Archive for tag: naturopathic medicine

Why We Rally Around the Good

I am sitting at my kitchen table, bright yellow and orange leaves glowing outside my window in the mid-morning light, and I am breathing deeply. I am taking deep, calming breaths because I just let myself read one of those blogs about how naturopathic medicine is not real.

Out for a walk on a gorgeous fall day

We had this conversation in our practice management class last Thursday: "What do you say if someone asks you why you didn't become a real doctor?" There is an unpleasant person living in Europe for whom naturopathic medicine did not stick. This person writes a caustic blog about perceived failures of our medicine. It's unfortunate, but as my ND student friend Wendy has said, if one person can make a little wave like this person has, imagine what all the rest of us can do.

There are smart people, and there are good writers, and they are not always one and the same. There are people who respond to the incendiary writings of Internet "trolls" and there are the sound, solid naturopathy supporters out there who ignore those "trolls" and continue doing what they do because it works, not because they are out to prove someone wrong.

I encourage all of my fellow students and fellow supporters of naturopathic medicine not to shout your support in an angry way. I implore you to stay away from those naysayers because by responding to them, we give them the Internet traffic (which Google loves to highlight), and the attention they do not deserve.

So, naturopathic doctors, doctors-to-be, supporters, and patients of the world -- please, please, please -- let us stop acknowledging the writings and cries of people who do not understand the power of natural medicine to heal! Let us see what they write, and remember to support our profession in the avenues through which they seek to bring us down. If it is more residency opportunities they think we need, then let us remember that, process it in our own capacity, and apply those conclusions on our own terms.

There will always, always, always be those people whose opinions differ from ours. When it comes to our profession, which is, in the end, simply about helping people to feel better, let us remember that. Physician-heal-thyself means we make sure we do things to make ourselves feel better so that we may better serve our patients. We are served well when we put our energy into the things that we want to perpetuate.

Dwell on the GOOD stuff. DO NOT dwell on the bad stuff. Energy is a real thing and it follows intention. So let us place our intention on growing our profession, not on perpetually defending it. If you take no shots, you score no goals. If we spend all our time defending, we make no advances on the scoreboard! Let's direct our thoughts at success, let's rally around the positive stuff, and give that negative darkness a wide, wide berth.

Our Program Grows and Nature Cures

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 too.

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 request!). 

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!

What IS Naturopathic Medicine?

Happy Belated Naturopathic Medicine Week! Last week was our nationally recognized time to celebrate and promote our medicine and in the spirit of that I will try to answer that question we are all constantly asked, "What IS Naturopathic Medicine?"

Here's my little elevator speech: I am a student of naturopathic medicine. As naturopathic doctors, we are trained in primary care and specialize in natural and least-invasive therapies. We are trained to diagnose and treat disease and we work to address the cause of disease, rather than just treat the symptoms. We aim to engage our patients in their own healthcare.


If I have a captive or particularly interested audience, I'll go on to explain that we train in an outpatient clinic, rather than in a hospital, but because we train specifically as primary care doctors this environment is most appropriate. We do not rotate through specialties as conventional MDs do; rather, we take those specialties as classroom courses while we are in our internship, seeing patients in our outpatient clinic. Our year-long training in an out-patient setting prepares us well for practice because we are providing direct primary care (with the supervision of our licensed clinicians) on a regular basis to an established group of patients.

When we graduate, residencies are optional and competitive. Part of the reason our residencies are optional is that our profession has to privately fund these opportunities. Did you know that conventional MD residencies are funded by Medicare? At this time, naturopathic doctors are not recognized by Medicare, and thus our residencies must be privately funded. So, there are the basics.


Now, if I have an especially engaged audience I may launch into explaining our Therapeutic Order, or how a naturopathic doctor orders their thinking when it comes to a patient case.

  • Level 1 is Reestablish the Basis for Health.
    This means we look at the basics (in some ways comparable to Maslov's hierarchy, if you are familiar with that): food, water, air, shelter, sleep, exercise, spirituality, access to healthcare, toxic exposures, love, and community. Every single naturopathic treatment plan addresses some aspect of Level 1.
  • Level 2 is Stimulate the Vis.
    The Vis Medicatrix Naturae is the healing power of nature. When a surgeon stitches up a wound, dresses it, and sends a patient home to heal, he or she is relying on the healing power of nature, or the body's ability to knit that tissue back together. A naturopathic doctor might use homeopathy or acupuncture to support the Vis. In truth, every therapy we offer, including nutrition and a good night's sleep attend to the Vis because each therapy supports the body's ability to heal itself.
  • Level 3 is Tonify Affected/Engaged Organs and Systems.
    Here is where we apply therapies in a general sense. We prescribe liver-supportive foods to help a woman with PMS and menstrual cramps because the liver clears hormones that contribute to these ailments. In almost every patient we address the GI system because "we are what we digest." That is taken from that phrase, "You are what you eat," but we know that if you cannot digest the food you eat, then how can you assimilate those nutrients into your body and use them as building blocks?
  • Level 4 is Correct Structural Integrity.
    At NUHS, we go to school with chiropractic students and in that process we take adjusting classes with them. We learn to align the spine and extremities, and we learn some soft-tissue therapies like massage. We pay attention to all aspects of the physical body, including the structure, in order to optimize healing and maintain wellbeing.
  • Level 5 is Prescribe Specific Natural Substances.
    This is where many integrative doctors work, and where many of our patients assume we operate. This could be considered the level of "green allopathy," or replacing a drug with a natural substance. A naturopathic doctor uses therapies at this level when necessary, especially to help with palliation when a patient feels really sick, but we recognize that none of these "green" therapies will offer full recovery or true healing if we neglect the first 4 levels that come before it. This is where we categorize the use of botanicals and other natural substances that address specific pathologies. For example, giving a pain-relieving tincture of Viburnum to our patient with menstrual cramps. When these natural therapies "don't work" we must remember that a patient needs to attend to all the aspects of their being for nature's healing to work best. If someone eats Big Macs for every meal, they cannot expect plants alone to heal their pain.
  • Level 6 is Prescribe Specific Pharmacological or Synthetic Substances.
    Here is where most conventional medical doctors operate and where naturopathic doctors are trained to operate as well, when necessary. Sometimes we need to use pharmaceuticals in more dire situations in order to pull a patient out of a dangerous place. It is never our goal to keep a treatment plan at this level. This is a high level of intervention reserved for when it is necessary, but avoided if possible.
  • Level 7 is Use Higher Force Interventions.
    This means things like surgery and other invasive procedures. There are times when a patient needs this kind of care, for example, if they have been in a car accident and have broken bones. We will send this patient off for surgery, but will also offer supportive care at all the levels leading up to this one. We will offer everything from foods that support healthy inflammation, to homeopathics that assist bones in healing, to massage that keeps the muscles from going into spasm, to botanicals to dampen the pain and support healthy tissue regeneration in healing.

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me this far! There is no way I could explain everything about a naturopathic doctor's thought process in one (long!) blog post. Readers should know that our training includes pathology, and so when I write about treating the engaged organs and systems, that is informed by our understanding of pathology and diagnosis of disease. I could go on and on! But for now, any questions?

NDs Around the World

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 them.

Adventuring in Australia -- getting inspired to explore my own country.

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 Naturopathic Doctors International and 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 The World 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!

You Could Choose National for the Thunderstorms

I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. When I lived in the West, I realized that a big sky makes me feel that anything is possible and that I can never understand it all. I adore this feeling. I desire to be outside of my comfort zone as often as possible; so much so that at times I've had to give up and retreat to calmer waters.

I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. Sunrise on my morning commute last week.

On a long weekend during my first year at NUHS, before the program had a chance to wear me thin, my partner and I set out on a camping and fishing trip to Wisconsin's driftless region. We meandered through farmland and found our camping spot as the clouds were gathering, no big deal. We'd once tried to camp at Vedauwoo near Laramie, Wyoming, in late October with a wicked, biting wind that threatened both to snow and to overturn our tent. When we realized they'd shut off the water and closed up all facilities for the season, we gave up.

My partner Hanzi tying flies at our kitchen table over the weekend, caused this story to surface.

On this particular trip in Wisconsin, we made dinner over our camp stove as the rain picked up. We ate our rice and beans on the tailgate to stay dry. As the downpour intensified, we climbed into our tent earlier than expected and snuggled into the center, trying not to touch the wet walls.

At 1 a.m., the 5th drop of water landed on my face and I realized my sleeping bag was totally soaked; our tent was no longer waterproof and the Midwestern thunderstorm was still raging. Soaked and sleepy, we sloppily disassembled our tent and crammed all the sopping wet sleeping stuff into the trunk and slunk out of the campsite, our tails between our legs.

The fishing the next day was terrible. The streams ran high and brown
with mud. You can see our soaking wet camping gear piled in the trunk.

We drove a wide-open rural highway with lightning cracking all around us in the longest, loudest and most spectacular streaks I've ever seen. This was some thunderstorm! If you've never experienced one, do come study naturopathic medicine at National. If you've not chosen our school for the strong philosophy and awesome collaborative learning environment, then do at least choose it for the thunderstorms!

After a drive through the downpour and lightning, we checked into the only room left at the nearest hotel, a suite with a hot tub in the corner and the fluffiest king size bed ever (save for that one that enveloped me during that bout of food-poisoning I got in Banff, Canada after eating scrambled eggs at the airport. Don't ever eat scrambled eggs at the airport.)

When you're in medical school, you pretty much can't do these adventurous, uncalculated things. They squash that tendency to toss logical thinking to the wind (like setting up camp in the midst of a deluge) in the process of teaching us to be responsible doctors. I don't mean my professors tell me to stay out of the rain. I mean that medical school in general takes you away from the fun stuff by sucking you dry of energy and sitting you down for some serious business. It's all worth it though, I promise.

I may not be able to adventure, but I guess my education does cause me to constantly move beyond my comfort zone. Each new class I take demands that I commit to memory information I've never known before. When I see a sim patient, I have no idea what to expect and have to dive in ready to grapple with whatever story they tell me. This is undoubtedly like the real world of doctoring and so I rest assured; I totally AM in the right place.... If doctoring is a process of continually stepping out of your comfort zone while seeking the patterns that help you find your way to healing a patient, then I think I'm on to something.

Really though, I already knew I was in the right place before writing this rambling essay on thunderstorms and airport eggs and squished adventures. I came to naturopathic medicine because I thrive on the different stuff. Our medicine is not well known but it is intelligent. Our medicine is not entirely understood in reductionist terms, but it works from a place of truth. Camping in the rain is not a comfortable choice, but it does make for a good story.