Why I’m panicking about naturopathic medical school.

6 years ago I decided to be a naturopathic doctor (ND).  I wanted to study at NCNM in Portland.  I got an undergraduate degree.  I applied to NCNM.  I interviewed.  I got accepted.  Signed my letter of intent.  Sent them a tuition deposit.  Filled out my background check.  I found cheap plane tickets to Portland.  I typed in my name.  Picked out my seats.  Filled out my credit card information.  The instant I clicked on “Purchase”, I panicked.

Oh my god.  I don’t want to be a naturopathic doctor.  I want to go the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and study allopathic medicine (MD).  What have I done?  What am I doing?

I’ve been going down this path, following this exact plan for 6 years.  Everything I said I wanted, I’m getting.  And now I’m panicking that I was wrong all along.  Is this what I want?

Why exactly am I panicking so much?  I’ve worked really hard to get to this exact place, so why, now, am I convinced that I’m wrong?  I have a few theories:

I really hate change.  I resist it with all of my being.  Buying plane tickets to Portland really put this gigantic change in stone.  I immediately told myself I’m not doing the right thing.  Maybe things will stay the same a little longer if I have to make a new plan.  That’s completely illogical.  I’m not excited about leaving Hawai’i.  I’m not excited about settling in a new city.  I’ll get over it.

That didn’t do it.  I’m still unsure this is right.  Next theory:

About 2 weeks ago, I discovered a television show called “Scrubs”.  It’s amazing.  It follows medical interns and their wacky happenings.  The sexual tension between JD and Elliot is killing me.  It’s also filled with fast-paced medical situations.  Heart attacks, comas, lives being saved.  JD, Elliot and their colleagues make life and death decisions in a flash.  I want that.  High pressure.  Excitement.

Wait, no, I don’t really want that.  If that were my only choice, I’d be all over it, but it’s not.  The other option is to spend lots of time with each patient.  Make slow, calculated decisions.  Help people be as healthy as possible.  Not much immediate life saving, perhaps, but I can have the opportunity to help people profoundly improve their quality of life.

I love what allopathic medicine can offer, but I’m remembering the initial appeal of naturopathic medicine.  That’s not it, though.  I still have doubts.

That leaves my third theory: Respect, trust and acceptance.  There are about 5,000 NDs.  There are about 500,000 MDs.  That is not an exaggeration.  Probably about 490,000 of those MDs think that NDs are uneducated idiots.

I’m about to go through a doctoral program.  I’m about to spend the next 4 years in class for 12 hours a day and then go home and study.  I’m going to take ridiculously hard board exams.  I’m going to spend another 2 or so years as an intern/resident.

And after all of that, 490,000 MDs are going to say, “You call yourself a doctor?”  Beyond that, a majority of the population will say something like, “Oh, so you’re not a real doctor?”

Perhaps that is a pessimistic estimate of the numbers, but I will certainly come across that attitude.  How many MDs have to deal with that?

It’s pretty well known that allopathic medical school is hell.  MDs get put through the ringer.  It’s not so well known what naturopathic medical school is like.

I have not gone to either type of school yet, so I’m not exactly a reliable source, but the general consensus is that the first four years of either medical field are the same as far as intensity and education.  I’ve read reports that say allopathic medicine is a little harder and I’ve also read that naturopathic medicine is a little harder, but one is not officially more difficult than the other.

The difference comes during the internship.  Allopathic interns are seriously put through hell.  24-hour shifts.  Complete exhaustion.  Constantly overwhelmed.  The ones that make it through to the other side are respected and trusted by the medical field and the general population.  They are infallible.  Their efforts have proven that they are damn near brilliant.

There is no MD vs. ND debate on this part of the education.  Naturopaths don’t go through that.  NDs don’t have 24-hour shifts.  Maybe they’re pretty exhausted a lot of the time.  Maybe they occasionally feel overwhelmed.  They certainly work hard.  It’s not an easy process at all, but it’s nowhere near as torturous as the allopathic route.  Those that come out on the other side are questioned.  Do they really deserve to be called “doctor”?  Did they really work hard enough?

Are MDs smarter?  Many people think so.  A part of me (a bigger part than I care to admit) wants to go through the allopathic track just to show I can do it.  I have many self-doubts, however, I never question my capabilities.  I can get through allopathic school.  And I’d like to do it so I can come out of it respected and trusted.  I’d be infallible. I’d prove I’m damn near brilliant.

But I KNOW that is not the reality.

I saw an MD when I was in 5th grade.  I presented with actual symptoms.  He gave me tests, checked me out.  His diagnosis?  “It’s all in your head.  You’re making it up.  Tell your mom the real reason you want to stay home from school.”

Two weeks later I was admitted to the hospital for a 5-day stay.  I had a bacterial infection and a stomach ulcer.  It wasn’t exactly a hidden, mystery disease.  That doctor’s biggest issue was that he believed in his own infallibility.  After all, he got through the rigorous internship.  He must be brilliant.

A few years later, I was in the hospital again.  This time it was asthma and allergies.  My doctor was an encyclopedia.  She checked me out.  “These are your issues.  You need this medication.  It has these side effects.”

Rapid fire.  I was in and out of there.  Of course, I only grew more and more sickly.  I came back.  “Take one of these a day.  Puff this inhaler every morning.  Take this other inhaler during emergencies.”  Rapid fire.

I got worse.  Came back again.  More medicine.  This went on for almost 10 years.  10 years.  A decade.  More and more medication.  I got sicker and sicker.  I think it’s appropriate to note here that, while I didn’t know it until recently, there is a research-supported theory that the reason I developed asthma and allergies in the first place was due to the way my bacterial infection and ulcer were treated.

At this point in the story, I was taking 5 different prescription drugs daily and getting 4 injections in my arm every two weeks to calm the long-term effects of prescription drugs that I was irresponsibly given in the fifth grade.  The worst part of this is that I never once questioned my doctors.  I trusted them all the way through.  And the doctors fed that trust.

After one of my bi-weekly injections, I went home and had a horrific allergic reaction.  I rushed over to the hospital and got an emergency shot of epinephrine.  My doctor came in to see me and said, “We increased your dosage.  I guess your body couldn’t handle it.”

I believed her.  My body couldn’t handle it.  My body was weak.  It was my body’s problem and she was just trying to help.  In reality, I went to see my doctor in the morning, feeling wonderful, and I left feeling so terrible that I had to get a shot of epinephrine in order to not die.  My doctor made a risky decision that resulted in a life-threatening situation and never made any mention of it.  She didn’t ask me if I wanted to up the dosage, she didn’t even tell me.  She certainly didn’t inform me of the possibility of maybe dying if she makes a mistake.

And in the confident way she spoke of it, she convinced me that my horrible experience was unavoidable.  My body just couldn’t handle it.  It was my sickness’s fault.

My doctor went through medical school.  She must be a genius.  I would never question her.  10 years of getting sicker and sicker under her care and I wouldn’t question her.  Even worse, she didn’t question herself.

I was convinced to see a naturopathic doctor.  I was completely skeptical.  Did this woman even go to medical school?  Is she even a real doctor?

I met with her and began telling her my medical story.  She interrupted a few times and said, “And they treated that with ________?”  She correctly guessed every time I was prescribed a specific medication in my story.  Ok, so she’s not dumb.

She ended with, “I see.  Well, if you chose to go that route, than I completely agree with your doctor.”

Wait.  Chose?  That route?  There was a choice?  There was a different route?  How come my infallible doctor never mentioned a different way?  The ND gave me a different option to try out that wouldn’t change or affect my current treatment.  She said, “If you’re unhappy with your current treatment, you can try this and see if anything changes for you.”

A choice.  It was up to me.  I immediately started the dietary and lifestyle changes.  It was extremely difficult.  I went in to see my MD to continue my injections.  I told her about the ND and what I was trying.  She laughed and said, “You think that will work?  I’ll see you in 2 weeks.”  For the first time, I realized the blind arrogance of my doctor.  That ND didn’t go through the rigorous internship that she did.  She must be right and the ND must be wrong.  It was the last time I ever saw or spoke to her.

About 10 days after starting the ND’s treatment, I had a rushed morning and forgot to take my prescriptions before going to work.  Every other time I’d forgotten to take my medication, by about noon, I’d be so sick that I’d have to go back home to get it and spend the rest of the day recovering.  Not that day.  By noon, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t taken it.  In fact, it was a better health day than most.  I felt great.  I haven’t taken a prescription medication since.  And I felt better than ever.

I was skeptical of the ND.  If her treatment didn’t work within 2 months, I would’ve said she was an idiot and gone to another doctor.  However, I allowed my MD to make me sicker for 10 years without saying a word.

As a doctor and professional, it would be far easier if all of my patients trusted me completely.  As a patient, it is far better to not blindly trust your doctor.

As it turns out, the biggest fear I have about becoming a naturopathic doctor is the exact reason I should become a naturopathic doctor.  Ultimately, my goal is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to someone else.  If my patients come to me with the thought that I might possibly be an idiot, they won’t let me drag them through the mud for 10 years even if I become so arrogant that I don’t see I’m not helping.  My patients will benefit greatly by making me earn their trust.

This inconvenient battle that NDs are forced to fight scares me so much that I spent a few days convincing myself that it’s the wrong field for me.  But in the end, this battle is a great tool for NDs and the health of their patients.  It’s the right choice for me.

And seriously…Scrubs, will JD and Elliot just do it already?

 

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Why I’m panicking about naturopathic medical school.

  1. I absolutely LOVED your blog. It sums up so much about MDs and NDs. My daughter is starting Portland this fall (2013) and we all have similar “fears”. ND?? ND?? What the heck is an ND? Oh!! Yes!! Herbs, diet and acupunture! Good Luck! Stick with it! This is a definite trend for the future of HEALTH. It is becoming more and more mainstream and accepted. You and my daughter will be educating the masses!

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  2. OMG! God must have led me to your blog. This article sums up my feelings entirely! I have orientation Thursday (as in the day after tomorrow) at NUHS-Chicago for the ND program, and guess what? I’m panicking just the same. I’ve read so many negative posts from nay-sayers over the past few months and it has never bothered me much until now. Will I be able to handle the criticism? Will my ego want to prove I’m capable by going the MD route? I’ve been telling myself all week “it’s not too late to back out!” I just suddenly feel totally nervous!

    However, just as you pointed out, I remind myself as to why I chose this profession. My mother was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer 2 years ago. We quickly realized that the chemotherapy worked well for the actual cancer, but destroyed the rest of her body. As a family, we did some research and ran across a naturopathic doctor. The ND worked in conjunction with her oncologist, and the regime our ND used helped my mother feel more energized, healthy, and improved her overall quality of life. My mother’s cancer was detected very late, and we knew from the beginning her prognosis was very poor. She passed away 13 months after her diagnosis.

    Although my mother lost her fight with cancer, our last days with her were pleasant thanks to her ND. Her oncologist only cared about the cancer, not the harsh effects of the chemo. Our ND cared about her ENTIRE body, not just her cancer and because of that, my mother survived 7 months longer than any oncologist predicted. I always wanted to be in healthcare, but I was never satisfied with “the system”. I worked as a pharmacy tech for 7 years and later as a healthcare manager for 3 years, and I never felt like a field in healthcare was a good fit for me until I found naturopathic medicine.

    My friend, we are trailblazers in this profession, no doubt, but as @ c.Souza pointed out, our country is changing, and natural health will be the “trend” of the future. Best of luck to you! I look forward to reading more of you blog!!

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother but it really warms my heart that her final days were pleasant.

      I wish you the best of luck at NUHS! If you ever get nervous, or doubt yourself, remember that you are not alone. I believe in what you are doing. So do countless others. In fact, there’s a whole community of us. We’re all in this together. Do not forget about this support system. If you ever freak out during school, or in your career, we are here for you and you should never hesitate to reach out. We’ll reach back, I promise.

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  3. always thoughtful posts, my friend. Unfortunately there’s a lot of money in big Pharma, and money talks. and When have you ever followed the masses?

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  4. Hi James!

    I stumbled upon your blog while researching NCNM and a future in naturopathic medicine. I’ve only been exposed to it from the patient side, having been treated by several ND’s over the course of 10 years for different chronic issues with wonderful results. But I’ve always been drawn to the study of holistic healing.

    I’m actually a business school grad currently working in special events, so pursuing medical school would be a complete 180 from what I’ve studied thus far and the way I thought my life was going to go, which is definitely panic-inducing. That’s why I particularly enjoyed your post about how you got to this point – all the various uncompleted majors, changing life-goals, etc. I’m 25, so if things go well with pre-med courses, I’d be getting into med school around 28.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for all your insightful and entertaining posts and hope that you’ll continue updating us about your experiences at NCNM!

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  5. Hi, I loved your article. I’m battling with the same thoughts but I believe that we can change the world one day at a time. One person at a time. I’m European and when I moved to USA, this food made me very sick. Now I’m back to the basic Organics and feel great. I’m contemplating becoming an ND myself. Our world is changing and people are losing faith in the Pharma. Good luck!

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  6. I am absolutely astonished and relieved to find that what I have been experiencing since yesterday is not unique. I was just accepted into NCNM and have sent in my tuition deposit. I love the philosophy behind naturopathic medicine and it really resonates with me. But as I have been doing a little bit of research it appears that the public opinion about holistic modalities and approaches to health is generally negative, and I’ve been seeing a lot of people express that they think it’s a lot of bs, and in my head I know it doesn’t really matter what people think but I don’t feel good about investing so much of my time, money, and energy into something that is generally looked upon as illegitimate. I wanted to focus on lifestyle changes and address the entire person including their psychological and spiritual states because that makes sense to me as a method to promote real change and healing within a person. Obviously I don’t want to throw herbs at cancer and expect results but for conditions such as allergies, insomnia, etc. I really believe that they could be taken care of with some adjustments, without the use of toxic substances. I have even been seeing people trying to write petitions to limit the scope of naturopathic doctors’ practice and it makes me wonder and worry why people care so much to put it down and deem it as “dangerous.” It scares me to be a part of something that is viewed so negatively since I don’t have any evidence supporting my belief that lifestyle changes could actually even produce real change because I don’t have any personal experience with it. I feel very passionate about naturopathic medicine, I just don’t have the knowledge to back it up yet so it scares me to be defending something I don’t have evidence for. I had felt so certain about it, and now that it’s coming down to actually going I am starting to question everything but better now than years down the road, I suppose. Thanks for posting this, I’m happy to know that I’m not alone in my fears. Now I just have to figure myself out -___-

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    1. Thank you for your comment and congratulations on getting into NCNM! It’s an exciting and terrifying time, I know. I can promise you that those lifestyle changes you mentioned can have a tremendously positive impact on people’s lives. No question about that. After your first year or two at NCNM, you’ll have plenty of experience and evidence to defend your views. Good luck and come find me when you’re on campus!

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  7. Thank you for this article it is very inspiring. I am a freshman at the University of Arizona and I have been debating for over a year as to whether I should pursue allopathic or naturopathic medicine. I feel the same sense of panic that you described, and I have to say that it is for the same reasons that you listed. It is hard reading the negative criticism of naturopaths, however, its seems like the belief in natural healing is becoming more and more common, which is very encouraging. At least I still have time(albeit not much) to figure everything out.

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    1. Hi James! Thank you for the comment. You definitely have plenty of time to figure things out. My only advice would be to not worry about all the little social nuances involved with the different types of medicine. The only thing that should guide your decision is what type of medicine you want to practice. In spite of all the criticisms, there are plenty of opportunities in natural medicine. It can be a lucrative career if you’re passionate. And that’s what should truly drive your decision: your passion. Without that fire, that passion, it would be hard to be successful, regardless of the career choice. Make sure that whichever route you choose, you’re super excited about it! Thanks again for the comment and please feel free to keep in contact if you have questions that I can answer! Good luck! (sorry about the delayed response…I’ve been on vacation!)

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  8. Hey james, my name is lydia.I am not sure if you are still contributing to this blog, but I will try anyway. I am 50 years old. Now in nursing school. I will be finishing in December 2016 and will like to go to ND school. Am I crazy???? That is what I ask myself. The worse part is that most people that i talk to believe I am crazy. They ask me questions like what is naruropathy anyway? O.k that herbal thing? That is not my biggest concern though. I am afraid I will not be able to accomplish it at my age. Naturopaty is absolutely my passion, but I am so scared. I don’t know anyone in naturopathy medicine. Help! Advise! Anything. Encouragement. Thanks.

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  9. I love this article! I’m about to start nursing school and am thinking about doing naturopathic medical school after that. My reasons for being nervous about it are different than yours…mostly I’m not confident enough in myself, that I would be able to do it.

    I work with a naturopathic doctor, taking care of people with some pretty severe disabilities including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and some rare syndromes. Between using naturopathic medicine and working together with all different medical professionals, she’s kept these people alive and living GOOD lives long past what was expected. It was also a naturopathic doctor that helped save my mom when she had combined encephalitis/meningitis and none of the MDs could figure out what was wrong. Naturopathic doctors can do amazing things.

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    1. What a great comment. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so happy naturopathic medicine has had a positive impact in your life. That’s incredible. If you want to get into naturopathic medicine, if you have the tenacity and drive, I promise you that you can do it! Let me know if there’s any way I can help you get on that path.

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  10. Wow I am so surprised other people are thinking the same things. I just got accepted/paid the deposit to CCNM and will be starting the program in September. I’m in my last year as a biology major and listening to all of my other classmates future plans for allopathic medical school and other various well accepted healthcare professions also has me in somewhat of a panic. I am wondering if I’ll be able to handle the criticism along with the effort it takes to start up a practice, not to mention the financial burden. On top of that I worry the intense schooling may have an impact on my social life and prevent me from being able to start my own family within the unrealistic deadlines I have set for myself lol. But this is just me overthinking, I am very passionate about the field, having insight from my mother being a nurse and always pointing out the flaws of allopathic medicine but also recognizing it’s strengths. I do believe it should be a collaborative effort which you mentioned in your blog and other commenters said occurs as well, so that makes me feel a bit better. Sometimes I’ll be thinking, well I could just be an acupuncturist or genetic counselor…..but then I know I would be limiting myself and ability to what I truly want to be able to do and provide for people. The whole philosophy and approach of naturopathic medicine makes so much more sense logically and scientifically compared to allopathic medicine in my opinion. The environment and what we put into our bodies has a huge impact on our overall health. I just need to be more positive, but thank you for sharing your thought process as well! I’m glad I’m not the only one!

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    1. Hi Maria! Congratulations on getting into CCNM! How exciting! It sounds like you’re going to be an excellent colleague in a few years. Good luck with everything and always remember that you’re not alone. You can do it!!

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    1. Well, I’m not the type of person to ever lose hope. 🙂 But really, I have no issue if people aren’t open to change. I totally respect and appreciate that. But I’m seeing a lot of frustrated people looking for a different path to health and I’m happy to have something different to offer them.

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  11. The only effective options about allopathic medicine is the emergency procedures and life-saving surgeries. I am myself an allopath but I found out during internship that everything is a big business and an ego driven world. I went to a more behind the scene route (pathology) which I actually enjoy, however all I see are manifestations of diseases, consequences of a poor lifestyle. If I could do it again, I’ll go naturopath, despite the public misconception as skepticism. As somebody pointed out: Naturopaths and alternative medicine (which is the real medicine) practices are gaining more presence and acceptance. Sooner or later it will be the new and best way of treating patients. Believe me, it is just like veganism, gay marriage, equality, etc… A matter of time and awakening. Thank you for your blog. Do you know if an allopath can kind of revalidate or switch credits in order to practice naturopathic medicine? (funny world huh?)

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment. A few students in my class were MDs who switched over so I know it’s possible. I believe you can test out of some of the core classes and expedite the process. If you’re interested, I definitely recommend talking to the admissions department at one of the accredited schools. But as an MD, you have some incredible tools available to you. I certainly would not want to live in a world without MDs or practice naturopathic medicine without MDs. Your education and skills are extremely valuable. Perhaps consider finding a practice that focuses on an integrative approach with different modalities available. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further and we can exchange emails. Thank you again for your comment!

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