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.
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.
My group & me after our last ever anatomy practical (photo
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
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
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.
If you're an ND student and haven't attended a naturopathic
conference yet, please do! If you're a prospective student, you
might consider attending one as well.
Last week was our nationally recognized Naturopathic Medicine
Week, which culminated here on campus with the annual conference
put on by the Illinois
Association of Naturopathic Physicians (ILANP). This year's
topic was "Integrative and Nutritional Approaches to
Gastrointestinal Disorders." This was the highlight of my
Naturopathic Medicine Week celebrations, which also included a
lunchtime yoga class and some time spent at our campus botanical
This year, ILANP hosted a few of Naturopathic Medicine's Greats:
Dr. Mona Morstein, Dr. Eric Yarnell, and our very own Dr. Louise Edwards
(Dr. Lou). I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from
these remarkable docs, and intend to seek out their lectures in the
Dr. Yarnell arrived early for the conference and gave a special
lecture for the Tri 6/7 Bot Med 2 class on Friday. I am not
actually taking this class until next trimester, but the professor,
Dr. Sorensen, knows I (and other ND students) have an affinity for
herbal medicine and she invited us to attend.
Dr. Yarnell spent the first hour teaching us about formulation:
the roles and the selection of different herbs as Leader, Helper,
Deputy, Synergizer, and Driver/Harmonizer. I learned that making a
list of desired actions for treatment (based on physiology and
biochemistry) allows you to select the most appropriate herb as a
leader, and to fill in the unmatched actions with other
Dr. Yarnell also taught us the concept of Opposing Assistance,
or using two herbs with opposite actions in the same formula. For
example, if his patient needs some stimulation but not too much,
instead of using a mild adaptogen, he will incorporate a strong
herb and an herb with a milder opposite action to achieve a
balance. He finds this yields the best clinical results. It is also
a good lesson for life: moderate and find an answer by applying
opposing wisdom. In the second hour, Dr. Yarnell presented a few
cases so we could see how he applies these concepts of formulation
Bright and early on Saturday, the most intriguing thing I
learned from Dr. Yarnell's opening talk was about the need for
certain bugs in our gut (that make up our microbiome) in order to
breakdown certain medicinal herbs. This means that if a particular
herb is not working for your patient, the problem may lie in the
population of gut flora, rather than in the herb itself. If the
herb's active constituents cannot be exposed via digestion by
certain bugs, it cannot possibly do its job correctly! For example,
research from 2012 tells us that the catechins in green tea
(Camellia sinensis) requireLactobacillus plantarum, a particular
gut microbe, for metabolism. Interestingly, green tea makes me sick
to my stomach. Perhaps I am deficient inLactobacillus plantarumand
therefore cannot break it down properly? Amazing!
Dr. Morstein opened Sunday's lectures with a talk on SIBO (small
intestinal bacterial overgrowth). If ever there was a doc who
speaks with conviction and does her investigative research, it is
Dr. Morstein. She taught us that using antibiotics is sometimes
appropriate, and that one should never be shy; call any company
whose product you question and ask them about it. Go to the source
to answer your question so that you may treat your patients with
McKenzie and Dr. Lou
I reveled in presentations by many other intelligent and
inspirational NDs, and was brought back to our naturopathic roots
by our own Dr. Lou, who ended the conference with a presentation
that applied everything we'd heard to the core of our philosophy.
My congratulations to Dr. Kristina Conner, who was honored as the
recipient of the 2014 Henry Lindlahr Award, and to Dr. Lou, who
accepted the 2014 ILANP President's Award! I am so proud of my
professors (who double as mentors), and am so thankful to benefit
from their teaching! I came away from this week of celebration of
our profession with the spirit of naturopathy rooted in my heart,
and my drive to study hard rekindled.
One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the
Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on
the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I
stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think
I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance
over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark
brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he
was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for
him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right.
(This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2
miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but
the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)
This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I
had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern
Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to
for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip
has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that
made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of
the healing arts.
Old Map of Tanager Lodge
Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages
"campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated
to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth."
This is its 90th summer in operation.
A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both)
starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from
atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake,
then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the
day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our
tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.
My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a
mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all
kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in
main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while,
we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm
us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of
teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class
here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in
which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things
like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)
Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager
If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine,
please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts
in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many
exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of
cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student
loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike
in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep
respect for the natural world.
The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12
Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students
in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual
and ethical aspects of our
Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on
the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have
learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic
OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable
sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own
intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being
reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to
start the massage program in September!
Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the
very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our
naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we
started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from
learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means
listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means
forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self
and the world so as to note every important detail.
In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our
professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy
is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in
exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal
as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.
One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve
the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of
suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain
from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks
through our doors.
It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to
use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we
knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after
One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the
patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind
him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the
healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves
dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single
During several of these class discussions our professors have
sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for
her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On
her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of
physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our
expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our
daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards
blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes
at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for
learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in
which you answer three questions each day.
The Heart Journal
The first question is: "What surprised me today?"
The size of the nose ring on the
girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she
probably loves it that way!
The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart
On our way to the beach, Hanzi was
looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and
he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an
investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.
And the third question is "What inspired me today?"
The camaraderie of the group of "Bears"
gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies
in the chilly Lake Michigan water.
If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as
professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In
addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure,
evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a
SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through
exercises like this.
Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.
The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the
beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for
the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students,
don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks
you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each
other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the
test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the
things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the
things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these
things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we
will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal
So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile
more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to
I'm deciding whether or not to study Massage Therapy while I'm here at
National in addition to getting my ND. Many of my peers get dual
degrees, whether it be ND/DC or ND/AOM because the modalities and
philosophies run in parallel and allow us to expand our scope to
meet our interests and passions, especially in unlicensed states.
Part of the adventure of studying naturopathic medicine is learning
what aspects of our vast toolbox suit you best, and then exploring
ways to pursue those interests.
I struggled for a few weeks last fall with whether or not to
enroll in the AOM program, because Chinese medicine
is so wise and its application is so broad and increasingly
accepted by mainstream medicine. It serves as an excellent adjunct
to naturopathic medicine. Many of our professors use it. Ultimately
though, I realized I do not absolutely, definitely, no question,
want to be a master of Chinese medicine in the kind of way I know I want to be a
naturopathic doctor. And, I am not willing to invest all the
time and money in something that doesn't feel quite right for
In E&M Extremities class, Meg demonstrates a gait anomaly
as the rest of us analyze it.
Over the past few trimesters, I have gravitated towards physical
medicine in application with naturopathic medicine. I was totally
surprised when I enjoyed E&M
class and found that I was actually pretty good at adjusting. I
realized that I know my body and its relationship to weight-bearing
and careful maneuvering through my experience of being a
competitive athlete. It's been years since I gave up competitive
sports in college, but I still have that knack for acquiring muscle
memory and fluidity in movement, and it pays off in understanding
how the body should, or wants to, move.
Cranial Sacral Massage elective class with our
Patricia Coe and Dr. Heather Wisniewski
Also, having never taken any kinesiology classes, I figured I
was doomed when it came to grasping biomechanics. As it turns out,
knowing my body and its movements has made learning biomechanics
and adjusting a lot easier. Inspired by my propensity for
understanding and applying physical medicine, I asked for a
recommendation of who to talk to or what other avenues to explore
beyond the classroom. Dr. Pearson, one of the family practice
interns, directed me to Dr. Coe, massage program supervisor and
instructor (and totally awesome
ND/DC/MT/photographer/character/mentor). I signed up for her massage
elective class on Cranial Sacral technique and discovered this
awesome new dimension to add to my ND toolbox. By using what I
learned in Dr. Coe's class, I continue to study through experience
on my friends and fellow classmates. I am learning how to listen
with my hands, follow what I find, and make people feel better.
"Inside/Outside: Muscle/Hand" San Francisco, 1994.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Katherine Du
Tiel (b. 1961) [artist]
So, in an effort to distract myself from the stress of 3 exams
and 2 assignments due in the upcoming days, I've tracked down Dr.
Coe and picked her brain on my options for adding the Massage
I also reached out to a recent NUHS grad who tutored me through
Phase 1 and studied in the massage, chiropractic and naturopathic
programs during her time here at National. She offered some solid
advice. (Even after they're gone from campus, NUHS folks are still
accessible and willing to help you!) Now I have to make some
decisions. It's probably time to make a pros and cons list and a
phone call to Mom and Dad, who always offer pretty good advice.
Part of what makes naturopathic medicine so strong is this great
big toolbox we're given. It also presents a fun challenge to us
students: to discover our strengths and trust the process!
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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