I came to naturopathic medicine via a circuitous route. On reflection, it occurred to me that to some, a decision to abandon a moderately successful, 13-year career in IT, for an uncertain future in alternative health care, might appear foolish and self-indulgent. Which is why I felt it important to outline what motivated me to make that choice.
I have always wanted to help people. From my first job as a peer tutor, through my years in customer service (in both restaurants and retail), and my various roles as an IT professional (consultant, manager, account manager), the common thread connecting them all was an element of being helpful and useful to the people I was serving. What caused me to eventually move on from these jobs was disillusionment around my capacity to help; at a certain point I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough, so I would look for something new that would hopefully allow me to do more.
Six years into my IT career, I was again faced with this crisis of faith, but rather than move to yet another corporate position, I did some serious soul-searching, and came to the conclusion that my true calling was in medicine. The basis for this decision was grounded in my opinion that doctors are able to make a profound and meaningful impact on the lives of the people they serve because they are directly involved with their health and well being. It was a pivotal moment; because it was then that I resolved to become a doctor.
The decision to become a naturopathic doctor (ND), however, would be made a few years later as a result of multiple debates with a dear friend who was studying to become a ND. At her urging, I compared GP’s and ND’s based on my motivations for becoming a doctor. The question was simple: which would afford me the best opportunity to achieve my goals of forming positive, nourishing relationships with my patients?
As a result of that questioning, I came to the realization that the North American medical system does not afford GP’s the time necessary to really invest in getting to know their patients. Generally speaking, appointments are 15 minutes long, and patients are limited to talking about one concern at a time. The net result of most visits is the dispensing of prescription medications and/or referrals to specialists for more targeted care. The goal of the visit is to palliate symptoms so the patient feels better, but any underlying cause of illness can be overlooked simply because there’s no time to fully flesh out the patient’s case.
Naturopaths generally spend more time with their patients, so they can look at all of their symptoms with the intention of identifying the root cause of their illness. The treatments might include counselling, nutritional/lifestyle counselling, vitamin & mineral supplementation, acupuncture, botanical medicine, and/or physical manipulation. Their treatments focus on supporting and strengthening the patient so they are able to overcome illness and achieve health. I believe their greatest strength is in preventative medicine; helping you achieve health, and hopefully avoid chronic and debilitating illness.
Of course, I fully appreciate that I am painting both professions with a broad brush; there are going to exceptions to every rule, and it’s up to the patient to decide if their primary care provider is serving them in a way that resonates. At the end of the day, the patient wants their symptoms resolved, so that will generally be the litmus test by which they will judge both GP’s and ND’s. I encourage people to educate themselves about the strengths and relative weaknesses of each type of practitioner and then decide based on their needs who might serve them best.
I chose to pursue a career in medicine because I believe that it’s the best way for me to help people, and to fulfil a higher purpose of giving back to the world. I chose to learn a naturopathic approach because we are taught to put the patient first and to view them in relation to their symptoms to determine what caused their dysfunction in the first place. And we learn to heal people by focusing on the body’s innate ability to heal itself and strengthen those mechanisms that have become weak as a result of living in such a stressful and toxic world.
Healthcare is such an integral part of a person’s life, and I am honoured to be able to participate in a patients care. In my opinion, having more options is always better than too few, so I encourage people to access the help that best fits their needs. And as medical professionals, GP’s and ND’s should be working together to ensure that patients receive the best care possible because we are significantly stronger and more effective together than apart.