center for Regenerative Medicine (offering a patient-centered non-opioid approach to chronic pain). The Community Health program added another school-based clinic, and a primary care center at a domestic violence shelter – together providing free care to tens of thousands of women, men, and children, in underserved communities. 


Sonoran accomplished all of this as a single degree granting institution. So why change now, why at all? I will answer these questions from two perspectives – naturopathic, and higher education. I will focus on the former, today. 


Why doesn’t “Sonoran University of Health Sciences” include “Naturopathic Medicine”? 

My tenure as president of Sonoran combined the fortunes of the College and those of the naturopathic profession by serving on the AANP and NY Association boards, testifying at State licensure hearings, hiring and working with the lobbyists who secured Arizona’s prescribing rights, chairing the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges board, securing a seat at the National Association of Advisors of the Health Professions’ Advisory Board for naturopathic medical schools, participating in a dozen Naturopathic Coordinating Council strategy meetings.  


For many years I loved the fact that Sonoran retained “Naturopathic Medicine” in its name. However, after 22 years, I’ve come to believe with all my heart that we will advance the naturopathic profession further as Sonoran University of Health Sciences than by continuing as Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Here’s why: 

  • The College of Naturopathic Medicine as a college within Sonoran University of Health Sciences will be part of a more diverse ecosystem. The University’s other disciplines – all grounded in the healing power of nature – broaden our alliances with other professions. These professional relationships will be invaluable for critical future issues including licensure, regulatory, access to care, and accreditation. 
  • I believe that Sonoran University of Health Sciences will open more doors and create more opportunities to collaborate, receive funding, and attract students. While the name change won’t be completed until September, conversations with several universities, foundations, and donors support this hypothesis. 
  • The Naturopathic profession will only thrive within the health care system, not as an outlier. Placing the College of Naturopathic Medicine within Sonoran Health Sciences University rhetorically supports this role of Naturopathic Medicine as a vital component of the healthcare system. 


The African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For the past 30 years Sonoran’s incredible accomplishments have been fast and alone. During the next 30 years, Sonoran University of Health Sciences will aim even higher and go farther together.