I went to the Billings premiere of the film "Makoshika," which
is about the boom and bust cycles of Eastern Montana and Western
North Dakota. The current cycle of this involves the Bakken
oil field. The crew filmed from 2014 til 2016, which means
they captured the full scope -- the boom, and the bust. The
price of oil recently dropped below $50 a barrel.
Flyer for the film "Makoshika"
There was a big turnout of locals to support these young
filmmakers, probably all about my age. There was humor and
there were images that made me grimace. The scenes of change
from quiet country road to lines of trucks in traffic contrasted
sharply to the scenes of fifth generation farmers driving ancient
Fords along empty roads to their pastures. There was the shot
of light from the oil well flickering through the drawn blinds on
the front windows of a farmer's home that was hard and sad to
At the end of the film when the credits rolled to a standing
ovation, I saw a long list of local Billings family names as donors
to the group's effort. The filmmakers expressed, over and over
again, their gratitude to this community that got their project off
its feet and into film festivals at Big Sky and in Europe. There
was some serious pride in the air at the Babcock Theater, and it
came from that whole Billings community. The whole group of
them really is what made that film.
A weekend hike with resident Drs. Schenewerk &
At a live blues show on the weekend, I watched and danced as a
group of spectacular local musicians played in support of a local
non-corporate paper called The Last Best News, and rallied
around one of the guitar players, a man who is dying of
cancer. The Billings community came out in force that night,
bidding on a silent auction and packing the brewery with boogying
bodies. You should know that it's the doctors at YNC who took
me out to these events and who danced until they closed down the
dance floor. They're the docs who remarked to me the amazing
community they live in. Some of the younger, newer docs will
avoid their patients in public environments, but these older and
wiser ones just get right in the middle of things and embrace their
community full on. I know that confidence and the ability to meld
the doctor-patient relationship into everyday life takes practice
and time. So, I'm watching and making mental notes.
10th tri almost-docs! (Minus Kaila, fingers crossed for a good
There's the Billings community, and then there's the
naturopathic community. My 10th tri buddies all had their
send-off dinner with Dr. Lou -- a tradition that all
10th tris partake of during Dr. Lou's last week in Lombard
during their last ever trimester. True to their word, they
Facetimed me and I got to wave hello to everyone around the
table! Oh! It made me miss their good company. They
happened to call before I had left the clinic for the day so I ran
over to Dr. Beeson's office and let her and Dr. Lou say hello
--theirs is an example of those amazing friendships formed between
remarkable NDs. That night, Dr. Beeson had me up for dinner,
stating that all my buddies were having their celebratory dinner
and I should have mine, too! We ate tuna caught by one of her
patients, and plenty of delicious vegetables. These
communities are the kind that I really want in my life. When
people ask me what my plans are, or where I'd like to be next, I
think the most accurate response is to tell them I want to be in a
supportive community, wherever that may be.
I opened my emails this morning to read one from the AANMC, or
the Association of
Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. The entire second
half of the newsletter was about NUHS! This is so exciting! The
blurb talked about all the club opportunities on campus including
the NMSA (Naturopathic Medical Student Association), Nu Delta Sigma
(the naturopathic fraternity/study group), Healer's Circle,
Homeopathy Club, and the botanical garden. It even mentioned our
own Dr. Sorensen, who won a photo contest by the American Botanical
Council with a photo of our Althea Officinalis (Marshmallow) from
the garden here on campus!
When I started at NUHS 3 years ago, my group of 15 or so
incoming ND students was one of the biggest yet. Now, I hear we
have incoming classes of around 40 students, making NDs-to-be
nearly half of the population (or more!) of our first phase
classrooms. I am proud of that and I know many of my peers are
I can see the growth of our program in the clinic this
trimester; we have 17 8thtrimester interns, which is equal to the
number of the 9thand 10thtri interns combined! On Mondays,
Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the 8th tri interns join us, we
double in number and the available clinic space and hydrotherapy
facilities are absolutely bursting at the seams! Our clinicians are
wickedly busy helping all of us, so much so that we got a new
clinician this trimester named Dr. Tursha Hamilton! She comes to us
from the heat of Arizona, by way of Louisiana, and we all intend to
hug the warmth back into her all winter long (at her
Our new clinician Dr. Hamilton and me
So what does this growth mean for our program here at NUHS?
First of all, I suspect it means an increase in the resources
available to us as the sheer volume of students in our program
outgrows the current space and resources allotted us. Many of us
are realizing the need for more space in the clinic, especially for
hydrotherapy. We also hope for more resources in the form of
materials to learn hands-on aspects of our medicine like minor
surgery and lab evaluation.
I know that one of the obstacles our profession faces here at
NUHS, and in Illinois in general, is the state's current status as
a pre-licensed state. We have a team of docs and advisors working
hard to get our medicine licensed here and once that happens, I
imagine our program will totally explode! We currently work under
the chiropractic scope of practice (as I've mentioned before), and
while it is a pretty good scope in Illinois, there are still things
that are included in a naturopathic scope of practice in other
states that we cannot legally practice here in Illinois... yet!
Don't let this post get you down. We get an absolutely kick-ass
education here at NUHS. We learn our basic sciences super well, and
we learn our clinical sciences thoroughly. We learn the truth of
nature cure in the purest way; we simply do not have the option to
use pharmaceutical drugs or higher force interventions like IV
therapy. While these therapies absolutely have their place, we
learn here at NUHS about the remarkable effectiveness of addressing
the basic determinants without getting caught up in the temptation
to depart from that philosophy.
Every day we use hydrotherapy, we use botanicals, we use whole
foods, we use nutritional supplementation, and we use physical
medicine. We use complex laboratory evaluation of blood, stool,
urine, and saliva, and based on the information gleaned from such
tests, we treat with nature's medicines -- plants, water,
homeopathy, nutrients, whole food, sunlight, and sleep. And with
these tools we see successes in healing every day!
A few weeks ago, before she left us (sad face) for her new
position as an Assistant Dean in the Naturopathic Program at the
University of Bridgeport, Dr. Stephanie Draus organized for a woman
who calls herself Comic Nurse to come speak to us during a
Tuesday lunch hour. Comic Nurse told us about how she uses comics
with her patients and with the medical students she teaches at
Northwestern to help tell the story of the healthcare experience.
Whether it is getting patients to express their frustration with
their doctors, or helping doctors-to-be address their anxieties
about their future, comics have proven to be a remarkably effective
form of expression.
Many of us think of comics as funny things that make us laugh,
and with good reason, the adjective means, "to cause laughter." But
we are talking about the noun here, and the noun is a form of
storytelling that involves words and pictures and lets the
storyteller use imagery to express those things that are sometimes
too hard to express with words alone.
You can probably tell that I like using words to process my
struggles and tell my stories. Some weeks though, those words just
don't flow like I'd expect them to. I have the modern day
equivalent of a trash can overflowing with crumpled up papers; too
many untitled WORD docs in my "student blog" folder laden with
half-sentences and stories that never came to fruition. Now I know
an alternative outlet to get my creativity flowing!
No matter which medium you use, storytelling is a powerful tool
for learning, for self-discovery, for communication, and for
teaching. In PT Modalities class a few weeks back, Dr. Hill told us
a story about chopping the legs off a salamander and then
re-growing them with the application of therapeutic Microcurrent.
So of course I remember that Microcurrent is indicated for tissue
healing and repair! The rescue of quadriplegic salamanders is a
pretty great memory tool.
My study comics, Piper and Sun King
I also tell stories to remember my botanicals. For a recent
quiz, I had to remember Solidago virgaurea; common name Golden Rod,
used for urinary tract infections and colds with a runny nose, and
sometimes mistaken for ragweed in allergies. I associate the word
Sol with Sun. So, there's this BIG sun god with a golden scepter
and he's a super powerful diuretic/aquaretic! (This god always has
to pee.) If you look at him directly, you'll start sneezing like
crazy and you'll need him to cure your snuffles. You could think
you're allergic to him, but you're probably wrong, this sun king
doesn't wear rags.
Another favorite Bot Med study story is of Piper methysticum
(common name, Kava.) Piper is an aging socialite in NYC who drinks
too much wine while she lounges around, sedated on her couch all
day, popping muscle relaxants and pining for the elusive man GSH
who she loves but who does not love her back. Piper is also sad
because she has a urinary tract infection and is very worried about
her skin. As you can see, there is a lot going on here with Piper,
so I'll spare you the medical translation.
Reading some medical comics in the LRC
Storytelling is one of the very best ways to remember and to
process emotions, two things we must do often as medical students.
If you're more of an artist than a wordsmith, try like Comic Nurse
does and draw the story. Or, if you're neither good with a pencil
nor crafty with words, screw it, try either one! Because it doesn't
matter if the sentences are simple or if the characters are stick
figures, what matters is self-expression and creative learning.
Last week I mentioned the principle of Physician Heal Thyself, a
concept we discuss in our first trimester of school in our
Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine class. To my fellow students
reading this blog, when's the last time you pulled out those notes?
Reading Dr. Lou and Dr. Draus' words and the notes I made in the
margins reminded me of all the other-than-science things we learn
and must continue to learn. As Dr. Draus reminded us,
this is neither the first nor the last time we will learn anatomy,
physiology, etc., and it's not the first time we learn about the
importance of self-care.
I drove past the gym on my way home from school a few days ago
and wondered how I had managed to get there to work out every other
day while I was studying for boards and attending classes, but how
I had somehow lost the time to go after I took that huge test. So,
I made it a point to go and aaaahhhhhh it felt soooooo good!
I sat on a stool in the locker room after my workout and sauna
feeling like melted gold, and as I stared at my satisfied self in
the mirror, I realized, going to the gym needs to be a priority on
my weekly agenda.
Post-workout, reminded of the feel-good power of a
Physicians do not have a good track record of self-care. As a
whole, physicians are statistically more likely to be depressed,
sick, commit suicide, become addicted to or abuse substances. We
are more likely to have tendencies towards perfection and yet, as
Dr. Lou put it, there is no such thing as perfect medicine. As
physicians we must walk a fine, exhausting line between using
objectivity and engaging our emotions to care for our patients. The
profession as a whole has trouble taking time off, and we rarely
get a sense of closure or achievement as the process of healing is
never complete. And then there are the inevitable financial
pressures as we struggle to maintain an expensive business while
still finding ways to offer care to all of those in need.
Dr. Lou reminded us in
her Tri 1 lecture that we should take a page from our own book when
we ask our patients to please take care of themselves so that they
can take care of others; we must do the same. It makes me think of
my father's wise words that I hold close: "You cannot truly love
someone unless you love yourself." Well, as a physician, you cannot
truly help someone unless you help yourself. To this end, Dr. Lou
reminds us that "Self-care is not an indulgence -- it is a
responsibility to the work and to your patients."
Part of self-care involves cultivating interests outside of
medicine. We should all remember from our neurology and psychology
classes that a healthy brain works on a wide range topics, skills,
and problems. By diversifying our activities and interests, we
support healthy neuronal growth and limit our risk of diseases of
the brain. Robert Heinlein, a bright and controversial science
fiction writer, once wrote:
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an
invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a
sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the
dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve
equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer,
cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization
is for insects."
Champagne and conversation self-care, toasting boards results
and registering for clinic!
Now, I've got a lot to work on based on that list, but I'll
allow that building a fort out of sticks and pine boughs might
count as designing a building, and conning a ship could include
paddling a solo canoe, and so I've achieved some of these things in
their smaller forms. The point of sharing this quote is to remind
us students and future students of medicine that we should make
time, however miniscule an amount, to engage in things other than
learning our profession. And yet, we should also remember that
right now our job is to be students of medicine and that requires a
lot of us. It demands that we spend an extra amount of time with
this subject and this set of skills, for the time being. Believe it
or not, a time will come when I can get exercise by hiking and
skiing rather than biking indoors at the gym. Until then, I'll take
the time to care for myself in the ways I can, within the
limitations of the task at hand, and I know this will make me
better at my job.
Where do we start when we talk about love in medicine? In
naturopathic philosophy, love is one of our basic determinants of
health; we require it to be truly well, just like we do air, water,
and nutritious foods. But there are endless ways to love, and a
doctor can never understand them all. What a doctor can do is
appreciate love's presence with an open mind, without judgment, and
with the awareness that love comes in all forms.
(Image via www.dawn-productions.com)
Stephanie Draus' lecture in Clinical Problem Solving class this
week was inspired by love. We discussed how to talk about sex with
our patients. One excellent phrase I collected from her lecture was
this: "Do you have sex with men, women, or both?" I never realized
that question could be phrased with such simplicity. We talked
about the out-dated stigmas attached to sexually transmitted
diseases and why a lack of sex education causes these to run
rampant, especially in the geriatric population.
We touched on the fact that sexual preference, desire, and
practice are similarly stigmatized; we assume everyone having sex
likes it "vanilla," that is to say, plain and simple, no bells and
whistles, no games, nothing interesting. Just sex. As doctors, we
cannot assume this about our patients, nor do we always need to
know all the juicy details. What we do need to try to gather is
whether our patients' health is at risk based on their sexual
preferences, whether in regards to use of protection, or the myriad
of alternative ways to experience pleasure.
Mary Calderone was a
physician and public health advocate for sexual
(Image via izquotes.com)
So, what do we do as doctors-to-be if we find ourselves judging
based on our own histories, the things we've been taught, or the
lack thereof? I suppose the best place to start is by talking about
it with our professors, and with each other. If you are someone who
finds his or herself cringing inside at the notions of same-sex
love or multiple lovers, I personally think you need to start
learning by reading, listening, and well, Googling stuff. Perhaps
your professors and friends can't or won't expound on the vastness
of possibility and risk involved in more colorful sex, but we need
to remain open to the frank notion that lots of people in our world
experience pleasure in unorthodox ways. As doctors, we must be
prepared to listen without judgment. We must also be willing to do
our research so that we can advise our patients appropriately.
So, yes, in the name of becoming a better doctor, I am
encouraging you to read up on any alternative sexual practices you
can imagine. I've just given you the go-ahead to research gay
culture, to wonder at how polyamory is comfortable for so many, to
investigate the intricacies of anatomy and physiology in trans
people, and to look up that thing you've always been curious about.
I encourage you to explore resources for learning about and finding
compassion for the zillion ways that one can love and be loved in
My experience in finding acceptance for ways of loving that
differ from my own can be understood like this: my partner doesn't
like feta cheese. I like feta cheese! When I cook dinner with feta
cheese (because I think its delicious!) he just decides to eat the
food because he knows I'll be hurt if he doesn't eat what I've
cooked, and you know what? After a few feta meals he decides he
doesn't really hate feta cheese. After a few more feta meals, he
decides he might actually kind of like feta cheese. What he does
know is that he appreciates my satisfaction at the taste of this
food, and he loves me, so he eats feta cheese for dinner with me.
And of course, I do make sure to cook feta-less meals, too.
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