Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

Southwest School of Naprapathic Medicine Students


After years of jumping through hoops, the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine (SUNM) in Santa Fe has received accreditation under the Distance Education Accrediting Commission making it the nation’s first school to receive accreditation for a doctoral-level degree program in naprapathic medicine. This accreditation is a big deal for a pain relief therapy that has been practiced for over 126 years.

The profession grew up alongside chiropractic therapy. However, naprapathic doctors treat the connective tissue to achieve a structural alignment without force. Even as a growing profession, naprapathic therapy is covered by every major insurance company in New Mexico and is licensed and regulated by the state’s Medical Board.

The three-year degree offered by the school is for practitioners in healthcare professions like sports medicine, exercise science, physical therapy, massage therapy and nursing. “We offer a specialty doctorate degree, which a physical therapist can do as 18 months intensive since we can accept up to half of their existing credits,” explained Dr. Patrick Nuzzo, who co-founded the school with his partner Dr. Kirsten LaVista, who is also a naprapathic doctor.

“We are the first naprapathic program to ever be accredited. With the opioid crisis ending, more and more people are more and more people are turning to manual therapists instead of the pharmacist for pain management,” Nuzzo said.

The cost of the program is $55,150, a chunk of change for many nowadays. However, the recent accreditation will soon allow students to apply for federal financial aid, student loans and VA benefits. The school currently offers a payment plan; and at the end of the three years, the Santa Fe State Employees Credit Union offers funds to students with a cosigner to cover the balance of tuition.

Hands-on classes are held on weekends with 75 percent of the program online. SUNM has teamed up with Studio G Entrepreneurial Incubator Program out of New Mexico State University, giving students the resources for practice-building techniques to help build their own businesses. Third year students complete 500 intern treatments at the school’s clinic. Once completed, students sit for an exam and present a required research project to the National Board of Naprapathic Examiners. Once passed, they apply to the New Mexico Medical Board for their license.

The patient is always clothed during a naprapathic session, and the work is done strictly with the hands. No creams or oils are used. “It’s very specific and we concentrate on areas of complaint with tissue manipulation and no high-velocity adjustments,” Nuzzo explained.

The half-hour therapy charts each vertebrae’s tension pattern in the back to design the patients’ treatments. The hands-on sessions manipulate connective tissue to ease tension and bring bone structure back into alignment. This allows fluids to flow again through “dried out” and hardened connective tissues that are causing painful tension patterns in the body.

“We are scientifically proving that manual medicine actually works to relieve symptoms of pain and inflammation,” Nuzzo said.

To learn more about naprapathic medicine and Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine, visit their website at sunm.edu.