Over the weekend, I got to speak with one of my dearest friends
for the first time in two years. She has been living in South Korea
with her husband where they both work as teachers. Sara and I met
when we studied abroad in Australia 8 years ago. In the years since
then, I've been the lucky recipient of many visits from Sara and
her husband wherever I've lived, all over the country. I have
totally reaped the benefits of their summer vacations as teachers.
This time, they are in the U.S. for a few weeks seeing family and I
am so excited to pay them a visit in Michigan next weekend! It's my
turn to make the trip to visit them.
When Sara came to visit in me in Truckee/Tahoe.
One of the most important reasons I moved out west from New
England after college (where I subsequently decided on naturopathic
medicine as a career), was based on my experience of studying
abroad in Australia with Sara. While studying on the other side of
the globe, I met so many Americans who hailed from all the very
different parts of the United States. I realized that I, an East
Coast girl, was so different from those girls from the Midwest, or
those girls from Southern California. We all came from very
different American backgrounds, and yet these Australians, as well
as all the other foreigners we met while out exploring, grouped me
in with all the others. I was just another American girl to
Adventuring in Australia -- getting inspired to explore my own
On account of this, I decided I had better go figure out what
the rest of my country was like before I went travelling abroad
again. While we all had some American patriotism and our language
in common, I felt so different from so many of my countrywomen. I
wanted to know what assumptions people might be making about me
based on some other Americans they'd met who, as far as I could
tell, were nearly as different from me as the Australian girls
were, or the Germans.
Now that I can see the light at the end of the medical school
tunnel, I am starting to think about where to explore next. I think
I have a pretty good handle on what an "American girl" is, based on
my experiences living around the country, so perhaps it's time to
head into foreign lands!
Between binge-watching Anthony Bourdain episodes, perusing
photographs of far away places on BuzzFeed, and reminiscing about
our travels of the past, Hanzi and I have caught the travel bug. We
regularly toss around the idea of living and working in another
country, and have even set some lofty goals of learning a foreign
language before we graduate with our respective master's and
doctorate degrees (we haven't made any headway on this, yet). Even
if we don't make it out of the country, we are ready to explore
another region... perhaps Alaska, or Montana, or Maine...
Of course, I also have to think about actual employment after
graduation, and for the record, I am equally excited to work as a
doctor as I am to see new places. If you're like me and think you
might want to explore, either now or later on, keep these resources
in mind. There are several networks for naturopathic doctors around
the world. Several of my friends at NUHS have traveled to work with
Naturopaths Without Borders during their breaks between
trimesters. My peers have returned with totally awesome stories of
hands-on experience treating patients, living in rural areas,
assisting in the delivery of babies by flashlight, and connecting
with local people whose worlds are so very different from ours.
In addition to delivering care to the underserved abroad,
naturopathic medicine is going global with the recent creation of
Naturopathic Federation in 2014. This organization connects
naturopathic doctors in 40 countries around the world, and
endeavors to connect our work with that of the World Health
Organization. We might be a small population here in the United
States, but we are also out there, all over the world, sharing and
advancing our medicine!
It's pouring rain right now. Our basement is probably flooding,
slowly. But all that water coming down makes for crisp, clean air!
*Takes deep breath in...*
A few weeks ago I read the abstract to a scientific paper out of
Australia that aimed to quantify the effect of exposure to nature
on participants' health, and to identify an ideal dosage of nature.
The conclusion was alarmingly reductionist. How many trees should
we plant on the roadsides in order to make people less stressed?
How can we manipulate nature in order to best serve our health
A winding path
A practice called Forest Bathing started in Japan in the 1980s.
It was developed as a treatment to relieve stress. Newer studies
have recognized that a consciously meditative walk in the woods can
boost the immune system by increasing natural killer cells. One set
of guidelines on Forest Bathing suggests you spend 3 days and 2
nights in the woods if you really want to boost your immunity.
Otherwise, you may choose to spend just one day Forest Bathing to
Hanzi and me, out for a walk in the woods
Hanzi and I went for an extremely rejuvenating walk in the woods
the other day. Relationships always take work, and my relationship
takes extra work because I'm in medical school. We brought our
cameras and our rain jackets, but nothing else. There is a trail
that ducks off into the trees that I noticed when I first started
commuting by train. I keep meaning to go find it, and we finally
did. It was a rainy day, and cool. The forest was especially green
and fragrant. We encountered two yearling deer; they were
definitely curious and not afraid of us at all. We hung out in
their presence for a few minutes while they devoured low-growing
plants and watched us curiously through their sparkly black eyes.
Hanzi and I chose to move on first; we left them to their
And when it rained and poured we went for some pseudo-nature
at the climbing gym
I found an article written a few years ago by our newest
clinician Dr. Denis Marier titled, "Ecotherapy: Embodying the
Vis Medicatrix Naturae in Clinical Practice." In it, Dr.
Marier writes about the relevance and importance of incorporating
nature into naturopathic care. I love the idea of taking a "Natural
History" with each patient in an effort to understand the patient's
exposure to and experience with the natural world. Naturopathic
doctors believe in working with the Vis, or that
healing power of nature "which always endeavors to repair, heal,
and to restore." This is evidenced in those walk-in-the-woods
smells of new greenery, the mud and wet grass, and damp rotting
wood. The natural world turns over, heals itself. So too, do
humans, who are just as much a part of nature as new leaves,
mushrooms, and rotting stumps.
Besides going out to seek nature, I am particularly fond of Dr.
Marier's idea of "naturalizing a part of your clinic grounds." Even
a city office can be naturalized with potted plants and fresh air.
One aspect of my vision for my future practice includes an outdoor
space where I can consult with patients. In his piece, Dr. Marier
also suggests assigning a Medicine/Nature Walk, which he describes
as a 3-6 hour fast from food, people, and electronics. He
encourages patients to notice how they are observed by nature,
rather than focusing only on their subjective experience. This
makes me think of the deer on my walk the other day; they were so
curious! I was observed. And I observed, too.
One of the more frustrating things about taking classes while
also spending 18 hours a week in patient care in the ND clinic is
that I'll be in the midst of studying, you know, really getting
things done, when all of a sudden I'm -- Whoops! -- off down the
rabbit hole! I'm irresistibly curious about how this particular
botanical applies to that patient case and... then all is lost. I
may be losing my knack for efficient studying, but I must say, I am
really, truly LEARNING.
Morning coffee, study mode
I've had this conversation with ND student friends before;
wouldn't it be nice to spend some more time in the clinic earlier
in our education? While I agree it would be rewarding, I realize
now that having done all the groundwork, I am much more prepared to
effectively approach a patient case. A mere 2 trimesters ago I was
on clinic observations, and while there were a handful of things I
couldn't quite wrap my mind around, I really thought I was ready to
be seeing patients. Now that I'm actively involved in providing
care, now that I'm responsible for the thinking and problem
solving, I realize that I know SO MUCH MORE than I did as an
The difference between then and now is that I've had classes
that teach me how to actually make decisions and proceed with care
based on what I've learned about how the body works. By now, I have
tools to create an actual treatment for a patient, whereas before I
had merely the understanding of how it all works, what can go
wrong, and why. Still, in every lecture I am collecting strategies
and clinical pearls for helping my patients. I am learning about
what works, what doesn't, and where to begin. I still have a lot to
learn; I have many more tools to add to my belt.
Down the rabbit hole
Medical school has definitely taught me to acknowledge what I do
not know. Each trimester I learn more than I thought I could have
ever known about a particular topic, and I am rewarded with a
deeper understanding that makes it easier to translate what I've
learned in a classroom to patient care. With this in mind, I should
pick up where I left off studying botanicals... before that patient
case wiggled it's way into my brain, tore me away from routine
studying, and inspired this post!
There is this lively little part of me at my core that I was
beginning to mourn having lost in the midst of school, but
surprise! It's waking up! The first time I can remember discovering
this glowing gold piece of my heart was when I lived in Wyoming,
and it brightened significantly when I lived in California.
Hunkering down to study, living in the suburbs, losing touch with
music and wild land slowly shuttered me, dimmed that glow, and
caused that spirited part of me to go dormant.
Sunset on a satisfying day in the clinic
I saw my first patients last week and the experience cracked my
heart open, in the best way. I also made the decision to drop a few
massage courses this trimester, including my clinic shift, which
has opened up more hours in my week and also lifted a large burden
from my shoulders. I'm taking only one massage class; it's perfect.
I get to focus on my priority of becoming a naturopathic
This feeling I'm welcoming home is hard to explain, but it feels
so much like me! I know I've mentioned before how my life here in
Chicagoland is significantly different from what I feel brings me
most alive. Maybe it's the realization that I have only one year
left, and that the wide world is waiting for me over there next
April. Mostly, I think it's the opportunity to practice actual
doctoring that's waking this sleeping glow.
For years I was intimidated to go to medical school. It took me
until I recognized I was ready to BE the doctor, rather than just
work for the doctor, to even take the steps to apply for school.
Now the end is in sight, and I have so much to learn! How am I ever
going to fit it all in to one year? I'm really excited and actually
totally floored to watch it happening. All of a sudden, there was a
patient in front of me, asking me for help, answering my questions,
asking me questions... And then there was another one! Another
patient sat in front of me, answering my questions, looking to me
(and my clinician) for answers. I guess I always knew this was
coming, but I have completely shocked myself by letting it actually
Lisa and me, and Wendy's FABULOUS lunch bag; it's how we
I guess this feeling that's reemerging, slowly simmering in my
core, is one of cautious confidence, of belonging, of good
trepidation and that delightful unknown. I'm treading lightly so as
to not snuff it out. Now that it's back, I'm going to do my
darndest to nurture it, which I think means being truest to myself.
I am wide-eyed and curious.
What roles do we play; what shoes do we fill for our patients? I
just spent the weekend holding a wide, firmly calm swath of space
for my mom, her siblings, and my grandparents (their parents) as
everyone prepared for a move from Michigan to Massachusetts.
Family time, my grandmother and her kids, visiting her
father's resting place
My grandparents are in their mid-80s and have lived in Michigan
their whole lives. My grandmother has always lived in Kalamazoo,
and it seems that the entire city knows her. The reasons for their
move are simple and complex all at once. Not only is it easier to
bring food down the road than to have it delivered by a stranger,
but standing in the same room softens the frustration of repeated
instructions or stories.
Visiting the war memorial in Kalamazoo, my great-grandfather,
Arthur D. Bush
This past weekend I was a space-holder, a hugger, a cheerleader,
and a diffuser of tension. It's an exhausting task but I'm proud to
say I think I'm getting rather good at it. It took less than 24
hours for my auntie to tell me she was glad to have me there. I
tempered anxieties, I held my grandmother's hand, I hugged my
grandpa and delivered him snacks. I think I tactfully cut some
sharp remarks short and replaced them with gentler words. I believe
even my kindergarten report card said I was a quiet problem-solver,
the voice of reason, or something more suited to a 5-year-old, but
to that same effect.
With my brave, supportive grandparents who told me, "There's
in procreating unless you improve on what came before... It
Now I'm riding on a swaying train, headed back to Chicago an
hour late, rocketing into the setting sun. The train is full but
I'm alone in my head, a welcome respite after 2 days of definitely
having a presence.
All of my medical school peers play different roles in our NUHS
family. There are the out-spoken ones, the dissatisfied ones that
cry for and produce change. There are the quiet ones that follow
really well and help turn those tides. There are the ethereal ones
who view the world as if through a smoky crystal ball, predicting
the future, intuiting things to my amazement, sometimes struggling
to see the point of the this-here-learn-it-now. There are the
people who wisely listen and nod when you bitch, and there are the
ones who reply quickly, ready with advice.
There are the doctors to whom patients turn for strict rules,
for holding them to their word. There are doctors to whom patients
turn to alleviate their suffering, sometimes only with a pill,
sometimes with an ear, a hug, and an unconditional presence.
There are patients who look to their doctors for their
willingness to be held on a pedestal and consulted as the wise
sage. There are patients who look for the doctor that allows them
to talk, and talk, and talk. Some doctors are best for the realism,
their ability to break bad news in the most frank and comforting
way. There are other doctors who act as cheerleader to the patients
that seek them, and readily share their big hearts.
There are doctors who are sought for their acknowledgement of
all the possibilities, others for their specialty. There are yet
more doctors whose strength is their positivity and their smile.
And there are many doctors who fill many of these roles, perhaps
all of them.
I go to school with all of these types of people and I am
learning what kind of doctor I am becoming. I am learning why
people seek me out, and why they don't. The hardest thing for me to
own is that there is a population of people out there that won't
want me for their doctor because I can't be who they seek, whether
it be due to lack of prescriptive rights, the way I look, my
liberal morals, or that infuriating way I explain their
I am learning about being present for each patient, which means
putting aside all of my "stuff" so that I can arrive and be ready
for that person alone. I don't need to parade my morals ahead of
me; I can just sit and be open, accepting, and ask questions in
order to better understand. Until writing this, I thought I should
just exist and see which patients showed up to receive my care.
Now, I'm realizing there are holes in that theory. As an intern and
soon-to-be baby doc, I should strive to make myself available and
appealing to everyone, and so I should maybe seek out those
patients who might not come knocking of their own volition. Alas,
my sit back and let the world unfold attitude will have to change,
at least a little bit. How will I learn if I don't make an effort
to attract the education?
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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