Archive for tag: naturopathic medicine

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy New Year of the Sheep, Goat, Ram!

So, I guess the exact name for this new lunar year in the Chinese calendar is up for debate. What's not debatable is the fact that I went to a (belated) Chinese New Year party on Saturday and ate a delicious hotpot with ingredients sourced from Chicago's China Town. Yummy! I also tried my hand (mouth?) at a Chinese blowgun and wore house slippers.

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Hotpot! (The little mushrooms were the most delicious part!)

According to both the New York Times and NPR, the English translation of this year's Chinese animal is fuzzy. "Yang" may mean a sheep, a goat, or a ram. The sheep/goat/ram debate seems to be a uniquely American and European problem. Throughout Asia, most people are settled on what exactly the word "yang" represents for them, often depending on which one of these animals lives in that particular region and whether they do good or bad things for the ecosystem.

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Party host Reed taking aim with the blowgun

For example, I learned that in Mongolia, this year is likely be regarded as the year of the sheep, as opposed to the goat, which is known for eating not only the grass but also the roots, leaving no grass for the following year. Thus, the sheep is more auspicious and one's ancestors would surely name a year for the animal that leaves opportunity for growth.

As part of our naturopathic training, we take an Intro to Chinese Medicine class in our third trimester. The course provides an excellent segue for those ND students who are considering a dual degree in Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine at NUHS. The information we learn in this class barely grazes the surface of Chinese medicine, but it does give us the capacity to converse with its practitioners based on our rudimentary understanding of the substances, organs, elements, and patterns used in Chinese medicine. We are taught to analyze a case to determine imbalances in yin/yang, internal/external, cold/hot, and deficiency/excess.

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Pulled out my old notes on Chinese Medicine for a refresher

After much debate in my third tri here at NUHS, I realized that studying in the OM program was not for me. Many of my ND peers are working toward dual degrees and take night classes in the Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine program. I hear fabulous things about the professors and the program as a whole! If you're curious about the master of science programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine here at National, don't hesitate to jump over to Juli's blog and read about it!

As for the rest of the naturopathic medical schools, I believe that the Canadian colleges include more training in Chinese medicine in their curriculum than do the American schools because parts of Canada include acupuncture in their ND licensure. Another note to make about this overlap between naturopathic medicine and Chinese medicine is that as NDs we have the opportunity to sit for an acupuncture-specific board exam when we take NPLEX Part 2. If you want to practice in certain Canadian provinces, Arizona or Kansas, I believe you must sit for this board exam. In order to sit for this add-on exam, you must have upwards of 200 credits in acupuncture/oriental medicine. At NUHS, this means you must enroll in 7 specific courses in the AOM program. I looked into all of this because I intended to take every add-on board available to me when it comes time to do so, but in the end I decided I was unlikely to end up in Arizona or Kansas or most of Canada, and if I do end up in one of these places I'll tackle that obstacle when I come to it.

In the meantime, I'll be making an effort to embody these qualities of our new Year of the Sheep (/goat/ram): avoid pessimism and hesitation, be kind-hearted, clever, tender, and compassionate. Happy New Year to you all!

I Give You Permission to Research Colorful Sex

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.

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(Image via www.dawn-productions.com)

Dr. 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.

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Mary Calderone was a physician and public health advocate for sexual education
(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 this world.

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.

The Equinox, Noticing Change

Summer's slip into fall was subtle until the past week or so; it got cool here, the leaves are falling more rapidly. I am sitting on my porch in a sweatshirt with a cup of tea as I type this and except for the barking dog playing in the park next door, it is quite peaceful here in the wind. Fall is blowing in. Monday the 22nd was the fall Equinox; day and night were equal lengths, and from here on out, the days get shorter. It was the first official day of fall; the season changes.

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I like to think I'm good at changes. I identify as someone who desires to be outside of her comfort zone. Here in Chicagoland, I often pine for change. Usually it happens when I'm sitting at my desk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon staring out the window, or when I'm inching along in traffic to or from campus. The med school routine starts to feel monotonous. So, when the earth does her thing and the land around me transforms, I am thrilled! I found orange leaves on the ground outside the front door this morning. This obvious sign that fall is here made me reflect on how much change really does take place in the midst of my regular routine. I am evolving as a doctor in training, learning to see the world around me with the eyes of a Naturopath.

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I see a man limp down the street and speculate on which muscles or nerves are not functioning properly. I listen to another man with a lifeless arm order sandwiches in a low, nasal voice with little enunciation and I speculate on which part of his brain suffered a stroke. I watch the guy in line ahead of me at the grocery store as he blinks and twitches his head repeatedly and I can identify the part of his brain that might be disinhibited, by medications I wonder? Two years ago, I would see only a limp, hear only a funny voice, and notice only a man who blinks a lot.

In naturopathic medicine, we consider the experience of the change of seasons a determinant of health under the category of light and cycles. Cycles that last longer than a day, and are therefore not linked to our circadian cycle, are called infradian rhythms. Annual cycles of the seasons are infradian rhythms, and can affect our metabolism, appetite, and weight gain. It is healthy and vital to experience these changes that indicate the passage of time. The days get shorter and our bodies respond in kind. The temperature changes and our systems acclimate. We learn that spring and fall are ideal times to cleanse as we prepare for the inevitable hot summer or cold winter.

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As I meditate on summer's bow to the arrival of fall, I remember that every trimester brings change, too. I have a new set of professors, new expectations, and new information to throw into that fragrant soup of knowledge I keep cooking up there. I suppose my task is to recognize the small changes happening every day and find solace in them. I will also revel in fall while it lasts, and try to notice all of its colors and smells while in the thick of my busy academic life.

I think I'll leave you with this, written by Stephen King, about the change of seasons:

"But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you."