"You're what kind of doctor?"
I was inspired by Dr. Burklund’s recent article, What Everybody Needs to Know about Naturopathic Doctors. It still surprises me, especially in a city like Vancouver, that some people really don’t know who we are and what we do. I can only imagine what friends, family and future patients back home in Edmonton must think where Naturopathic Medicine is less prevalent. While existing articles compare our education to Medical doctors and other practitioners, I would rather give insight as to what my education means for my future as a doctor and how this profession can and will revolutionize healthcare.
To be honest, I wasn’t always thrilled with the idea of Naturopathic medicine. Being a doctor was the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life, and the prospect of “conventional medicine” took a downward turn through preparing for the application process. So while incredibly lost, I had my first encounter with Naturopathic medicine at a Health Sciences Career fair my mom and I attended. I explored the booths and saw representation for the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). I scoffed, thinking it was just “hippie medicine” and was less than thrilled with the idea. But, for whatever reason I grabbed a brochure and informational CD, probably in the take-a-pen-if-you-have-one attitude most have at any fair.
That evening I checked out my loot and popped in the CD.
Something inside me stirred.
I actually had a moment of, “this really exists?!” All of my ideals I had wanted to achieve as a physician for as long as I could remember, everything I wanted to practice was already being done. The kind of doctor I had always imagined myself as was actually a Naturopathic doctor, I just didn’t know it yet.
What do all those education hour breakdowns mean?
We are experts in the human body, receiving more total hours than any other healthcare profession in physiology and anatomy. Through this expertise in how the body optimally functions, we can truly understand and identify disease. Naturopathic physicians are not interested in covering up symptoms, as we interpret them as warning signs for a deeper underlying issue. We address the root of the pathology and work with the healing capacity of the body to restore health.
While understanding that everything is connected, we work on a holistic level (body, mind and spirit) to optimize health. By treating the whole person, we can create sustainable lasting change that works with your life.
So what is a Naturopathic doctor, really?
First off, Naturopathic doctors are primary healthcare physicians. Yes, you read that correctly.
You can see a naturopathic physician for (almost) all your healthcare needs. You won’t see us in an operating room or the ER any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we cannot offer complementary treatments for these acute or life-threatening events. For example, we have remedies for managing shock and trauma, and speeding up post-operative recovery.
Our scope and clinical training spans each specialty from gynaecology to oncology. Additionally, Naturopathic physicians (in B.C., at least) have prescription rights. While many argue that this is not “practicing what we preach”, as primary healthcare physicians we are accountable for our patients’ health status, including their prescriptions and maintaining their current medication(s). Prescription rights are also necessary to have the authority to take a patient off medications, or change their dosage as more natural therapies and lifestyle changes negate the need for pharmaceutical intervention.
Art by CAMILA CARLOW
Generally, what can you expect from a visit with a Naturopathic physician?
Gone are the days of the “one complaint only” via your regular physician. We want to know everything, and I mean everything. Yes, especially your bowel movements (that seems to be a favourite topic of ours!).
Your intake (initial visit) will be a thorough health history, exploring every facet of your health concerns gaining valuable diagnostic information, and understanding the whole person we’re about to treat. This typically includes a hands-on physical exam.
After your initial visit you may have some homework- a diet diary, some lab work, anything that will give us a broader insight about you. All of you.
From this point we can create a unique, individualized treatment plan that works with your life. We blend modern scientific knowledge with traditional modalities, making our medicine not just a science, but an art. Having you set your own goals we can cater our treatment plan to fit YOUR needs. Our treatment is not our own agenda, but should be a mutual collaboration. Our approach should inspire and empower you to take control of your own health with you being a participant and not simply an observer.
Your treatment can include any of the following:
- Nutritional intervention (incorporating or eliminating certain foods, nutritional supplements)
- Acupuncture protocols (unique to your TCM picture)
- Botanical medicine (capsules, tinctures, teas)
- Physical medicine (Naturopathic manipulation, soft tissue mobilization, stretching and strengthening exercises)
- Naturopathic counseling
- Many other modalities including specializations such as I.V. therapy, prolotherapy, and Craniosacral therapy
With all of this being said, you should find a Naturopathic physician you trust and feel connected to. Optimal healing cannot happen if you don’t feel comfortable confiding in your doctor.
Are Naturopathic doctors opposed to conventional medicine?
Not at all. We understand that conventional medicine and treatments have huge value and should be utilized when necessary. What both MDs and NDs must realize is that it doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other model in healthcare. We are all experts and should be working collaboratively. Ultimately, doctors must consider the best possible treatment for their patients. Doctors (conventional or naturopathic) must move their ego aside and accept the limitations of their knowledge or medicine and put the patients’ health first.
What about being a Naturopathic physician resonates with me?
The fact that Naturopathic medicine is both a science and an art addresses the entirety of my being. Naturopathic medicine is not what I do, but who I am. Continually, I am inspired by what I am learning, and the more I learn, the more whole I feel.
The above principles of treating the cause, the whole person, and using the healing power of nature are crucial, and below I discuss a couple more guiding principles.
Docere: Doctor as teacher
Maybe it’s growing up in a family of teachers, or the way I was raised, but education is a fibre of my being. I gave peer health presentations in harm reduction, developed health curriculums, teach yoga, and love public speaking. Educating the patient in what is happening in their body is vital. From this foundation of knowledge the patient can then understand how and why treatment is effective and then how they can implement it in their daily life.
As a lifelong teacher, in turn I am a lifelong student.
Principiis obsta: Prevention
When people talk about the “expense” of Naturopathic medicine, I use an analogy I created to put things into perspective. Imagine your health as property, you have the choice to either rent or own. Conventional medicine is much like renting- you are addressing your current needs with this fix, without much thought for the future. Naturopathic medicine is a lot like owning- it may seem like a big expense initially, but you are investing in your health and save on future medical expenses (not just financially) by preventing illness before it happens.
With that being said, Naturopathic treatment doesn’t have to be costly. It’s about making your health a priority and understanding that it will enrich every other facet of your life. Again, reiterating that treatment should be sustainable improvements that work with your life, rather than changing it.
In the future, when I tell people I’m a Naturopathic doctor I hope the question, “you’re a natur-what?” isn’t the first thing out of their mouth. Rather, I hope that people become so familiar and excited about what we do that their first question is, “when can I make an appointment?”