If You Can, Shadow a Doc!

The topic for my blog post this week knocked and then walked into the room while I was sitting in a peat bath, a regular weekly thing I've been doing per my ND intern at the clinic. Jen is a 10th tri intern in the ND clinic who was on hydro laundry duty on the day of my appointment. At the end of last tri, before the holidays, Jen and I got to talking and I learned that she has family not far from the little Northern California town I moved from when I decided to come to NUHS to study naturopathic medicine. Jen had plans to travel there to visit over the break, and I thought she should definitely take a day to shadow the naturopathic doc I interned with and subsequently worked for during my last year living in California. It was relatively quick and easy to put Jen in touch by email with Dr. Ann, who graduated from SCNM and practiced in Arizona before moving her family to Tahoe for the mountain culture, outdoor environment and beauty.

2015-01-29_lunchbreak
On a lunch break from my work at Dr. Ann's office

When I first reached out to Dr. Ann in 2010, she responded promptly to my request to shadow her. I told her I was deciding if I wanted to go to school to become a naturopathic doctor and thought I should see the thing in action first. Dr. Ann was super welcoming and told me when I finally left after a year working for her that if I ever had any peers who wanted to shadow her she would be more than willing to have them.

Even though I hadn't been in touch with Dr. Ann since I mailed her a Christmas card two years ago when I first moved to Illinois, I was pretty sure she'd be receptive to my connecting her with Jen. I also thought she would totally get it that medical school keeps you so busy you don't have time to stay in touch like you wish you could... after all, she went through the same process at SCNM!

2015-01-29_lake
A vista from the drive from Nevada to the north end of Lake Tahoe

So last week when Jen slipped into the hydro room to put away some towels, I stopped her and had her regale me with stories of her visit to Tahoe and her day spent with Dr. Ann. I learned that my mentor's practice is growing and that one of the women who worked the front desk with me is still there, translating Spanish for Dr. Ann and helping to connect her with the robust local Hispanic community.

The most heart-warming thing Jen told me is that as she watched Dr. Ann do her work, she realized that the vision she has for her own future practice after graduation is a realistic one. There was Dr. Ann, working with her patients in a small, cozy, downtown office, charting while they told their story from the easy chair on the other side of the desk. Jen told me that she hadn't actually seen a real live naturopathic doctor at work yet, and that the experience was reaffirming and totally awesome. I have to say that thanks to Dr. Ann, I, too, know that feeling.

2015-01-29_boat
Beautiful Tahoe views made studying for Organic Chem (a prereq for coming to NUHS) easier!

If you are just looking into starting naturopathic medical school, I highly suggest you seek out a practicing ND in your area and ask if you can shadow them for a day or even just for a few hours. It will give you a picture of what you can expect, and will help you to keep that vision in mind when you are wallowing in the recesses of the library, trying to memorize things that seem so far removed from actual patient care. If you are a current student and have not yet had the opportunity to shadow a real live working ND, you should find one too! As far as I can tell, in our clinic we have our clinicians who oversee our work, but it doesn't seem quite the same as watching an ND go about the day in their own private practice.

One of the best ways to find a licensed ND in your area who trained at one of the accredited schools is to visit www.naturopathic.org and click on the link at the top that reads, "Find a Doctor." Or, ask around! You never know which of your professors or peers knows someone willing and able to take you on for a day. If you are not in a position to shadow an ND, or are not reading this blog post because you want to be one, becoming a patient is probably the very best way you can learn about naturopathic medicine.

Under the Gun - Ebola for Dinner

And we're back! We're really back, full-on, cramming for boards, prepping for patients and all. I'll admit it, the experience of preparing for boards has taken some wind out of my sails. Last trimester I was feeling ready to be a doctor. Spending time in the clinic made me feel ready to see patients and puzzle through the hard cases. More recently, I've been laboring with my 500-page board review book and feeling inadequate.

Thankfully, I can see that the deflation of my confidence comes in direct response to my anxiety about taking board exams. And I guess I am feeling slightly more capable after finishing the Cardio section yesterday and color-coding my weekly schedule this morning. Wrapping my head around a new schedule always takes at least a week, and getting it all organized definitely helps calm my mind.

Photo of schedule
Yeah, my color-coded schedule for Tri 7

Seeing as we celebrated Martin Luther King Day this week with Monday off (thank goodness, any extra study time is treasured!), I am inspired by this piece of wisdom he wrote:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

In preparing for boards, it doesn't do much good to mix negativity with those dark, foreboding clouds floating around February 3rdon my mental calendar.... I'm trying hard to stay positive while I study and am thankful for the encouraging text messages I've been getting from my ND friends who are in the same boat.

Photo of shooting a pistol at firing range
JohnnyD instructing me in the fine art of shooting a pistol

As it turns out, even a 4-week break can't provide enough time to study as much as planned. I do have a few good excuses though.... My boyfriend Hanzi and I spent a week around Christmas in Northern Michigan with his family; we skied, caught up with some of Hanzi's old friends, and I learned how to shoot a pistol! (Hanzi's Dad is the manager of a local shooting club.)

After returning from Michigan we had a few days before we headed out to Boston to visit with my family. Our week in Boston was our first visit to my parents' new house (I wrote about their move in this post), and included pond hockey, dinner with college friends, and some quality girl time for me with one of my oldest friends. I was also lucky to spend a day working with my Mom at her Integrative Dermatology practice where she incorporates diet and lifestyle in the treatment of her patients. I had an absolute blast interviewing patients and prepping them for their visit with the doctor, though I found the electronic medical records a huge pain to navigate... things to look forward to I suppose....

Photo of man speaking at dinner event
Ebola dinner lecture, my view from my seat by the fire

In addition to working in her office, my Mom took me as her guest to an informational Ebola dinner (appetizing, huh?) hosted by the local chapter of the Massachusetts Medical Society. I ate yummy salad, roast beast, soup, and chocolate cake while learning about Ebola. The lecture compared the first known epidemic in the 1970s with the disease picture of today's outbreak. I met one semi-retired female doctor who practiced general surgery who seemed wholly uninterested in naturopathic medicine, and another practicing female GP who asked me to send her an email with information about what we naturopathic doctors do. How cool!

After spending time immersed in the conventional medical world, I am happy to be back at NUHS, working on becoming a confident doctor who can hold her own in the company of skeptical, old medical doctors. If that isn't inspiration to crush these board exams, I don't know what is! Back to the books now.... Welcome back everyone!

Of Course, a Thanksgiving Post

Have you ever spent a holiday away from your family? My first Christmas without family involved working from 7-4 and coming home to a house full of stinky boys, recently back from skiing, cooking a bacon-wrapped turkey and imbibing generously of Pabst and homebrew. I cringed and thought, "This is NOT what Christmas is supposed to be like..." and then I grabbed a cheap beer and made the best of it.

In reflecting on holidays past without my close family around, I've got to say that this Thanksgiving was one of the best of all of those over the years. I may not have been home, I may have been without my cousins and aunties and uncles, not cooking alongside my parents and setting the table with my brother this year, but I most definitely was with family of a different kind.

2014-12-04_ndfam
Only missing a few, my ND family on Thanksgiving (Photo by JheriAnne)

If you read my blog with any regularity you know about the remarkable group of fellow ND student friends that I hold so dear. These friends are my family here in Illinois, heck, they'll be my family even when I'm long gone from here! JheriAnne and her husband Shane hosted one of the most relaxing, calm, warm and wonderful Thanksgiving dinners I think I've ever enjoyed. Twelve of us gathered with our dinner contributions and dug into JheriAnne's first turkey (oh yum!). Afterwards, we lounged around watching football, trading stories, laughing, playing cards, and pouring each other another glass of wine.

I've been through a lot with these friends over the past two years of medical school in a way that's brought me closer to them than almost any other friends I've ever made. For one, we're all a little counter-culture; people who study naturopathic medicine generally march to a different drum, and we tend to live and/or think outside the box. It's remarkable how people with such different personalities and backgrounds can have a common pulse that beats naturopathy through our veins,*and as a result, allows us to find comfort in each other despite any number of differences.

2014-12-04_futurends
Future NDs and great friends Anayibe & Mia on Thanksgiving (Photo by JheriAnne)

In addition, we've all grown close in friendship at the same time as our brains have matured and we've grappled with new ideas, our minds stretching to accommodate buckets of new information. As I see it, we were poised for great assimilation of material and so stored the information about each of these friends at the same rate and intensity as we memorized every detail of glycolysis and human anatomy. Let me be entirely cliché, and also so extremely full of heart, when I say that I am so, so, so thankful for the friends I've made in the naturopathic program here at NUHS. I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving, too, and a wonderful holiday ahead.

* It sort of pains me to write that something pulses through our veins and neglect to mention our arteries, but for the sake of literary flair I have pushed aside my anatomy and physiology and left it be.

Milestones

The first A, the first D, the first B when you thought it was going to be an F. There are many milestones that all of us at NUHS experience. They are the turning points that stick in our minds and mostly serve to boost us when we occasion to remember them.

2014-11-26_1lab
In the beginning -- my tri 1 lab group

There's the bittersweet end of pathology with Dr. Khan, and the viscera final aka your last anatomy practical ever! The first practical in the TAC shaking in your dress shoes and sweating through both your nice shirt AND your doctor coat. Grading yourself on that first practice spine and extremities practical and realizing you failed only to pass it when it comes to the real deal a week later. The first time you watch Dr. Lou take her shoes and socks off and not miss a beat in delivering her lecture.

2014-11-26_2group
My group & me after our last ever anatomy practical (photo from Teegan)

The first time you've ever thought of J.Lo and a plumber in the same context, and the first time your head jerks up because Dr. McRae just SHOUTED in lecture. The moment when you realize that the 3-compartment model actually kind of makes sense (maybe). There's the first splash or smear of cadaver fat on your lab coat, and the first time you realize you're actually super hungry in the middle of dissection lab. Experiencing your first adjustment and then the first time you get a cavitation when giving someone else an adjustment, yes! The first exam during which you notice your palms are not sweaty and you're actually breathing just fine. The first time you forget to return the markers to the library desk and you have to pay a silly amount in fines (and decide to buy your own markers.)

2014-11-26_3nametag
My nametag milestone

There's the last time you have Dr. Ed for class, and the last time you sit through one of Dr. Humphreys' neuro-heavy lectures. The moment you realize that Dr. Richardson's stories just keep getting better, so you vow to pay attention and you learn tons of pharmacology in the process. And then you realize that Dr. Ed had Dr. Christiansen as a professor, too. The day you receive your official intern nametag to be worn at all times in the clinic. The first time you tie a tourniquet and choose a vein in phlebotomy lab, and the first time you see the red flash. The first draw you mess up that either makes blood squirt, your patient cry out, or leaves behind a little hematoma (whoops!)

And then there are the things I haven't experienced yet but that I anticipate -- the first patient in clinic, the last patient in clinic. The first colonics patient, the first real live constitutional hydrotherapy you administer in clinic. And before you get to the clinic, there's the first real live gyn exam and digital rectal exam on a sym patient. Then, there's the first actual real patient presenting for a gyn exam, or the patient who refuses to receive a treatment you really think would help. The first time a patient cries in the exam room. There will be the patient who must be told the less-than-favorable results of a blood test; the patient that keeps you up at night wondering if you said the wrong thing, or the right thing. There will be the patient who isn't responding to treatment, and the patient who comes in singing your praises.

2014-11-26_4boards
Officially registered for boards

And then there is this week's milestone; registering for the NPLEX Part 1 Biomedical Science Examination. I've long been thinking about February's exam, but registering today made it REAL. Honestly, it's almost too bad I couldn't have registered several months ago, as it would've brought that realness to life at the time when I should have started taking my preparation more seriously. Oh, and there's another recent milestone; watching that first video in the board review series and having your eyebrows permanently raised in anguish as you painstakingly extract basic biochemistry from the recesses of your brain. You must take several deep breaths to calm those nerves you thought you were done with after that exam when you noticed your palms weren't sweaty and your breathing was even.

I have A LOT of information to retrieve from the depths and bring back to the forefront of my memory by the first week in February. I'm totally anxious about it, and every time I sit down to study, I have to fight the urge to ditch it and do something else that doesn't make me feel quite so bad about myself. Lately, I've been reflecting on how far I've come in order to remember that all the basic science information is there; I DO own it. Writing this post has helped me continue that affirmation process, and I hope it's maybe done the same for you in some way... or maybe it made you smile or laugh, or perhaps it made you curious about what lies in store.

A Student's Role in ND Licensure

I was a little too busy writing about hydrotherapy last week to comment on the election we just had. I hope that those of you who can vote, did so! I heard that only 1/3 of eligible Americans voted. I understand that political showmanship isn't cool and that the attack ads we hear and see are sickening, but I'm still not quite convinced that the proper response to this political climate is to abstain from voting.

2014-11-21_voted

I am not politically inclined, I haven't studied the subject, and I don't know enough about the people I vote for. I do listen to public radio news a lot, and I read news headlines, but I do not own a TV, so my information-gathering tactics may differ from most. I find it strange that 2/3 of the people from a country that fights fiercely to initiate democracy in other places around the world, would not show up to the polls. I am especially puzzled because these mid-term elections for local government seem to be the truer way to impact our greater (seemingly untouchable) national government. OK, that's all I'll get into on this last election, but I mention it because it's relevant to our naturopathic profession to be somewhat politically active and versed in how local government works.

2014-11-21_map
Map from http://www.naturopathic.org (click to see larger version)

It's no secret that naturopathic medicine is not licensed in Illinois, or in the majority of the United States. Currently, 17 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands license or regulate naturopathic medicine. Our under-the-radar practice of healing impacts our education because we have to tread lightly when advertising our work at the NUHS clinic. Yes, we are trained to diagnose and treat disease, but we are not allowed to officially exercise this training as naturopaths here in Illinois. Our training encompasses many things that we are not yet licensed to do in many states, but we learn these things so that we are prepared to safely and effectively treat patients when the time comes that our scope of practice does include these skills. I have confidence (as do many others) that this time will come; our national state of health is ripe for our medicine.

As far as I understand, clinicians who oversee our ND clinic here at NUHS are also licensed chiropractors, and we practice under their license while we work to gain licensure here in Illinois. For those of you looking to attend NUHS to study naturopathic medicine, please do not let licensure get in the way of your decision-making. I personally chose NUHS because of the realistic environment it would provide for practicing my medicine. I do not know where I will land and I want to feel prepared to offer my services to my community, no matter the political state of naturopathic medicine in that place.

If you're curious about the process and progress toward licensure in Illinois, I encourage you to explore the Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians website. Also, contact your local legislator and share with them your passion that naturopathic medicine be a licensed profession. Legislators care about what their constituents care about. They want to hear from the people they represent. Your senator wants to represent your opinion and address your concerns more so than they want to hear from a group of naturopathic doctors about how much our medicine is needed by you, the people they represent.

If you are a student at NUHS, you should be a student member of ILANP. The cost is minimal and makes a big impact. When the ILANP lobbies for licensure, greater numbers help their cause, and their work in lobbying for licensure directly affects us as students. If you plan to return to another state after graduation, I highly suggest you join that state's naturopathic association, too. And, of course we should all join and support our American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Again, greater numbers show involvement and promise when these associations work for our future practices and safe access to our medicine for our future patients. Plus, there are perks with every membership! (I get a free access to diverse naturopathic resources through my AANP membership, and I received a welcome discount to the ILANP conference this year!

I may not fancy supporting the current caustic political environment, but as an ND student, I understand that local politics are wholly relevant to my future. If I don't keep informed, I run the risk of envisioning for myself an unrealistic future. "OK, OK, now," some of you are saying, "but what IS reality, really? Isn't it what WE make it to be?" I'm not getting philosophical here. I'm being present and encouraging my peers to do the same. Let's show our support for our profession and those who are working (some unpaid!) to elevate our medicine and make it known, safely accessible, and properly understood.