Archive for tag: faculty

A Supportive Community - Wherever That May Be

I went to the Billings premiere of the film "Makoshika," which is about the boom and bust cycles of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota. The current cycle of this involves the Bakken oil field. The crew filmed from 2014 til 2016, which means they captured the full scope -- the boom, and the bust. The price of oil recently dropped below $50 a barrel.

Flyer for the film "Makoshika"

There was a big turnout of locals to support these young filmmakers, probably all about my age. There was humor and there were images that made me grimace. The scenes of change from quiet country road to lines of trucks in traffic contrasted sharply to the scenes of fifth generation farmers driving ancient Fords along empty roads to their pastures. There was the shot of light from the oil well flickering through the drawn blinds on the front windows of a farmer's home that was hard and sad to see.

At the end of the film when the credits rolled to a standing ovation, I saw a long list of local Billings family names as donors to the group's effort. The filmmakers expressed, over and over again, their gratitude to this community that got their project off its feet and into film festivals at Big Sky and in Europe. There was some serious pride in the air at the Babcock Theater, and it came from that whole Billings community. The whole group of them really is what made that film.

A weekend hike with resident Drs. Schenewerk & Phillips-Dorsett

At a live blues show on the weekend, I watched and danced as a group of spectacular local musicians played in support of a local non-corporate paper called The Last Best News, and rallied around one of the guitar players, a man who is dying of cancer. The Billings community came out in force that night, bidding on a silent auction and packing the brewery with boogying bodies. You should know that it's the doctors at YNC who took me out to these events and who danced until they closed down the dance floor. They're the docs who remarked to me the amazing community they live in. Some of the younger, newer docs will avoid their patients in public environments, but these older and wiser ones just get right in the middle of things and embrace their community full on. I know that confidence and the ability to meld the doctor-patient relationship into everyday life takes practice and time. So, I'm watching and making mental notes.

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10th tri almost-docs! (Minus Kaila, fingers crossed for a good interview!)

There's the Billings community, and then there's the naturopathic community. My 10th tri buddies all had their send-off dinner with Dr. Lou -- a tradition that all 10th tris partake of during Dr. Lou's last week in Lombard during their last ever trimester. True to their word, they Facetimed me and I got to wave hello to everyone around the table! Oh! It made me miss their good company. They happened to call before I had left the clinic for the day so I ran over to Dr. Beeson's office and let her and Dr. Lou say hello --theirs is an example of those amazing friendships formed between remarkable NDs. That night, Dr. Beeson had me up for dinner, stating that all my buddies were having their celebratory dinner and I should have mine, too! We ate tuna caught by one of her patients, and plenty of delicious vegetables. These communities are the kind that I really want in my life. When people ask me what my plans are, or where I'd like to be next, I think the most accurate response is to tell them I want to be in a supportive community, wherever that may be.

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!

Storytelling, Salamanders, and Sol

A few weeks ago, before she left us (sad face) for her new position as an Assistant Dean in the Naturopathic Program at the University of Bridgeport, Dr. Stephanie Draus organized for a woman who calls herself Comic Nurse to come speak to us during a Tuesday lunch hour. Comic Nurse told us about how she uses comics with her patients and with the medical students she teaches at Northwestern to help tell the story of the healthcare experience. Whether it is getting patients to express their frustration with their doctors, or helping doctors-to-be address their anxieties about their future, comics have proven to be a remarkably effective form of expression.

Photo of hand drawn comic

Many of us think of comics as funny things that make us laugh, and with good reason, the adjective means, "to cause laughter." But we are talking about the noun here, and the noun is a form of storytelling that involves words and pictures and lets the storyteller use imagery to express those things that are sometimes too hard to express with words alone.

You can probably tell that I like using words to process my struggles and tell my stories. Some weeks though, those words just don't flow like I'd expect them to. I have the modern day equivalent of a trash can overflowing with crumpled up papers; too many untitled WORD docs in my "student blog" folder laden with half-sentences and stories that never came to fruition. Now I know an alternative outlet to get my creativity flowing!

No matter which medium you use, storytelling is a powerful tool for learning, for self-discovery, for communication, and for teaching. In PT Modalities class a few weeks back, Dr. Hill told us a story about chopping the legs off a salamander and then re-growing them with the application of therapeutic Microcurrent. So of course I remember that Microcurrent is indicated for tissue healing and repair! The rescue of quadriplegic salamanders is a pretty great memory tool.

Photo of hand drawn comic and McKenzie
My study comics, Piper and Sun King

I also tell stories to remember my botanicals. For a recent quiz, I had to remember Solidago virgaurea; common name Golden Rod, used for urinary tract infections and colds with a runny nose, and sometimes mistaken for ragweed in allergies. I associate the word Sol with Sun. So, there's this BIG sun god with a golden scepter and he's a super powerful diuretic/aquaretic! (This god always has to pee.) If you look at him directly, you'll start sneezing like crazy and you'll need him to cure your snuffles. You could think you're allergic to him, but you're probably wrong, this sun king doesn't wear rags.

Another favorite Bot Med study story is of Piper methysticum (common name, Kava.) Piper is an aging socialite in NYC who drinks too much wine while she lounges around, sedated on her couch all day, popping muscle relaxants and pining for the elusive man GSH who she loves but who does not love her back. Piper is also sad because she has a urinary tract infection and is very worried about her skin. As you can see, there is a lot going on here with Piper, so I'll spare you the medical translation.

Photo of comic on desk in LRC
Reading some medical comics in the LRC

Storytelling is one of the very best ways to remember and to process emotions, two things we must do often as medical students. If you're more of an artist than a wordsmith, try like Comic Nurse does and draw the story. Or, if you're neither good with a pencil nor crafty with words, screw it, try either one! Because it doesn't matter if the sentences are simple or if the characters are stick figures, what matters is self-expression and creative learning.

Physician-to-Be Heal Thyself

Last week I mentioned the principle of Physician Heal Thyself, a concept we discuss in our first trimester of school in our Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine class. To my fellow students reading this blog, when's the last time you pulled out those notes? Reading Dr. Lou and Dr. Draus' words and the notes I made in the margins reminded me of all the other-than-science things we learn and must continue to learn. As Dr. Draus reminded us, this is neither the first nor the last time we will learn anatomy, physiology, etc., and it's not the first time we learn about the importance of self-care.

I drove past the gym on my way home from school a few days ago and wondered how I had managed to get there to work out every other day while I was studying for boards and attending classes, but how I had somehow lost the time to go after I took that huge test. So, I made it a point to go and aaaahhhhhh it felt soooooo good!

I sat on a stool in the locker room after my workout and sauna feeling like melted gold, and as I stared at my satisfied self in the mirror, I realized, going to the gym needs to be a priority on my weekly agenda.

Post-workout, reminded of the feel-good power of a workout

Physicians do not have a good track record of self-care. As a whole, physicians are statistically more likely to be depressed, sick, commit suicide, become addicted to or abuse substances. We are more likely to have tendencies towards perfection and yet, as Dr. Lou put it, there is no such thing as perfect medicine. As physicians we must walk a fine, exhausting line between using objectivity and engaging our emotions to care for our patients. The profession as a whole has trouble taking time off, and we rarely get a sense of closure or achievement as the process of healing is never complete. And then there are the inevitable financial pressures as we struggle to maintain an expensive business while still finding ways to offer care to all of those in need.

Dr. Lou reminded us in her Tri 1 lecture that we should take a page from our own book when we ask our patients to please take care of themselves so that they can take care of others; we must do the same. It makes me think of my father's wise words that I hold close: "You cannot truly love someone unless you love yourself." Well, as a physician, you cannot truly help someone unless you help yourself. To this end, Dr. Lou reminds us that "Self-care is not an indulgence -- it is a responsibility to the work and to your patients."

Part of self-care involves cultivating interests outside of medicine. We should all remember from our neurology and psychology classes that a healthy brain works on a wide range topics, skills, and problems. By diversifying our activities and interests, we support healthy neuronal growth and limit our risk of diseases of the brain. Robert Heinlein, a bright and controversial science fiction writer, once wrote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Champagne and conversation self-care, toasting boards results and registering for clinic!

Now, I've got a lot to work on based on that list, but I'll allow that building a fort out of sticks and pine boughs might count as designing a building, and conning a ship could include paddling a solo canoe, and so I've achieved some of these things in their smaller forms. The point of sharing this quote is to remind us students and future students of medicine that we should make time, however miniscule an amount, to engage in things other than learning our profession. And yet, we should also remember that right now our job is to be students of medicine and that requires a lot of us. It demands that we spend an extra amount of time with this subject and this set of skills, for the time being. Believe it or not, a time will come when I can get exercise by hiking and skiing rather than biking indoors at the gym. Until then, I'll take the time to care for myself in the ways I can, within the limitations of the task at hand, and I know this will make me better at my job.

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.

(Image via

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.

Mary Calderone was a physician and public health advocate for sexual education
(Image via

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.