Upon entering the healthcare profession, I knew I wanted a position where I could give patients the time and empathy required for healing. I wanted to implement treatments which recognized the mind-body connection and addressed the root cause of disease.
I now work in concert with medical doctors at the Center for Integral Health in Lombard, IL, where we do just that. By using modalities such as homeopathy, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling, we are able to achieve deeper, long-lasting health. Receiving my degree in Naturopathic Medicine from National University of Health Sciences, has made this rewarding work possible. It has also made a profound difference in the way I view my health, as well as the care I expect for my family and the greater community.
Here are seven important ways that choosing to become a naturopathic physician has impacted my life.
1. Naturopathic medicine changed my definition of what it means to be a doctor.
In the Naturopathic Medicine program at National University of Health Sciences, we are taught that a doctor’s role is first and foremost to be a teacher. Naturopathic doctors empower patients by teaching them how to create the conditions for health. In this model, the patient and doctor are co-collaborators addressing disease from the inside out.
After receiving my degree in naturopathic medicine, I have the knowledge to create my own tinctures, prescribe homeopathic remedies, and apply specific nutrients when necessary, but I also understand the profound benefits I get through the simple implementation of the determinants of health. For me, that means getting a full night’s sleep, practicing yoga, cooking organic, whole foods right at home, and staying hydrated. This is my first defense, and it’s encouraging to teach patients the immediate effects they can achieve by doing this work as well.
2. Naturopathic medicine opened my eyes to the possibilities in health care.
Creating the conditions for health can also mean applying natural substances when necessary. Having the knowledge to use these modalities to affect acute and chronic disease is very empowering. NUHS provides evidence-based research on the efficacy of botanicals, nutritional supplements, physical medicine, etc., but there is nothing that compares to seeing and experiencing the effects of these treatments on a daily basis.
The best example I can provide, is the work I did with Dr. Joel Shepperd, using homeopathic remedies to care for my grandmother. My grandmother gets credit for inspiring me to enter the healthcare field. She was in and out of the hospital, simultaneously managing congestive heart failure and chronic urinary tract infections (UTI’s). She underwent surgery to receive a pacemaker, which most likely added years to her life, and she received antibiotics for her UTI’s until she stopped responding to them. When there was nothing else we could do within a traditional medical model, and the edema in her legs and lungs could not be controlled with diuretics, naturopathic medicine still had options to offer her.
My grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, but when she did, she had no UTI’s and no edema, primarily through the use of homeopathic remedies. Thanks to her, I have the motivation to bring this type of care to others. This type of medicine is so much more than wellness. These modalities affect physiology at its most basic level.
3. Naturopathic medicine makes whole person care possible for the whole population.
Naturopathic medicine does not have to be the last resort. It can also be used as a preventative strategy. As naturopathic doctors (NDs), we are trained to implement the least invasive, most natural treatments first, whenever possible. This type of approach can often lead to less prescription medicine and less invasive treatments overall, driving health costs down for everyone.
These cost-effective treatments make health possible for low-income families and those living in economically challenged areas. In fact, Natural Doctors International, and Naturopaths Without Borders are two non-profit organizations already bringing these treatments to the global community. At NUHS, groups of students regularly volunteer for these organizations.
The most profound experience I received, however, was working as an intern at the Salvation Army in Chicago. Naturopathic interns do a rotation in this integrative clinic, working alongside the chiropractic interns to deliver nutritional and physical medicine. All of the supplements and homeopathic remedies used in this clinic have been donated, and to see the impact these modalities can make, in addition to the hands-on care provided, was inspiring to say the least.
4. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes the need for both analysis and empathy in medicine.
Training to become a naturopathic doctor, specifically at National University of Health Sciences, is rigorous. Being able to diagnose patients involves various laboratory tests and a thorough understanding of the human body and its functions as well as chemistry. At National University, NDs take two years of medical science courses such as neurology, pathology, and anatomy, followed by two additional years of clinical courses. ND’s must have immense passion and dedication in order to take the time necessary to analyze many different variables in a patient’s health and diagnose the root cause of their illness.
Expert faculty also teach students to consider a patient’s overall health based on his or her unique history and profile. We are taught to see patients in their entirety, addressing both mind and body. This is particularly important to do when so much of chronic disease is associated with trauma. The ACE’s study is a primary example of this. The CDC-Kaiser study has found that adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect, greatly increase the likelihood of chronic disease later in life. Treatments which ignore this relationship are only treating part of the problem.
It is challenging, but very rewarding, to provide this level of individualized care. This attention to the person as a whole, not just the disease, is what makes naturopathic physicians so successful.
5. Naturopathic medicine changed how I view the world around me.
Naturopathic medicine is dedicated to following the laws of nature and using the tools provided within nature whenever possible. These tools can be as simple as applying hydrotherapy to stimulate the immune system, or as complex as identifying botanicals and their specific uses.
Today, I am able to make my own tinctures for personal use after learning this art in an extracurricular class at NUHS. I’m also a member at the Morton Arboretum near campus where I can identify herbs growing in their natural habitat. (I even took a botanical illustration class there!) Discovering the wealth of medicinal plants surrounding us, and having the ability to share this with others, has been very rewarding.
Recognizing the complex nuances in disease has also been very eye-opening. When using homeopathy, these nuances are vital to proper treatment. For instance, a right-sided sore throat that’s better with hot drinks will be given a different homeopathic remedy than a sore throat that feels like a lump and is better swallowing. I’ve learned how the same disease from the same pathogen can take many forms depending on the patient’s expression of it. Implementing tools that target these individual expressions of disease has made me a successful naturopath.
6. Being an ND teaches collaboration and integration with other health care practitioners.
My fiancé is a chiropractor, one of my closest friends is an osteopathic doctor, and my mom is a psychotherapist – not to mention I work every day with MDs in a clinic which primarily practices homeopathy. I’d say I’m an integrative medicine fan. The healthcare profession needs this diversity!
According to the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (AIHM), over 40 percent of hospitals offer at least some integrative services to inpatients and integrative services are now becoming common in institutional and clinic settings. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, it’s crucial to learn how to work with physicians in various healthcare fields.
As an intern, this was an integral part of my clinical experience at the on-campus Whole Health Center. I worked with, and learned collaboratively with, chiropractic physicians, oriental medicine and acupuncture practitioners, and massage therapists. This collaboration inspired me to learn ayurvedic medicine and cranio-sacral therapy (CST), systems which employ similarly natural and non-invasive methods of health care.
In addition to helping me prepare for my future career in an integrative clinic, my experience at NUHS broadened my understanding of medicine and taught me how other treatment modalities and philosophies can improve the health of the patients I work with.
7. Pursuing a naturopathic medicine degree inspires passion and dedication.
While careers in alternative and complementary medicine are certainly growing, naturopathic medicine students have to be determined and very proactive to succeed, particularly in pre-licensed states, like Illinois.
To open up opportunities for my career I pursued topics I’m passionate about, such as homeopathy. I was also a member of multiple professional organizations such as Illinois Homeopathic Medical Association (IHMA), Illinois Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ILANP), and the Association of Ayurvedic Practitioners of Northern America.
By networking, and shadowing practitioners I respected, I was able to find a position in an integrative clinic immediately after I graduated in 2016. Although Illinois does not yet license naturopathic physicians, the number of clinics like my workplace, are becoming more common. At The Center for Integral Health, I have the opportunity to assist with patient intakes, and under the direction of the medical doctors, offer less invasive treatments. Patients enjoy having a team of healthcare professionals working on their behalf. Watching the difference this integrative approach makes in their lives is very rewarding.
As more Americans realize the importance of preventative and natural medicine, the need for practitioners will grow. Efforts are underway to ensure Illinois will join the 19 other states that license naturopathic physicians. As this occurs, I expect the demand for naturopathic care to become even more prevalent.