I'm writing this post from my last day in my little office at
the Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic as I prepare to take a few days
off for hot springs-hopping, fishing, general unplanned
adventuring, and visiting with friends here in Montana before I
drive back to Illinois for graduation. Whoa, Graduation! Huge
congratulations to my Tri 10 buddies -- we did it! Most importantly
though, I would be remiss not to thank all the incredible people
who've encouraged me on this path to becoming an ND.
In my happy place, out for a drive into the foothills on
National Forest land.
Thanks of course to all my professors from first tri on up, for
filling my brain to the brim, and to my clinicians AND my patients
for your patience with my wild, learning mind. Thank you SO MUCH to
my family for cheering me on and supporting me unconditionally in
my currently alternative career choice (Not for long! Our medicine
is bound for greatness!). Thanks to my friends and peers at school
who shared in this whole experience (whew!), and to my partner
Hanzi for hangin' in there while I cried in a heap in his lap in
the midst of midterms and was quite frankly too exhausted to help
cook dinner most every night for the past 3.5 years. Thanks is
especially due to Hanzi for taking my mind out of medicine whenever
he could, to engage me in conversation about the rest of life and
the world; I cannot express how much that saved my sanity and kept
my heart whole.
Hanzi checks out this spectacular
historic home for sale in Virginia City, MT -- a town of all dirt
Thanks also to my friends, near and far, who've kept tabs on me
by reading this blog, and who I assume will forgive my absence in
your lives as medical school has ravaged my free time these past
several years. I cannot promise I'll come roaring back on the
scene, but I'm ready to engage you all with more effort. Thanks and
boundless love to Arthur for reminding me that I'm kicking butt at
school each time I talk to him -- your path will illuminate,
brother -- I promise. Thank you to my most special ND friends, the
original Team Shakira, for experiencing with me the realness of
bodies in those first few months of medical school, in the anatomy
lab. That was a truly unforgettable chapter, and those are the
people I am sure I was meant to meet, a large part of why I was
called to attend NUHS.
Thanks is also due to the administration at NUHS for finally
helping me leave campus for life under the wide Montana sky, where
I've learned invaluable lessons about naturopathic doctoring in a
licensed state. Thank you to Marie Olbrysh, the wonderful blog
coordinator who emailed me nearly every week to remind me to send
in my posts, and who made me feel like my writing was worth the
We lived out of our truck for a few days, here, a stop for a
soak at Chico Hot Springs.
Thank you, of course, to all the doctors here in Montana at YNC
who've elevated my understanding of naturopathic doctoring. Dr.
Beeson, Julius, and Dr. Holl, I can hardly tell you how grateful I
am for your friendship and for making Montana truly feel like
Thanks to all of you out there (there are more of you than you
may think) who've told me after reading a post or two that I must
write a book some day. I'm going to do my darnedest to follow your
advice and make that happen! In the meantime, you can follow my
thoughts and ruminations on naturopathy, and can watch my life as a
doctor unfold over at drmescon.com -- that's me, just about! My
website should be up and running within a week or two, thanks for
I suppose the final thing to leave my readers with is that
naturopathic medical school is totally, absolutely, the bee's
knees. If you've ever thought this might be the path for you,
please attend a visit day, explore campus, and ask questions. It is
an incredibly challenging and incomparably rewarding experience.
The people you will meet are unique, the professors are dedicated,
and the medicine absolutely works. It's a long road to becoming a
doctor, but it's been the most true and gratifying work I've done
so far in my relatively short life.
Our camping spot outside Ennis, MT.
Thank you, readers, for following along with me over these past
few years! I am sure my successor will continue to tell you good
stories from the ND student world -- please enjoy them! And, if
you'd like to continue reading my own stories, you'll know where to
find them. Lastly, if you need to find me in person, I'll be
somewhere out in the American West, Montana for now, stimulating
the Vis with everything I've got!
Life's adventures are changing. While in medical school, I knew
that my adventure was to make it through all those exams and cram
all that information in my brain. Now that I'm on the tail end of
school, beginning life as a doctor is the new adventure. But, at
one point I thought once school was over I'd be right back to more
typical adventures -- trips in the outdoors, flights to distant
places for travel on the cheap, festivals and camping, and any
number of parties that filled my life before medical school. Now,
I'm realizing that the adventures I'm going to have over these next
many years may seem tamer, but they are no less life changing.
A gorgeous sunny day out skiing before the resorts close for
Hanzi and I pinky swore we'd have an adventure once we finished
grad and med school. He reminded me of this the other day; not that
I think I needed much reminding -- I'm all for it!
My recent big decisions involving the unknown are in sharing the
responsibility of another's well-being, in addition to deciding
which place to move to next. I've always said I like to operate
outside of my comfort zone, and thank goodness that's the case,
because doctoring means doing that every day, especially at this
point. I'm learning that there can be just as much puzzlement and
curiosity involved in doctoring as there is in setting off on a
trail into the mountains I've never hiked before. It's a different
kind of thing, of course, but it's just as engaging.
Contemplating the Beartooth Mountains during a break in my ski
I'm learning to define adventure not only as time spent without
showering, cooking over a camp stove, sleeping in a tent, or
clinging to a mountainside, but also as time spent puzzling through
another person's story to connect the dots and bring about better
health. It's certainly not every person who identifies with
adventures in the outdoors, but I'm sure every new doctor's
understanding of their place in a community changes as they begin
to take on their professional role. It's a conversation I've had
recently with one of the residents here at YNC -- the balance
between holding your professional values close, and finding ways to
connect with the people in your community. It's part of growing up,
and especially, growing into a confident doctor.
Drove northwest to Helena through spectacular scenery for a
residency interview last week.
Part of my everyday adventure is making other people feel well
enough that they are capable of having their own daily adventures.
And what greater reward? Because hiking mountains and skiing slopes
only translates into doing something for others when I am getting
outside to maintain or rejuvenate my own heart. If I were to spend
all my days gallivanting around the hills and the globe, feeling
cold snow on my face, or rough rock under my fingertips, I would be
missing an essential part of adventure, of life, which is to do
something for someone other than myself. Even better if I can do
things for many someones beside myself! I know I'm meant to serve
people as a naturopath, and to serve them best I've got to keep
adventure alive in both my body and my brain.
So I guess this post is about realizing the aspects of our
personality that we need to keep alive while in the midst of
changing ourselves and our presentation to match that of a doctor.
There's a lot of responsibility involved in fostering the
connections we make as doctors. Learning to balance personal life
with professional strengths and ethics seems like it might be just
as central to developing as a doctor as is learning to diagnose
Thanks to new friends here in Billings, I spent most of the day
this past Saturday climbing again, outside in the sun. It got so
warm and wondrous that I had to hide away in the shade to keep from
getting sunburned! In March! After hours of belaying and getting up
on a few routes myself, I sat and watched the sun begin to set from
our perch up on the rims north of town. I'd been outside on those
rocks since noon, and was wishing I'd brought a picnic dinner so I
could stay up there until the daylight left. All this time outdoors
is absolutely bringing me alive. In one of my residency interviews,
the doctor asked me how I refresh, how I ground myself, or how I
rejuvenate. It took no thought at all to answer that I do this by
spending time outdoors.
At the end of a brilliantly sunny day out climbing.
On Sunday I didn't manage to do anything serious like file my
taxes or study for boards, but I did spend an hour or so running
along the rims, drinking up the sky and clouds. After my run I
headed to a backyard goodbye celebration for Dr. La Deana Jeane,
one of the associate NDs at YNC who is leaving to do some doctoring
that doesn't require her to sit at a desk all day. We ate delicious
food (NDs have a way of providing the most spectacular spreads at
their get-togethers), and sat around the fire playing games and
music until it was dark and chilly. By the time we left, we all
wore that wonderful smoky fire smell heavy on our clothes and in
Backtracking to Friday, I found myself again at the Yellowstone
Valley Brewing Company dancing to Jalan Crossland's lively
guitar-picking and foot-stomping. I followed for a few spins on the
crowded dance floor, and was asked if I was a Something. People
who've been in this part of the West for decades know each other by
their family names. I, apparently, look like one of the Something
girls (I can't remember the family name). I've been asked 3 times
if I'm part of this native Montana family, and each time I say,
"No," I kind of wish I could say, "Yes." I've heard it's hard to
get in with these folks if your family hasn't been ranching in
Montana or Wyoming since the Homestead Act. It seems that there's
something about a doctor though, and a naturopath especially, that
I think might cracks this insular world.
Entering the Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic.
I've met several of the members of these old Western families at
the clinic. Through our interactions, I've learned that they do not
want to operate within the system, and that they've used natural
medicine on their animals forever. This combination brings them to
Naturopathy, because in Montana, our medicine still operates
outside of the conventional healthcare system. Also, NDs and
ranchers have a shared understanding of how the natural world
affects both our individual and community health.
I love the stories that come from the ranchers that visit the
clinic. One woman illustrated the level of her fatigue by
exclaiming, "I used to go out and lamb three hun'red head a' ewes,
and now I can barely stand to lamb a hun'red!" Another rancher
claims he can't make it in that week because it's calving season
and they're just too damn busy for him to see the doctor about this
virus. Another young rancher, when asked about her daily exercise
tells us that she runs on the treadmill at least once a day, but
really she's outside lifting and hauling, feeding cows and hefting
her little boys around the ranch all day. She supposes that she
gets plenty of exercise just by living her life, and she's
In the hallway at YNC.
I'll be perfectly honest here, a few weeks away from providing
patient care myself, and I notice I'm losing some of the details of
medicine because they sink into the depths of my brain as I fill it
with organizing residency interviews, observing people, and
spending time outdoors. One of the residents here at YNC confirmed
for me that this is natural; she feels she lost some of that more
immediate knowledge as soon as she finished school and played the
waiting game on starting her job at YNC. She reassured me it'll
just take spending some time with the material to get it back to
the front of my brain.
After this recent revelation, I know I'll need to make the
effort to spend more time with my books again. I also know that I
have more energy and I feel lighter every day since spending time
outside on a regular basis. So, I guess it's OK that I've taken a
break from the intensity of studies. For the first time since I
started the ND program at NUHS, I feel a desperate need to move my
body and burn up energy at the end of the day. This feeling
solidifies the fact that I thrive in a place with accessible nature
and sky. One more month for me here in Billings before I head back
to Illinois for graduation... let's see how much time I can spend
outside under this big sky!
It's the end of my first week at Yellowstone
Naturopathic Clinic (YNC). I cannot believe it was only a week
ago that I was driving through North Dakota en route to Billings -
that feels like it was a month ago!
I'm renting a small basement apartment in Dr. Margaret Beeson's
house, so this weekend she came down the stairs and invited me to
join her and her son Julius at a live show by a local band one
night, and for the Artwalk, an event that happens 5 times a year in
Billings, the other evening. I followed these two around downtown,
stopping in to galleries and watching them greet their people,
appreciate local artists, hand out free Bernie stickers, and pass
out flyers in support of the local co-op here.
The band Satsang, playing to a full
house at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.
At the show, I danced to some groovy reggae-inspired roots music
and watched the people of Billings love on this local band (check
them out here: reverbnation.com/satsang). I hope I grow into
the kind of healer and community member who knows someone
everywhere I go and laughs as much with her people as Dr. B
As for medical things I've learned this week -- oh, my god --
where do I begin? Like I said in my last post, there's no
comparison to learning by watching a doctor work. At YNC, there are
3 associate docs besides Dr. B, and 4 residents. There's also a
chiropractor, an acupuncturist, and a massage therapist. There are
2 front desk ladies and about 4 or 5 other employees working in
medical records, dispensary, and other management positions. It's a
All of the doctors are willing to engage my questions and teach.
In this way, I get to understand a little bit about how each one
thinks and works differently from the next. I've watched some prolo
and PRP injection therapies, listened to a patient's story while he
received a vitamin C IV as supportive treatment for cancer, and
watched Dr. B doctor and refer a 70-something patient in need of
I've learned from one of the associate docs about the difficult
experience of having to tell her patients she is leaving the
practice to do some volunteer work and ponder her next move. Her
advice to me was "If you know where you want to live, go there and
start your practice. It is so hard to leave your patients!"
Sheltering from the wind, taking in
the view (this does not do it justice!)
Speaking of knowing where you want to go, now that I'm in the
West, I am have a hard time picturing myself anywhere else. It
feels really, really good to be here, under this big sky, with
ranchers at the table next to me in the restaurant, and patients
driving 3 hours from their very rural home to see the naturopathic
doctor. It is very different from the big city, and that weight of
millions of people has lifted from my shoulders; it feels much more
In other news, I'm starting to hear from residencies and am
hoping the communications continue through this next week. I'll try
to keep you posted on progress with this, but at the same time not
get my hopes up. I'm trying my best to relax into the process and
trust that I'll end up wherever is best.
Strolling the ridge after
scrambling up a cold north-facing trail
To take my mind off things, I went out for a little hike at
Phipps Park to the west of town. It was brilliantly sunny, the view
was expansive, and I found a cave to sit in for a few moments, out
of the wind.
Lastly, I can't end this post without mentioning that many of my
ND student buddies took boards last week. Congratulations to all of
you on making it through that hugely exhausting experience! May the
answers you didn't know be the same ones nobody else knew,
This past week we had a surprise day off! Though not under the
best circumstances (a power outage at the clinic that lasted all
day), we did take advantage of the free time. We went to the Morton
Arboretum! Yes, we'll have to make up those hours "lost" among the
plants rather than in patient care, but that dose of nature did so
much good for me that I'm totally OK with an extra Friday shift
Group Hug! (Thanks to Joe for the picture!)
Kaila, Lisa, Joe, Brad, Blaine, and I carpooled to the Arboretum
once we found out we were free for the day. Mallory met us there a
little while later. We wandered the gardens, explored the old
buildings, ate lunch at the café, and sat for almost an hour in the
library reading old botanical medicine books! This was the nerdiest
and possibly the best part of the day.
I also loved wandering the paths, reading off scientific names
of plants and recalling their medicinal uses. There were many
plants whose names I know but whose medicinal actions I cannot
remember. We vowed to return soon with our bot med notes and do
some real review with the actual plants in front of us.
Strolling at the Arboretum
I've been meaning to visit the Morton Arboretum since I learned
about it when I started here at NUHS 3 years ago. If you can find a
friend who is a member, it is cheaper to visit for the day. If you
can't find a member to tag along with, I suggest paying the $14 (or
on Wednesdays it's only $9!) to explore that beautiful place; it's
totally worth it. The arboretum is a haven for nature-loving folks
in this very suburban area. If you go once you've taken a few bot
med classes, you can study while you're there! I promise, it's
rewarding to see the plants in person and make that mental
connection by touching, smelling and observing medicine as it
exists out in nature.
Reading old botanical medicine books.
Apologies to our patients that we did not get to see that day!
Lucky for you though, we are now more clear-minded thanks to a day
spent in the natural world. Not seeing patients yet? I still
suggest getting outside to clear your mind after these recent
midterms! Oh yeah, everyone else is taking midterms these days,
while I'm over here in 9th tri giving presentations and taking
online, open-note quizzes instead. ~Happy Sigh~
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