It was no more than 3 years ago that I first heard about naturopathic medicine. I mean I might have seen the word naturopathic before but it just meant quackery in my head. When I learned about everything that goes in the education of a naturopathic doctor (the first NDs that made me discover the profession are Dr. Allison Siebecker and Dr. Lauren Noel, my ND heroes!), I knew I had made wrong assumptions about the profession and realized this would have actually been the perfect fit for me if I were to start over again.
Why going back to school? Don’t get me wrong, I love working as a registered dietitian (especially since I moved away from mainstream nutrition and have a more real food-based approach), but I just always feel like I would want to do more. Food is powerful, but I feel like I could do more with more tools. My always so supportive husband just said: “Do it!”. We were living in Germany at the time and he had his dream job working for BMW as an automotive engineer there… but he was ready to give that up for me. I later found out that this is because he’s hoping I can provide for the whole family and that he could have an early retirement. Still can’t tell whether he’s really kidding or not. 😉
Anyway, I got the millions documents I needed with some official pricey translations for my transcripts and diplomas and applied. I applied to NCNM in Portland, OR and to CCNM in Toronto, Canada. After stressful interviews, I got accepted to both but decided to go back to my country to have the possibility of working while studying.
So I spent a few more months in Germany, head over to Liechtenstein for a last romantic weekend in the Alps with my husband who had to finish his contract with BMW for 4 more months and flew all alone to Toronto on Dec 31st, 2012, a city where I didn’t know a single soul. I arrived to a very desolated residence room that would be my home until hubby join me in Toronto. You might have seen me featured in the fridge voyeur section of Paleo Magazin at that time. And yes, I manage to eat 100% Paleo by cooking almost exclusively with a crock-pot in my own room. 😉
It’s a start! Starting the program in January meant that I would have to go to school the whole summer to catch up with my classmates who started in September and then start my 2nd year right away… In other words, it mean going through 2 years of naturopathic medicine school within a 16-month period, which I just completed last week (May 2014). And the 2 first years of naturopathic medicine are the worst (so I’ve been told by upper year and graduated students) because it involves a lot of core science courses like physiology, anatomy, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, embryology and clinical medicine (review of ~almost~ all the pathologies that can affect the different body systems).
Naturopathic medicine is no joke. It’s actually comparable to “conventional” med school, except that instead of learning mostly about pharmacology and surgeries as treatment options, we focus on other more natural treatment options like nutrition, hydrotherapy, botanical medicine, acupuncture & Chinese medicine, nutrition, psychology, physical manipulation as well as homeopathy.
To me, it is what real medicine should be about. Treating the root cause instead of bandaging symptoms. Using therapies that have been proven over centuries rather than drugs that have been on the market for only a few years. And most importantly, looking at the patient as a whole instead of just body parts like many specialists unfortunately do.
What are the requirements and what does it entail? You actually need an undergradutate degree and many science-related credits to enter. I believe a typical undergrad program counts around 15 credits per semester but naturopathic medicine school has an average of 25-30 if you’re full-time. And many courses have practical components. In some of these practicals, we practice acupuncture on each other, study patient cases to elaborate appropriate herbal protocols, or learn how to do complete physical examination on patients (including ophthalmoscopy, otoscopy, assessing cranial nerves, dermatomes and myatomes, performing abdominal exam, lung exam, cardiovascular exam, muskuloskeletal exam… even breast exam, female pelvic exam and digital rectal exam). On each other and standardized patients for the sensitive areas. That’s a lot of information to take in. A lot of new skills to master.
I remember when we were first told we would need to learn how to take vitals within 2 minutes (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and oral temperature)… we were all so scared because it took us like 15 minutes each… with lots of practice, we got there. But that was only a very small piece of the gigantic health puzzle we are required to assemble in our head to make sense of all the different courses we’re taking and how to apply that in real patients.
But how is it, really? It’s hard. I’m not going to lie. Many former students claim that studying for this program is, ironically, probably the least naturopathic thing you can do for yourself. Personally, starting the naturopathic medicine program didn’t really change things that much for me since I had already been working long days and weekends at that pace for a couple of years trying to build my own business, publish articles and write my book. But it’s not an easy pace to sustain for that long. Especially that I wanted to keep working 10-15 hours a week on my business and publications (I actually edited my first book and wrote and edited my second book while in school). I honestly don’t know how I did it! Seriously!
It was a bit of relief when my husband finally joined me in May 2013 after I finished my first semester and it was nice to move back to a real apartment with my own kitchen. And to have him by my side too, of course! 🙂 And ask him to get the groceries and cook something for me too. 😉
Despite trying to keep my long-term vision in mind, school was not easy. At all. There were moments when I wonder why would I put myself through such torture? Did I really come to Toronto to spend all of my savings and accumulate debts again to learn about anatomy, microbiology and pharmacology? Had I made a mistake? I pondered these questions many times, but looking at how many other NDs are able to have a very rewarding career helping thousands of people get their health to a whole new level kept me pushing.
Med school isn’t healthy. Since I started this program, I have studied many weekends and evenings. I have forgotten what my hobbies are and how to have fun. I managed to keep my digestive health on track but my adrenal health suffer and my weight was all over the place.
I actually reached my heaviest weight ever right before last Christmas, after completing 12 months (3 semesters) of naturopathic medicine school in a row, with no more than 3 weeks off in between. I know that stress is a big factor for me and that it really screw up my hormones, insulin resistance (PCOS) and weight regulation. I gained weight easily (despite no change in my diet) and had to work so hard to lose not even half of it again. It’s not a joke when we say that calories don’t really matter, it’s all about hormones!
During one semester (3-4 months), I actually gained 15 lbs. And no, it wasn’t muscles. I was trying to manage my stress by doing yoga, exercising moderately and taking a bath. I’ve always prioritized my sleep and managed to get 8-9 hours of sleep even during exam time. However, the only time when I could lose weight effortlessly is when I backpacked in Central America and took a week off during the Holidays by the beach in Puerto Rico. Med school just isn’t healthy… I would highly recommend prospective students to consider the part-time option…
And now you’re pregnant? No wonder I got pregnant during the Christmas break when I did a 1-week social media detox and was just relaxing with my loved ones in Québec. 😉 Since being pregnant, it seems that I tried to take even better care of myself and not study as much. I actually stopped attending most classes (except for the only one that I found the professors helpful and for the mandatory practicals) and studied on my own from home. My body seems to like pregnancy because my weight has actually been pretty stable the whole semester and despite now starting my 5th month, I’ve only gained about 3-4 lbs so far. It seems like my body managed to put my stores to good use. 😉
What are your plans for the second half of naturoapthic medicine school? Having a little baby on the way changes many things. I know mothers at my school who’ve been able to stay in the program full-time, thanks to the support of their family. But I don’t have any family at all in Toronto. All of my family stay about 8 hours away from me (by car). So I’m planning to divide my 3rd year of school into 2 years with a course load of only about 30% the year the baby will be born and I’ll do the rest the following year. I’m told that babies grow fast and it’s important to take advantage of your time with them when they’re little. 🙂 And since it’s a 4-year program, this means I won’t be graduating before 2017.
It seems like a long way from here but I’m sure I won’t be bored while I learn how to become a parent and continue promoting my book and working with clients as time permits. 😉 And I also feel like all the extra research I am currently doing about pregnancy, babies and parenting will only help me become a better naturopathic doctor, so it’s definitely all worth it.
Voilà! I’m halfway through but I feel like the worse is behind me.