Learning from Naturopathy's Superheroes

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 garden.

Image of schedule

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 future.

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 botanicals.

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 in practice.

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 confidence.

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.

My Favorite Tri So Far

I think Week 6 is a good time to get into the meat of what I've actually been up to so far in Tri 6. The best part about this trimester is that I spend relatively little time sitting in lecture, and most of my time applying and building upon what I already know through discussions and hands-on learning.

Physical and Laboratory Diagnosis (aka Phys Dx in student speak) is a beast of a class, with 6 hours per week of lecture and three more hours per week in lab. Our first practical comes this week, and I have been practicing several exams including taking vitals, as well as the head and neck, pulmonary, cardiovascular, neurological, eye, ear/nose/throat, and abdominal exams. Besides demonstrating that we can actually execute said exams, we will be tested on our ability to translate an objective finding into a diagnosis (for example, dullness on percussion of the lungs in the right upper lobe suggests consolidation and therefore pneumonia in that area.)

Friday Manual Therapies class celebrations! Tony's birthday called for learning, pizza, and cupcakes.

Two other classes require me to sit in lecture. The first is Imagining Diagnosis, in which we just finished learning about how to recognize arthritides, like rheumatoid arthritis, on X-ray. The other is Ethical Practice Management, a class that discusses things like how to use twitter for marketing, and why networking is vital for success.

All my other courses are significantly more hands-on and interactive, the reason that this trimester is my favorite one so far. In Homeopathy 3, we sit in class, yes, but we learn remedies and have discussions about how to take a case, analyze a case, and subsequently find the correct remedy for a patient. In Applied Clinical Theory, we discuss paper cases each week and learn about how to make a diagnosis based on a history and results of a physical exam. Next, we discuss how to treat these patients by working through our therapeutic order and addressing each determinant that is out of balance.

These classes are directly allowing us to apply what we know and understand about pathology, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, etc. (material from our first phase classes) to a theoretical patient. It is so satisfying to prepare for a class discussion and find out the next day that your diagnosis was correct and that some of the therapies you've chosen are the same ones your professor would apply!

These classes are helping me to move beyond simply identifying what is wrong with the body, to actually creating a treatment plan to solve the problem. I have two more hands-on labs that fill my week, one is phlebotomy lab where we've been learning to draw blood and take urine samples. The other is a class called Advanced Manual Therapies, which has proven to be a great review of evaluation techniques we learned in our E&M classes, and allows us to put it all together. For example, last week we learned the "upper extremity evaluation dance," which will help us to determine where a patient's source of pain or malfunction resides if they present with a problem in their arm or shoulder. We also learn how to use alternative techniques like pelvic blocking and activator to treat stubborn or sensitive patients.

Crazy lookin', right? Lisa and Jack practice naso-sympatico.

My very favorite course this trimester is Hydrotherapy. If you've been reading my blog the past few weeks, you'll know that I adore this class. Last week, we practiced constitutional hydrotherapy, a vis-stimulating treatment that involves alternating hot and cold towels and applying electrical stim. Two weeks ago we experimented with Neti pots, as well as steam baths and naso-sympatico treatment for sinusitis.

Neti Pot time! Pouring water into my nose.

Lastly, I get to spend four hours a week in the clinic, which you have also read about already if you've been following my posts. Observing allows us to focus on understanding how the clinic operates and to practice writing SOAP notes without the stress of actually having to treat patients or think really hard about the cases. I am so thankful that I get to watch and think and learn from my peers; many of the interns I shadow offer useful tips, teach me the finer points of writing a SOAP note, listen to my suggestions, and answer my questions about their patients.

Oh! How could I forget to mention my massage courses! I love the physically exhausting challenge of giving massage in my Fundamentals of Massage class every Tuesday night, and my class on Ethics and Practice Management is helping me to visualize how I will apply this skill in my practice of the future. Despite how satisfied I am with this trimester, I admit that I am already looking ahead to what comes next! I can't believe I am already halfway through medical school; time if flying. On that note, I better get to work preparing for my Phys Dx practical! Wish me luck!

Feel Human Again

An ND student friend of mine joined me for lunch on a bench outside on Friday and told me about how her friend who had come to visit. They went to a bookstore, they hung out, and to quote her she, "felt human again!" I'll admit, it's kind of the last thing you want to hear as a prospective student (for those of you reading this), but it's also true.

Med school has this paradoxical way of making you feel on the one hand like the most human human around, with everything that could possibly go wrong with a body probably having gone wrong with yours, and on the other hand, it makes you feel like a strange creature when it comes to "real life." As a student of medicine you will spend a lot of time in your own head, and a lot of time in the company of other med students talking about the trials and tribulations of learning medicine. I presume there's nothing quite like it.

I went out on Friday night to meet my boyfriend Hanzi downtown after his class and we went for a drink with his classmates. I was that girl who didn't order a drink at the second bar and then cut out early on account of having exams coming up this week. That's no lie by the way, week 5 has arrived, along with the first exams of the tri! So, my friend's lunchtime comment and my own experience of having my social life ruled by my books made me think.

When we interact with people outside of medical school, we get a valuable perspective on what we've actually been up to. Whether it's your parents, your best friend, your significant other, or your neighbors, having those conversations that don't require you to probe the depths for that piece of medical knowledge are wholly healing in themselves! We take our minds elsewhere. Also, these humans from outside the medical school world will often offer words of encouragement or awe or appreciation for what we're doing, even if they don't say so outright.

Indiana vs. Northwestern field hockey game -- set up for a penalty corner

Over the weekend, I got to revel in the world outside of medical school. I went to see one of my very best childhood friends doing one of the things she does best -- coaching the Big 10 Hoosier field hockey team in their game against Northwestern here in Chicago. The experience took me out of my current world; it took me back. For a few years in college, I played Division 3 field hockey. My last year on the team, I spent most games perched at the top of the stands filming so we could study our game play later on. I eventually quit the sport due to injuries that kept me off the field and just wouldn't heal. This past Sunday at Northwestern, I climbed to my place at the top of the stands so that I could see the whole field. I was totally engrossed in the game, and loved getting a taste of the conviviality and competition of college sports. This was an environment that, at one point, played a very important role in my life.

Coach Kate and me -- a gorgeous day on Lake Michigan

Watching the game was a blast (it made me use my brain in a totally different way than learning medicine does), but catching up with Kate, sitting on the lakeshore while she waited for her team to shower, was the highlight. We talked about our families. We reminisced. We don't see much of each other these days, but when we do it's like no time has passed.

This experience drove home the message to remember what makes me who I am, that I should not forget to peek back at the path I took to get here. The conversations we have with our non-med student people are capable of reminding us of all the other things we do besides study medicine. And actually, it helps me to recognize how many of my life experiences have pinballed me toward medical school and my specific areas of interest.

For example, why am I so intrigued by physical medicine? This is no doubt, because of my experience essentially studying the way my own body moves and how it endures training and sport. Playing college field hockey definitely forced me to do this, and my excursion to watch Kate's game this weekend reminded me of that.

Shadowing ND intern Alaina in clinic

And now, I get to connect my ruminations with the highlights of my week! I got to observe a physical medicine patient with back pain in the clinic, and it was TOTALLY AWESOME. To clarify, it wasn't the patient's pain I found so awesome, but the fact that I got to watch naturopathic medicine in action, working on issues with ties to my days as a college athlete, with ties to the path that brought me here.

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.


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.


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.


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."

How to Look Fabulous as a Clinic Patient and Other Related Thoughts

Remember that sprained ankle I mentioned in my last post? I finally went to the clinic for treatment and was reminded of how lucky we are as students to have free care available to us! I received some cold laser as part of treatment for my swollen ankle and left with a BCQ (Boswelia, Bromelain, Curcumin, Quercetin) supplement to decrease inflammation (half price for students!).

Cold laser therapy

If you're not an established patient of a student intern, I highly suggest you spend the time for the initial intake and reap the benefits! If you're stressed and over-worked, there are hydrotherapy treatments waiting for you! If your neck and shoulders are in knots from sitting and studying all day, there are soft tissue treatments and gentle adjustments in your future. If your skin is misbehaving or you haven't pooped in three days (or the opposite... I mean let's be honest, stress wreaks all kinds of havoc on our systems)... there is realistic dietary advice and vis-stimulating/supporting treatments (like acupuncture or more hydrotherapy) waiting for you at the clinic. 

These are just the everyday med student woes that can be attended to by our fellow student interns and future colleagues. Don't forget they can also help address the bigger things. Perhaps you arrived at NUHS to study naturopathic medicine (or chiropractic or acupuncture or massage) because you or another family member is wiser for experiencing a challenging health condition. Even the conditions that require pharmaceuticals and other higher force interventions can benefit from the complementary, supportive care offered at the clinic. 

Do you have family, friends or acquaintances that could benefit from the services offered at the clinic? Refer them, please! In fact, just last night our server asked for our advice to help with his broken ribs. Since we're not licensed doctors and cannot give medical advice, we referred him to our clinic. We also brainstormed some homeopathic remedies anyone can find at their local health food store that are indicated for stabbing pain and broken bones.

An appointment at the clinic might take up your time, but I encourage everyone to support our peers and future colleagues. If you're not an intern yet, you will be soon and we'll all be thankful for more patients to learn from as we hone our skills and prepare for life after graduation.

So, what are the highlights from my week other than remembering the beauty of free care and the fact that those cold laser protective glasses really tied my outfit together? I practiced back massage in my Tuesday night class, purchased some materials for my massage table (fleece covers, a bolster, etc.), observed a few intriguing patients in clinic, and continually wished my DC peers good luck on their board exam (Congrats guys! You did it!) I also fell deeply in love with hydrotherapy and totally forgive the scheduling goddess for giving me class from 3-5 on Friday afternoons. We practiced dry sheet wraps and salt scrubs; techniques that elicited a feeling of true healing that I can see using often in practice and assigning as homework for my patients.

Painting with friends

Lastly, my best girlfriends and I celebrated our girl Mia, a new bride who got married in India over this past break! We indulged in a night out that included wine and painting and inappropriate jokes and howling laughter. I am so thankful for these friends! They make me laugh, they make me think, and they inspire me to embrace my creative side in the midst of the brain workout we all endure on a regular basis.