What I wish I’d known when I started naturopathic school

I knew when I started at Bastyr this was going to be hard, but I didn’t know I’d be so tired at this point!  I’m in my fourth year out of five, and looking back the most important thing I wish I’d done when I started was listen to older students about how to manage time and stress in the beginning.  Thinking back to first year, I don’t think I was really prepared to manage the absolutely gigantic quantity of information I had to study.  I felt completely overwhelmed at the same time as super excited to be doing it.  If I could go back to first year, here’s what I wish I had known or done:

  • First and foremost absolutely, I wish I had known how intelligent I am.  I went into this not really believing I could do it.  That made everything significantly harder than it needed to be. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t think I was smart.  At this point, I think I’m doing really well.
  • I wish I had known my learning style.  I always struggled with the standard ways of learning by studying and taking tests.  I had to figure out how to learn best, and if I had known earlier everything could have been easier.  I’m extremely kinesthetic and visual, and I couldn’t understand how some people could sit in class and absorb new information by listening, especially in an auditorium.  I felt like something was wrong with me, but now I realize I just don’t work that way and that’s fine, I just have to spend time doing things differently.  Here’s the VARK quiz to assess your learning style.
  • I moved cross country alone (which besides school or whatever you’re doing, I highly recommend to anyone anytime) and I immediately felt like my whole life was school because I was so overwhelmed.  I wish I’d started earlier in getting out to explore Seattle and the PNW.  I’ve done that a lot now, but I wish I’d balanced life and school better then. I’m doing well with that now.
  • I wish I had planned my days better, including exercising and eating.  I was so stressed out and overwhelmed I wasn’t eating enough at all.  I heard it from older students as a first year and it sounded so simple and silly, but really.  I didn’t even realize I wasn’t making eating a priority at the time.
  • There are SO many cool electives to take at Bastyr!  But I wish I hadn’t taken so many.  We are required to take 8 credits of electives, and I’ve taken 13 beyond that for credit and a few more for audit, besides classes outside Bastyr.  I totally overdid it, and many of them were on weekends.  I’m too tired to take any more!  Weekends are important to recover :)

It’s been crazy so far, but I’m still SO happy I’ve done this, but also really happy to be done and start practicing in fall 2017!


Why would a naturopath want to prescribe more drugs?

In a few states, there has been legislation on broadening the prescribing privileges of naturopathic doctors.  There are obviously a lot of questions about why this would be the case that I would not have known before being well into my education at Bastyr.

Naturopaths are really good at treating chronic pain.  If a patient comes to see a naturopath for pain and is already taking a heavy duty pain killer, the ND cannot lower the dose or tell the patient to stop taking the drug when the patient gets better if it is not within their prescription rights.  This would cause more medical expenses because then the patient would have to go back to the original prescriber in order to alter their prescription.  If they can have their medication and pain lowered all in one place, it saves time, money and confusion.

Another reason a naturopath would want to write a prescription is a patient’s finances.  There are a lot of natural treatments for something like high blood pressure, but these are rarely covered by insurance.  Treating the whole person involves finances too.  If a patient would be financially strained from regularly paying for an herbal supplement, then it is better for them to get a prescription that their insurance would pay for.  Then, a naturopathic doctor would hopefully continue to work with the patient to find the root cause of the hypertension so they would not need medication at all.

Naturopathic doctors from accredited institutions have adequate pharmacology training comparable to their MD primary care counterparts.

Is naturopathic medical school hard? part two

I haven’t blogged in quite some time, mostly because I’ve been completely exhausted.  My first, “Is naturopathic medical school hard” post gets SO many google search hits, and it has not gotten any easier since that post over a year ago!  So I decided to revisit that topic right before starting year 3 next week.

This past spring quarter, I had 23 credit hours in a 10 week term.  I also had a number of extracurricular weekend classes and went home to Massachusetts for a wedding right after mid terms.  When finals were over, I slept 12 hours a night for a week, as well as naps.  I was never a napper until I went to school at Bastyr.  I had two weeks off (during which I moved to a new apartment) and then I had to start studying for my first naturopathic board exam (more info on that here).  Just the other day, I got my results and I passed!!!  When the exam was over, I returned to sleeping 12 hours a night and taking naps.  It’s been six weeks since then, and I’m mostly recovered and ready for year 3 to start!

Naturopathic medical school is an exceptional amount of hard work, but I am still SO happy this is my chosen career and I wouldn’t ever want to be doing anything else.  I am so excited about it every single day.

Planning to get back to regular blogging now :)

Six years ago today…

Six years ago today, I crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  At the time, that was the biggest thing I had accomplished that I actually wanted to do.  People ask me why I did it, and the totally honest answer is I was extremely bored.  I felt like my undergraduate education was a waste of time (I did not yet know about naturopathic medicine, I didn’t have an end goal). There was a group at my college that trained with one of our professors, and like everything I have ever really wanted, I decided I would do it and that was that, no question.  I had never even run a 5K race.  The four months of training was a really enjoyable challenge, pushing myself to new limits was really satisfying.  Except I said I’d never do it again, but a year and a half later I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC, which I trained for largely by myself.  This all sounds pretty crazy looking back on it!

I really should be studying neuroscience right now, but this has been such a huge day of reflection for me I just wanted to write about it.  I feel like finishing my first marathon was an event that jumpstarted my drive to go after what I really want.  I think it was the best thing I could have done for myself at the time, and I was only 20 years old!  When I told my brother I was going to do do it, he laughed at me.  I wasn’t bothered by this, I was confused.  I wondered why he doubted me, because I knew I’d do it.  I didn’t have any doubt, and I enjoyed the training.

I correlate this all with starting school at Bastyr.  I have always known with absolute certainty since I found out about naturopathic medicine that this is absolutely what I wanted to do; I have never doubted that I wanted it for an instant.  I had a really rough time adjusting to the program because I was fighting against my own beliefs that I could do it even though I was sure I wanted it.  I was going to be a social worker!  What am I doing here?  I want this, but can I do a mental medical school marathon the same way I can do a physical marathon?  Pushing past my own self imposed limits has been so hugely satisfying.  Six years ago feels like an eternity because I have grown so much.  At the end of my first year at Bastyr I felt drastically different than when I started, and now I’m nearing the end of my second year and I feel drastically different all over again.  I am truly enjoying my time at school here, pushing myself really hard and the more I learn to stop resisting the process, the more and more I enjoy it.  I am happier than I have ever been and I wouldn’t trade all the painful growth of first year for anything now.

When I compared myself to some of my classmates who did not struggle so much through first year, I realized they were not doubting their ability to succeed.  I would sit down to take a test and panic.  I learned the hard way that no matter how well you know the material, if you’re in a panicked state, it’s impossible to even read the question correctly.  I started changing all my negative self talk into positive affirmations, and things turned around immensely.  Now, at the end of second year, I not only have absolute certainty that I want this, I have absolute certainty that I can do really well with it while in school and beyond.

Treating The Cause

This week at school, we had a guest lecture from Dr. Joe Pizzorno, the founding president of Bastyr.  He gave a really inspiring talk that really drove home the naturopathic principle of treating the root cause of disease.  This is the reason he helped establish Bastyr, to train naturopathic doctors to dig deeper than symptoms to find out the real reason people are sick.

He shared a story about a patient he saw who had migraine headaches. There are a number of options to treat migraines, including a pharmaceutical drug that works 75% of the time, but as you continue to use it it increases the incidence of migraines.  There are also a number of herbs that can help, but they are also only treating the symptoms and not eliminating the problem.  There are lots and lots of reasons why people can get migraines, and he spent a long time with this patient to find out why he had them.

First, the patient stopped getting migraines by taking huge doses of magnesium, but doses that high cause profuse diarrhea.  This left the patient with a choice of two symptoms that are very undesirable.  This is where Dr. Pizzorno emphasized how important it is for us to remember our biochemistry.  Vitamin B6 works with magnesium in our bodies.  After a lot of research, Dr. Pizzorno figured out that this patient was not able to metabolize vitamin B6 the way it is supposed to work.  When the patient took B6 in its usable form along with a moderate dose of magnesium, he stopped getting migraines and did not have diarrhea!  He didn’t need any drugs or long term herbs, and the root cause of his migraines was solved.

There are lots of other individualized reasons why someone could be having migraines, which is why it is important for naturopathic doctors to individualize all treatments to find what works for each patient.  Dr. Pizzorno’s talk revitalized my excitement to be here so I can help people in this way.

Warming Socks

Last week, I was feeling like I was right on the edge of coming down with a bad cold.  My lymph nodes in my neck were sore and I was feeling unusually tired and unwell.  I was kind of excited because I knew this was a good opportunity to test out an easy home remedy of warming socks for myself.  This is a really common, simple treatment that every naturopathic doctor knows and I have known tons of classmates who have tried it and had great results.

Right before bed, I took a hot shower and made sure I was warm.  Then I put some cotton socks in the coldest tap water I could get, got into bed and put on the cold wet socks with another pair of dry socks over them.  I went to sleep and woke up in the morning feeling much better and the socks were completely dry.  This was a week ago, and the bad cold I felt coming on never happened!  They are called warming socks because they increase your blood flow and warm you up.

Some hints to try this yourself:

  • you may be tempted to put plastic bags over your feet.  The water needs to evaporate and dry out so plastic bags will make this ineffective, and possibly worse.
  • you may hear of this similarly with frozen wet socks.  You can put them in the freezer for a few minutes to make them extra cold, but they should not be frozen.
  • Use natural cotton socks, not synthetic.  You can also use dry wool socks over the wet cotton.
  • You need to be warm for this to work.  You can take a hot shower or warm up in bed before putting on the wet socks.


What is homeopathy?

This quarter, I started the first of five academic terms required at Bastyr in homeopathy.  I’ve had many people ask me when I tell them I’m going to be a naturopathic doctor, “is that homeopathy?”  Not necessarily.  I really like homeopathy, but it can be really hard to understand and it just doesn’t make sense to some people.  Many NDs don’t use any homeopathy at all if they aren’t good at it and they have a colleague to refer to if they feel like one of their patients could benefit from it.  I really see myself using a lot of it, which would make me a (future) naturopathic doctor who specializes in homeopathy.  There is currently no specifically homeopathic medical training in the US.

Homeopathy is often used as a blanket term for natural medicine.  It is actually a very distinct system of its own, and it’s only about 200 years old.  It is entirely different from herbal medicine, acupuncture, and all other modalities of natural healing.

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was the German doctor who came up  with homeopathy as it is used today.  He was studying the herb cinchona officinalis as a treatment for malaria when he decided to take the herb himself to see what happened.  After several doses, he began to have all of the symptoms of malaria.  He then came up with the law of similars: what will cause symptoms in a healthy person will cure the same symptoms from someone who is sick.  The word homeopathy actually means “same suffering,” which is an idea that Hippocrates had also experimented with.

When using a homeopathic remedy, it is always given as the smallest possible dose.  Remedies are diluted down into tiny amounts often given in pellets, as shown next to the chamomile flower currently at the top of my blog, or in a liquid form. Many remedies are toxic at high doses, but when diluted down to minuscule amounts, they can have really amazing benefits.  Prescribing a single dose remedy can be a very lengthy process best done by someone with homeopathic training. Homeopathy can be so complex it is hard to sum it up in one blog post!

If you’d like to read more about it on your own, Margaret Roy’s book, The Principles of Homeopathic Philosophy: A Self Directed Learning Text is a great place to start.

Have I mentioned that I love Bastyr?

It’s the week before finals, but I’ve had such a good week I want to share a few highlights!

Pre-clinical students at Bastyr are required to observe clinic shifts at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health.  This week I sat in on a counseling shift.  As it is a teaching clinic, the counseling session is observed from another room so the supervisor can give feedback to the student counselor.  At one point the supervisor, a psychologist, shared with us how excited he was to be part of our training as primary care physicians and how unique, special, and important it is that we have counseling specific training and shifts as part of our education.  I have loved studying counseling and I feel like I absolutely see people differently because of it, and this program overall has helped train me to see people and life through a new lens.  I really liked hearing my instructor telling us that he is as happy to be part of our journey as I am to be in it.

It was really cold in one of my classrooms this week, so during a break one of my classmates suggested we go outside and walk barefoot in the grass.  I didn’t hesitate at all!  We took off our shoes and went out on the frosty white ground for a few minutes.  When I got back to class I was warm all over.  It works really well!  And everyone who saw us knew exactly what we were doing.

My favorite thing about this week was my immunology instructor telling me that the physiological response for nervousness and excitedness is the same.  So, when you feel nervous, tell yourself you’re not nervous, you’re excited!

Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed with how much I love being here even though this is a stressful week.  Every struggle of this intense program is totally worth it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!