SUNM Faculty

Dr. Nuzzo gives a treatment while promoting Naprapathy to the general public

Meet Our Passionate Leaders and Healers

Attending SUNM is a formative experience. Our passionate faculty, supportive staff and tight knit community will heighten your overall understanding of the body and holistic wellness. SUNM is dedicated to providing the best Naprapathic education to our students.

Dr. Patrick Nuzzo, DN

Naprapathic Doctorate School in New Mexico

Patrick Nuzzo started his journey in Integrative Medicine in 1974 when he began his studies to become a functional nutritionist. He worked as an independent contractor in the natural foods industry formulating, marketing and distributing nutritional supplements. Dr. Nuzzo developed several lines of nutritional supplements for the natural food industry including a sports nutrition line for Hall of Fame football star, Walter Payton whom he partnered with in the venture, and developed products for Kraft General Foods and Anheuser Busch.

Dr. Patrick Nuzzo D.N. is the co-founder and president of Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine (SUNM). In 1979, he began his Naprapathic education and graduated from the National College of Naprapathic Medicine in 1983. Since then Dr. Nuzzo has opened, staffed and managed successful Naprapathic practices in Santa Barbara, California; Arlington Heights, Illinois; Lake Zurich, Illinois; Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 2000 he helped introduce the Naprapathic Practice Act of New Mexico and in 2004 got it signed into law making it possible for Naprapaths to practice in New Mexico. In 2006, Dr. Nuzzo was issued a license in New Mexico to open a Naprapathic University and grant the degree of Doctor of Naprapathic Medicine and Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine and Health Sciences (SUNM) was incorporated. It took the team four years to develop the curriculum for the Doctor of Naprapathic Degree (DN).

In 2010, SUNM opened its doors and began offering the DN degree. In 2014, the first Naprapathic class graduated, In 2015, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) was petitioned to accredit SUNM, In 2016, DEAC accepted the petition.

In 2021 SUNM became the first Naprapathic school in the United States ever accredited, as of 2023, 50 Naprapaths have graduated from SUNM.

In 2023, introduced AB153 in the Nevada Legislature allowing Naprapaths to practice and be licensed. AB 153 passed unanimously and was signed into law.

Dr. Kirsten LaVista, DN

Naprapathic Doctorate School in New MexicoDr. Kirsten LaVista graduated from Arizona State University in 1993.  She worked in the sales and medical fields from 1993-2000.  Dr. LaVista graduated from the National College of Naprapathy in 2000.  She introduced Naprapathy to several corporate accounts in the Chicagoland area from 2000-2004.  Dr. LaVista moved to Santa Fe in November 2004, and opened the first licensed Naprapathic office in the state of New Mexico with Dr. Nuzzo.  She is co-owner of Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine.

Dr. Beau Hightower, DN, DAAPM, DC, MS, CSCS, EP-C, FMS

Beau HightowerA native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dr. Hightower earned the first of three Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology from the University of New Mexico. Subsequent Bachelor of Science degrees in Anatomy, followed by Health and Wellness were earned. Dr. Hightower graduated with honors from Parker University where he earned his DC degree. His Sports Medicine Internship was completed in Bogota, Colombia where he treated the country’s Olympic athletes at the Coldeportes training facility. Dr. Hightower graduated with the highest honors from California University where he earned a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Sciences.

Dr. Hightower has been recognized as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the Commission of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Continuing his post-graduate education, Dr. Hightower has also been recognized by The National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist.

He has successfully treated NFL players, major league baseball players, national champion NCAA wrestlers, champion UFC fighters, Ironman triathletes, elite marathon runners, Olympic athletes, and IFBB professional bodybuilders. He is the sports medicine doctor for Jackson’s MMA and was recently appointed to the medical staff for the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Dr. Hightower is vocal in the support of his alma mater at the University of New Mexico and the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine.

Dr. Kristi Bordelon, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer

Kristi BordelonFor more than 20 years, Dr. Kristi Bordelon has been involved in various aspects of education. She previously served as the Chief Education Officer for an online university, taught at the elementary level, and created and conducted professional development sessions for educators. Since the late 1990’s Kristi has been involved in online education as a course developer, instructor, administrator, and student. She has presented at various educational conferences including DEAC, FAPSC, MSET, SITE, EdMedia, E-Learn, Global Learn, and FETC. In 2015 she was presented with the Outstanding Paper Award at Global Learn and in 2016 was honored as the FAPSC Associate Member of the Year.

Kristi is an active member of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the International Society for Technology in Education, and Kappa Delta Pi. As a member of DEAC, Kristi has served on various site visit committees as an Educational Standards Evaluator and as the Chair. She received her B.S. in Elementary Education and M.A. in Educational Technology from the University of Central Florida, and a post Master’s Certificate in Educational Technology Administration from John’s Hopkins. Her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration was earned at Northcentral University.

Dr. Darren D. Hancock, DC, DACBSP®

Dr HancockDr. Hancock was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from Lane Technical High School he went on to fulfill his undergraduate prerequisites for chiropractic school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. After graduating from the National University of Health Sciences in 1995, he joined his uncle, a Naprapath, Dr. Richard Warren, DN in practice where they founded Northwest Health Center. They continued to practice together for 10 years until his retirement.

At this point, Dr. Hancock founded Chicago Sports & Chiropractic Medicine in 2005. In order to fulfill his vision of becoming a versatile physician, he took postgraduate training in acupuncture, functional medicine, physical rehabilitation, whiplash injury biomechanics and sports medicine. In addition to being a former Graston Technique instructor and a Certified Kinesiotaping Instructor, he also holds a Diplomate from the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (one of only 300 chiropractors to obtain this distinction).

He is a certified FirstLine Therapy® Healthcare provider through Metagenics, Inc. and a TPI Certified Golf Fitness Instructor (Titleist). In his career, he has had the privilege of teaching at all of the US Olympic Training Centers, Mayo Clinic, Green Bay Packers, universities, hospitals and in multiple European countries. He has worked with athletes of all ages and levels and has seen first-hand the essential role manual medicine can and should play. He served as one of the team physicians for the Chicago Force football team of the WFA for ten years. He has the privilege of serving on the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of the Illinois High School Association. He also currently serves as the chairperson of the President’s Alumni Advisory Council at National University. He is a member of the American Chiropractic Association, Illinois Chiropractic Society, American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and National Pitching Association. Outside of his professional life, Dr. Hancock enjoys spending time with his family, playing golf, skiing, catching curve balls and becoming a better guitar player.

Dr. Joshua Peiper, DN

Josh PeiperDr. Joshua Peiper is a Naprapathic Physician who works with acute and chronic painful conditions of the muscles, ligaments, fascia, and/or joints due to daily activities, athletic activities, motor vehicle accidents, or workplace accidents. Dr. Peiper uses myofascial release, neuromuscular techniques, and muscle energy techniques to inhibit and lengthen shortened, overactive soft tissues. Misaligned joints are realigned with graded joint manipulations.

Corrective exercise is used to strengthen weak or inhibited muscles correcting the length tension relationship of the bodies soft and connective tissues. This allows for proper bio mechanics and movement, decreasing pain, and increasing range of motion. Dr. Peiper is a ranger qualified infantry staff sergeant with 12 years of service in the United States Army. Dr. Peiper has served with the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Calvary Division, 25th Infantry Division, and the New Mexico Army National Guard deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom once.

During his time in service, Dr. Peiper developed an appreciation for tactical emergency medicine and used that passion to pursue a degree in the medical field. After leaving the Army, Dr. Peiper studied pre-health sciences at Central New Mexico Community College, Sports Medicine at the University of New Mexico, and earned his clinical doctorate in Naprapathic medicine at the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dr. Travis Mason, DN, DC, MS

Dr Travis MasonDr. Travis Mason graduated from the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon with a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Masters in Exercise and Sports Science. Specializing in chiropractic adjustments to the spine and extremities, he is also well versed in numerous myofascial soft tissue release techniques which can improve range of motion and function and provides and teaches therapeutic exercises.

Dr. Denise Gabaldon-Thronas, DN

ThronasjI am from northern NM and live in Ohkay Owingeh Reservation with my husband and three sons. Obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from New Mexico State University. In my Doctoral Studies in Naprapathy I have enhanced my experience and knowledge in manipulative medicine techniques to include soft tissue work, spinal alignment and nutritional counseling. Currently obtaining certification in functional nutritional medicine. Recently employed at Naprapathic Medicine of NM (NMNM) and a Professor at Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine(SUNM). Previously employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as a chemist and Senior Technical Project Manager for approximately 24 years. During my career at LANL have acquired proficiency in creative problem solving techniques, worked in and structured high performance teams, and developed strong client relationships all within a challenging environment. Self-motivated, creative thinker with ability to develop and inspire people.

Dr. Christianna Clow, DN

ClowDr. Clow (pronounced Clō), is a healthy lifestyle advocate and specializes in vitamin, mineral and nutritional therapeutics in conjunction with Naprapathic treatments. Her journey into natural and holistic medicine began as a little girl at her Grandma and Grandpa’s, where during each visit she would ravenously read their book “The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies”. This curiosity and passion for natural healing continued to expand as she grew up and studied nutrition, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging natural medicines.

Dr. Clow excels at working with people, working over 15 years in customer service, including while earning her clinical Doctorate at SUNM. She wrote her doctoral thesis on Magnesium, and it’s effects on the musculoskeletal and cardiac systems affecting inflammation and chronic pain among numerous other body systems; and she is a hardcore magnesium advocate and feels compelled to educate everyone on the reasons why it is so essential to supplement the right kind of magnesium to greatly improve and prevent many degenerative health conditions.

Naprapathic Medicine serves as the perfect medium to bring her unique skills and techniques together and to allow for an incredibly effective bio individual approach to helping patients. Taking into account lifestyle, diet, stress factors, and daily habits allows Dr. Clow to personalize treatments, therapy and recommendations to promote healing.

A lifelong learner, Dr. Clow is currently completing additional studies in Functional Nutrition, as well as Nitrogen Plasma Skin Therapy, a natural treatment that promotes skin lifting and tightening via new collagen formation. She formulates luxury organic skin care products with medicinal benefits and is currently working on the launch of her skin care line, Victual. She has taken on a role as a professor this year and is honored to help future DN’s achieve their dream. Her most cherished role is as Mother to her 3 year old son who is the light of her life. Dr. Clow splits her time between the NMNM clinic in Santa Fe and her clinic Thrive Naprapathic Medicine in Albuquerque.

Dr. Robert J. Muhammad, DN

Dr. Robert J. MuhammadDr. Robert J. Muhammad, a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and the National College of Naprapathic Medicine, is the founder and clinic director of the Midwest Back Center of Chicago. His clinic is committed to providing cutting edge treatment to patients suffering with debilitating chronic and acute pain.

Dr. Muhammad has been praised for his skillful use of Complementary Alternative Medicine. Countless patients have benefited from his personalized treatment plans and have gone on to live relatively pain free lives.

The clinic motto: “Back pain stops here!” captures the essence of his mission, which is to provide the highest quality care and service, minimizing symptoms in the shortest possible time.

Mary O’Dell, M. Ed

MaryAs an educator for over 25 years, Mary O’Dell’s passion is to help students of all ages achieve their goals and dreams. As the librarian and an instructor for SUNM, she supports students throughout their educational journey. Her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and master’s degree in Educational Media/Educational Technology are both from the University of Central Florida. She’s been teaching adults in an online setting since 2000. Ms. O’Dell has also authored several online classes and works to enhance and provide rigor to SUNM’s courses continuously. She is a member of SUNM’s Curriculum Advisory Committee, as well as the Research Committee. She strongly believes that education is something no one can ever take away from you, and it’s immensely valuable

Rhonda Benavides, PTA, MBA

Rhonda BenavidesI live in Albuquerque, NM, (MST) having lived in various places over the years: Colorado, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, and Japan.  Several of my past “careers” include serving in the Air Force for 10 years, managing multiple women’s fitness facilities for 4 years, and operating a medical transcription business for 20 years. My academic background includes an AAS-Information Management, AAS-Military Technology Instructor, BS-Business Administration, Master’s-Business Administration, AOS-Physical Therapist Assistant, and I’m currently pursuing my doctoral degree in Naprapathic Medicine (learning is a lifelong event!).

I have been an instructor at Pima’s Albuquerque Campus in the Radiology Technologist and Physical Therapist Assistant programs and online Health Care Administration program. I also recently started teaching at the Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine.

I have been actively involved in the health care industry in one form or another for 30+ years. I am a licensed PTA in NM, where I’ve worked at the UNM Clinical Neuroscience Center multidisciplinary chronic pain and spine clinic, UNM Hospital in inpatient/acute rehab, and I am currently working in the home health care arena. In 2016, I served as the NM APTA PTA Caucus Rep!

I have four girls, ranging in ages 15, 17, 23, 30! In my free time (when I have it!), I enjoy reading, crafts, weightlifting, camping/hiking, kayaking/paddle boarding, walking, running (I love mud runs or warrior runs!), gardening, and I like to make homemade foods like peanut/almond butter, yogurt, almond milk, mayonnaise, cereals,  jerky, and lower-carb goodies!

Dr. Renee Nix, DN, Safety Officer

Dr. Renee NixDr. Nix graduated from SUNM’s inaugural class and has been a practicing Naprapath since 2014. She also is a current member of the Santa Fe County Fire Department with 30 years as an EMT/Firefighter and code enforcement officer. Life safety is something she takes seriously and we were very fortunate to have someone with Dr. Nix’ experience when SUNM faced challenges relating to the Covid-19 crisis. Dr. Nix does safety training and helps make sure everyone is safe while on the SUNM campus. She can be reached at

Dr. Alo

Dr. Alo

Dr. Alo, is an accomplished biologist, teacher, and researcher. She has more than 10 published scientific research studies and has also earned various grants and awards for her research, and another faculty member. She earned a Ph.D. in Biological Science from  Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, a Master’s degree in Biology from the University of New Mexico, and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology Magna cum Laude from the University of New Mexico.

Dr. Brandon Snead, MD, MS, CIME

Dr. Brandon Snead

Dr. Brandon Snead, MD, MS, CIME Faculty Member Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine and Health Sciences Diplomate American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Board Certified in Sports Medicine. he can be reached at

Dr. Fraley

Dr. Brandon Snead Dr. Fraley’s interest in health care started because of his grandfather, who started his career in chiropractic in 1946. He served in the U.S. Army as an EMT and paratrooper, then attained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Anatomy, and a second in Health Sciences. Dr. Fraley also attended a Masters program in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, then graduated from Parker Chiropractic University in 2006. He and his wife Stacy moved back to New Mexico and he started in private practice. Dr. Fraleyis a certified chiropractic extremity adjustor, a Fellow of the American Academy of Chiropractic Orthopedics, and a Diplomate of the International Academy of Neuromuscular Medicine. He runs a multifaceted wellness clinic in Ruidoso, New Mexico, which integrates chiropractic, naprapathic, nutrition, and functional neurology.

Start your Integrative Manual Medicine Journey Today…

As a catalyst for the Naprapathic movement, SUNM aims to advance the Complementary and Allied Health industry with the superior quality and professionalism of its graduates. If you’re ready for a rewarding career as a Naprapathic doctor, Contact Us and we’ll help you get started! Or give us a call at 1-505-629-7376  to speak to a friendly admissions counselor today.

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