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?