Work Like A Naturopath / Heal Like A Woman
Our way of looking at health, medicine, the environment and nutrition is changing. It’s been changing for the better part of this millennia. Organic foods are more prevalent in stores, insurance companies are beginning to cover “alternative” treatments to include acupuncture and midwifery care, and the general public is becoming more receptive to ideas of well-rounded, holistic care when tackling anything from everyday ailments to autoimmune disease. Part of this change is due to the maturing of the infamous Millennial generation, a group of people who, depending on who you ask, is either going to destroy or save the world.
It was Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of medicine in our Western world, who said, “The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.”
After having the opportunity to talk to a naturopathic doctor about how she help others improve their health, you can't help but feel that naturopaths are playing a vital role in actualizing Hippocrates’ words for our modern time.
Meet Katherine, a Naturopathic doctor from Seattle, Washington.
Katherine, how would you describe naturopathic medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is a unique system of health care that utilizes both conventional and natural treatments to provide high quality care. It is a blend of tradition and science, and reflects a respect for nature, body, mind, and spirit. Naturopathic doctors spend time with patients, educating them on their health concerns and working with the patient to decide the best course of action. We can utilize a variety of treatments including diet, lifestyle, herbal medicines, pharmaceuticals, or surgical interventions to treat our patients.
What does “a day in the life” look like for you?
I’m in my first year of residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, WA, so I have busy and long days, around 13 hours. I work at Bastyr University’s teaching clinic, so I manage students and work alongside other attending physicians to care for our patients. I see an average of 10-15 patients per day, with a variety of health concerns. Some of the conditions I manage include diabetes, hypertension, gynecological concerns, digestive concerns, autoimmune diseases, environmental exposures, asthma and allergies, colds and flus, annual exams, to name a few!
What brought you to naturopathic medicine? Tell us your story.
In college, I was interested in biology and psychology, and realized I wanted to work with people and help them with their health too. It wasn’t until I went to Ecuador to volunteer on an organic farm that I discovered my interest in nutrition and the environment. In Ecuador, I gained an appreciation for the interconnectedness of humans with our planet. I learned that the key to organic gardening and the production of nutritious food is to promote the health of the soil. Giving plants the nutrients they need enables them to protect themselves against diseases better and also increases the nutrient content of the plants for our nourishment as well. After college I pursued my Masters of Science in Holistic Nutrition and, through that program, learned about another model of medicine called naturopathic medicine. After a little research on naturopathic medicine, I knew it was the right profession for me. Shortly thereafter, I applied and interviewed at Bastyr University and was off to study natural medicine.
What are some misconceptions about your field of medicine?
There are several common misconceptions about naturopathic medicine! Some of them include: naturopathic doctor degrees are available online, naturopathic medicine is not evidence-based, naturopathic doctors are anti-pharmaceuticals, naturopathic doctors are not trained as primary care doctors, and the myth that if it’s natural, it must be safe. The truth is this: licensed naturopathic doctors graduate from an accredited institution after 4 years of medical school, similar to conventional medical doctors. Residencies are not required, however many NDs choose to participate in a 1-2 year residency program. The scope of practice varies among states, but in the state of Washington and many other states, NDs are considered primary care physicians. NDs utilize many treatment modalities, from hands-on therapies, to nutrition and vitamins, to appropriately prescribed pharmaceuticals. We choose evidence-based treatments that meet the needs and values of our patients.
You specialize in environmental medicine. What is one way the environment and our health are connected that most of us may not realized?
The environment is a major factor in many common diseases. The food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe greatly affects our long-term health. The human body is very adept at removing toxins, through the GI tract, urine, breath, and skin. But when exposed to too many toxins for too long, our body can become overburdened with chemicals and then negative health consequences develop. Identifying and removing exposure and supporting the body’s innate ability to process toxins are the cornerstones to environmental medicine.
You are at the beginning of your career as a naturopathic doctor. What goals do you have for yourself? Where do you see yourself headed professionally?
Most naturopathic doctors work in private clinics, either as primary care physicians or as adjunct healthcare consultants. My goal is to work in an integrative practice, alongside other practitioners such as medical doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and nutritionists. I feel that this model of health care can provide the highest quality and most effective care for my patients.
It’s nice to hear where people started to see how early job decisions and eventual careers seem to have similarities and intersect. What was your first job? What did you learn from it that you still apply to your work today?
When I was in high school, I taught swim lessons over the summers at the local pool. I swam competitively and was in the pool for the majority of the summer, so it made sense for me to share my knowledge with younger kids. During my time there, I realized how much I like teaching and helping others learn new skills. Education has continued to be a theme in other jobs I’ve held since then (i.e. coaching swimming, teaching nutrition classes, being a teaching assistant in medical school, and now participating in clinical education of naturopathic medical students).
What would you say is your philosophy about work? What do you believe people need to do in order to succeed? Where did you learn this?
I am a motivated, self-starter! I believe my strong work ethic and dedication to education have provided me with the foundation for a successful career. I think commitment, passion about your career, teamwork, leadership, and setting goals are all important values for success. I have learned these traits mostly from my parents, who have been my biggest supporters throughout my life.
In what ways does being a woman influence your approach to your practice and your career? Have you felt any adversity, discrimination, harassment or other challenges that you feel were due to your gender? If not, what is unique about your profession that helps prevent that?
The field of naturopathic medicine is unique because the majority of naturopathic doctors are women. In my cohort of about 90 students, about 15 of them were men! However, I think as a profession we experience more challenges with employment because many women choose to work part-time due to pregnancy and family commitments. Nonetheless, we are a compassionate group of health care workers and have a strong community of support and collaboration, especially since naturopathic medicine is a relatively small field.
Speaking of women, you have done some work with pregnancy and fertility. What do you find fascinating about a naturopathic approach to fertility and prenatal care?
I love the naturopathic approach to fertility and prenatal care because it is the perfect time to educate patients on health and prevention of chronic diseases. There has been so much research coming out now showing how important preconception and prenatal lifestyle changes are not only for improving fertility, but about improving the health of the unborn child. Ensuring both future parents are working on improving their health for at least 3 months before conceiving will improve the health of their egg and sperm too. Lifestyle interventions such as eating a high quality, organic whole foods diet, regular exercise, and avoiding environmental exposures (i.e. avoid microwaving food in plastic, buying organic food, use a water filter and avoiding toxic makeup and cleaning products) can significantly improve egg and sperm quality, balance hormones, and increase fertility. In the prenatal time, increasing nutrient content while decreasing environmental toxicants that can disrupt hormones and fetal development, will protect not only the growing baby, but also the next generation as well! In my opinion, it is the best form of preventative medicine!
Care to share some advice for how we can start being more healthy today?
Eating an organic whole foods diet (a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains, and some meat, dairy, eggs) and drinking 64 oz of water is a great foundation for health. Pair that with daily physical activity, and 8 hours of sleep, and you have a recipe for a healthy lifestyle. Too much to change all at once? Pick something that you feel ready to change and start there. You can build on each of your changes and you’ll notice your energy and motivation also increase as your health improves.
Katherine Carvlin is a naturopathic doctor living in Seattle, WA. She has additional degrees in nutrition and psychology and has worked in the health industry since 2012. Currently, Dr. Carvlin is doing her residency in primary care medicine at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health. She provides science-based natural medicine for the prevention and treatment of common and chronic illnesses. When not seeing patients, Katherine is spending time with her husband and her backyard chickens, hiking in the Pacific Northwest forests, or researching the impact of environmental factors on the human body.