Native American healers are traditionally trained as apprentices over an indeterminate, extended period of time. Students align themselves with a healing elder whom they trust to supervise their overall growth. The bond between elder and apprentice is profound, and elders do not readily accept students. There may be years of testing the students intention and commitment before the dynamic stage of training begins. This preparation period is considered essential, a time in which the prospective apprentice learns patience, respect, and perhaps most importantly, how to receive knowledge.
Although Native Americans have adopted written language, native medicine continues to be an oral tradition. The wisdom of the elders is shared through stories and cannot be learned in an academic setting. That technical knowledge which has survived the last 500 years is never separated from its natural context. Skills such as herbalism require finely tuned senses and the ability to commune with nature. Only through experience can students learn the intuitional skills that are necessary for successful treatment in this system. The chosen elder teacher judges the readiness of an apprentice to begin the practice of medicine.
Mehl-Madrona Lewis E. Native American Medicine and the treatment of chronic illness: developing an integrated program and evaluating its effectiveness. Alternative Therapies. 5(1): 36-44, 1999.
Avery, Charleen. Native American Medicine: traditional healing. JAMA. 265(17): 2271-2273, 1991.