As a 3rd year medical student I knew I had met my match when my 11 AM new patient was rolled in the door in a wheel chair looking emaciated and pale. She was constantly hacking up sputum which I later learned was due to her failing lungs and inability to swallow. She could no longer eat or drink by mouth and was being fed by her full time caretaker through her feeding tube, which had been surgically placed from her outer abdomen directly into her stomach…..she was here because conventional medicine had run out of options in treating her.
As naturopathic medical students we are trained similar to allopathic (MD’s and DO’s) med students. We must first graduate with a bachelors degree, then go through 4 years of medical school, and finally take multiple national licensing exams in order to obtain a license to practice medicine. While naturopathic diagnosis is very similar to allopathic doctors (using blood tests, stool tests, EKG’s, and referring to specialists for special diagnostic tests to name a few), treatment is where we often greatly differ. Unfortunately conventional (MD and DO) schools generally focus very little to none on nutrition, exercise, prevention, mental and emotional health, and alternative therapies (which, according to the NIH, 1/3 of American’s utilize regularly). Now don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate acute care and many surgical techniques available in this country, it is where allopathic/conventional medicine shines. However, when it comes to chronic care, conventional healthcare is far from superior and often does not have the tools needed to truly get people healthy. As naturopathic doctors we are taught and licensed to perform all the same treatments as any other family physician, such as prescribing pharmaceuticals, delivering babies, performing minor surgery and referring out for specialty treatment when appropriate; but this is just a small piece of what we do. We have great success utilizing less invasive and less harmful treatments such as nutrition and lifestyle coaching, natural supplementation, botanical medicine, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, manual body manipulations, IV therapy and hydrotherapy to help a person regain their health.
My patient was severely sick, and some might even say dying, due to poorly managed care, a slew of medical mistakes, and an unfortunate reaction to an antibiotic which caused her lungs to start failing. Her MD’s were perplexed and were running out of options for her. I didn’t know if we could save her, but I knew we were her last hope. We started her on bi-weekly nutrient IV’s, changed her diet a bit, and began some nutritional supplementations. Progress was slow, but each week she began to improve a little. We continued searching for options which included homeopathic remedies, a round of botanical tinctures and a referral to a chiropractor who was known for his gentle and effective techniques. A couple months passed and she found her strength, regained color and some weight, was able to walk more on her own. She also stopped coughing as consistently and was able to have some food and drinks by mouth. It was a joy to watch this amazing woman not only survive, but thrive. I saw her just a few months ago (1.5 years after she began treatment) and she literally ran to me to give me a big hug. She explained she had just gotten back from 2 weeks vacation with her family, did not need a live in caretaker anymore, and had made several plans for vacations with friends and family for the upcoming months. With our help, she had gotten her life back.
And this is why I do what I do.
Everybody has miracle stories…but I see them every day. My patients are generally the ones who treatment fails for, who have been to every doctor in the book and who have tried all possibly pharmacological and surgical interventions, and are still sick. With the help of naturopathic medicine, they will often get better.
Naturopathic medicine shines at chronic illness: we can often fix what conventional medicine cannot. Our goal is to find to root cause of the problem and not just suppress symptoms. Part of our success is due to the freedom we possess in that we are often cash based and thus not restricted by insurance. We not only can spend adequate time with our patients, we have many tools in the box to treat and help heal. I feel for MD’s and DO’s, they are stuck in a medical model where they only get an average of 7 minutes with their patients…I would have no idea how to properly treat a person in that time. Naturopathic doctors generally spend one to one and a half hours on the first visit and thirty minutes on follow up. We use this time to address a person in their entirety: call it mind, body and spirit, or whole-body medicine, or whatever you like, but we treat you, not your disease.
While we can treat acute disease such as colds and flu’s, we spend the majority of the time treating complicated and chronic cases. Auto-immune disease, IBS and other Gastrointestinal concerns, Depression, Anxiety, Eczema, Adjunct Cancer treatment, Chronic infections, Women’s Medicine issues, Headaches, Insomnia, Diabetics and many more are where we help the most.