Teas Consumed: Iced mint tea for KBT and iced green tea for me (it was a sweltering day!)
The interview was not audio recorded, but rather I typed as we spoke, so the content below is not verbatim but rather a summary of what we discussed.
Although Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND may not have always known that she would one day become a naturopathic doctor, some would say that the seeds of this career path were sewn early in her life. Growing up with classic hippie parents, it wasn’t uncommon to find KBT stomping on acorns her mom had collected in the yard in order to make acorn bread. Now, having been a naturopathic doctor for the last 17 years, Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND shares with us parts of her journey through the wonderful world of naturopathic medicine in this August 2016 edition of “Tea with an ND”.
ME: What made you choose the career of naturopathic medicine?
KBT: Growing up, I had never gotten very sick (outside of the normal stuff like colds, etc) so I rarely had reason to go to the doctor, and I had never been to a naturopathic doctor. My educational background was in biology and music, and I had always considered getting into medicine some day. When I got pregnant with my first child, I was under the care of a midwife and I was blown away by the type of care I was receiving. She would ask me about my health and even about more obscure things like my dreams. After my baby was born I had horrendous postpartum depression, and my midwife referred me to a naturopathic doctor. The quality of care I received cemented for me that this was a career path that I wanted to follow. I started studying naturopathic medicine in 1995 and graduated in 1999. Back in 1995 the school (which is now located on a 4.3 acre campus at Leslie and Sheppard) was located in Etobicoke. During my second year we moved to the Yonge and Eglinton location. The school has changed a lot since then.
ME: Yes, I can only imagine the changes that have happened since 1999! How does CCNM now compare to how it was when you were a student?
KBT: Well certainly, the school has grown substantially. When I was studying there were 42 people in my class and we had a very tight knit family feel. We had all of our classes in one room and the professors would take turns coming to us. Also, because there were so few of us and because the demand for naturopathic care was present, we each had to see about 40 patients a month. Now the school clinic is seeing even bigger numbers than this but there are also way more students. Of course there have been other changes, like the amount of administrative overhead, but overall the biggest change has been the growth.
ME: Can you share a bit about your history? Where did you grow up? What’s your educational background and your life before CCNM?
KBT: I was born in Dayton, Ohio and moved around a bunch as a child. Most of my growing up was done in Long Island, New York. For school I studied at Columbia University in New York City and completed a joint program with the Manhattan School of Music. At Columbia my focus was on biology but at the time my dream was to go to the music conservatory. After graduation I moved to Toronto because I had a boyfriend who was going to York University. I worked for a time in environmental medicine and as a research assistant. In fact, I have a published paper in meteorology, on weather tracking in different parts of Canada. I then worked full-time in music for three years as a flautist and soprano. I sang with many different music groups, such as the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Opera Atelier and others. Originally, when I started studying naturopathic medicine, I imagined that I would use this career to facilitate my music career. It’s common for musicians to have multiple jobs, outside of music, in order to keep up with life’s financial demands. Little did I know that naturopathic medicine would end up being my full-time passion! I put myself through school at CCNM with singing gigs: being a lead soprano at a Catholic Seminary, doing commercial work, etc. Life was very busy then, although it actually feels busier now working full time, seeing patients in private practice and having two kids and a partner!
ME: It’s so interesting how varied your background has been to date! I bet many people didn’t realize how much of an accomplished musician you are! Obviously music is very important to you, but healthcare is your full-time gig now, so what is your philosophy of care?
KBT: Over the years I tried different approaches, I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to get locked into my own way of thinking. I believe working at CCNM in a teaching capacity has helped with this, especially being a supervisor in the teaching clinic where you are constantly seeing and trying new things. I would say that over the years my approach has become less and less invasive. For example, I don’t do any parenteral therapy. I am not a huge supplement perscriber and I’m very aware of the fact that anything you give can be suppressive (aka when you stop taking it, the symptoms come back). My goal is to move past that and treat the root cause. I tend to prescribe less and dig more to the root cause through talking a lot with a person and understanding their state. That being said, sometimes it is very hard to treat the root cause and of course different therapies are appropriate at different times. I also have an ethical conflict with the idea of patients coming back week to week, I fear that too often we are creating dependency. I know we have to build a business, but I want to help to create a person who is self dependent, who understands their own health and how to take care of their own body. I see myself more as a consult. Over time my patients should need me less and less. Of course at different life stages they might need me more (ie when a patient has a child). That being said, I feel that after a while your patients should outgrow you. If you’ve taught them everything you can teach them they should reach a state where they are ready to move on and learn new things. At some point everybody wants and needs a different perspective on their life.
ME: The concept that your patients should, in time, outgrow you is very fascinating. I like how it allows for the natural flow and evolution of the partnership between practitioner and patient. So, when you first have a new patient I’m curious, what is your practical approach to getting to understand someone’s case and coming up with a treatment plan?
KBT: I’m less interested in gathering specific information from someone and focus more on understanding the person’s state where they’re at: what it’s like to be them at this specific moment. This will dictate what you can do for them right now. I try to best support a patient based on the context of their life, whether that be financially, emotionally, etc. We all know the treatment protocols for different conditions, but then there’s the real person in front of you and you need to find a point of connection with them. They need to trust what you are saying and understand the process you are planning to take. Understanding a person’s entire circumstance is the art of medicine. I know I will never be the naturopath who sees twenty patients in one day. I just can’t do it, emotionally. I’m not saying one way is better than the other but each practitioner has to make it their own. For me, being able to teach and do private practice is a great balance. I’ve been full time at CCNM since 2006 and I practice 1.5 days a week, supervise in the teaching clinic 2 days a week and lecture 4 half courses.
ME: It sounds like you’ve been able to strike a really nice balance between teaching and direct patient care. Since you started working as an ND has your approach to patient care changed?
KBT: I started practicing in 1999 and when I first was in practice I did a course in all the UNDAs and worked with those for years. Then for a while I had many of Dr. Prousky’s overflow patients, who wanted orthomolecular medicine, so I concentrated on that for a while. I valued trying different things in order to not become overly dogmatic. Trying different approaches, over time, has really just confirmed for me who I am and has allowed me to come to know myself more and more. Since graduating I did a lot of homeopathic studying, such as a three year course at The Dynamis School for Advanced Homeopathic Studies with Jeremy Sherr. I have taken loads and loads of seminars on homeopathy. I also completed a one year program at the Faculty of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto called INTAPT (Interprofessional Applied Practical Teaching & Learning in the Health Professions). I was also the Associate Dean of Clinical Education at CCNM for five years. In this position my greatest interest was in curriculum design. I helped change the program at CCNM so that students were able to get hands on and meet patients earlier in the program. We were able to systematize the clinical program and create more consistency with the goal of making it an impactful and robust education. The challenge in that role was that I had to focus a lot of my time on students who were not doing well, which meant helping some pretty upset and angry people. Even with students my approach was to try and look for the root cause of the problem. I tried to take a situation and make it into something positive that actually feeds you, so that in the end the student would get something out of it and grow. In the end some students were so thankful and that was the beautiful part, but on the day-to-day it was very challenging at times. I stopped that job in 2011 and started a Master’s program in 2012 through the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. It is a Masters of Science in Integrated Medicine, with a focus on Homeopathy. It’s all online and it is a really fantastic program. My particular focus in on the concomitant use of pharmaceuticals and homeopathic remedies.
ME: Based on all of the studies you have done I am going to guess that your preferred modality is homeopathy, do you agree?
KBT: Yes, I think that’s true. But I also love to learn new things all the time. For example, this coming fall I’m going to be taking a course on Bowen Therapy. It’s a gentle and subtle therapy, which I really connect to. Sometimes you can do small things and see huge change in a patient. Other times you can clobber the body in lots of stuff and see very little change. I also use a lot of herbal medicine. I love prescribing something to a patient that has such a strong connection to the earth. I love to prescribe teas and I encourage my patients to grow their own herbs. I also feel it is very important to do some hands-on work with patients, in many forms, including the occasional manipulation. There is huge power in human touch.
ME: I get the sense that you really try to get very in touch with your patients, and I will assume you are very in touch with yourself. So on that line of thinking…if you were an animal, which animal would you be?
KBT: (Laughs a bit) Well, my answer is that I am an animal. When I was in school I did some Shamanic training with a group of students and over time discovered that my main power animal is the red tailed hawk. I actually still meet with this group to this day. Kenn Luby and I teach some basic Shamanic drumming courses. Spirit guides have always been a very powerful meditative source for me. Many years ago when I had my own clinic I named it Redhawk Healing Arts. In terms of homeopathy, I am a hard core bird remedy, although I won’t tell you which one. Actually, thinking about it now, I have a strong history of a connection with birds. I once did a summer research project, during my undergraduate studies, in Churchill Manitoba, where I studied semipalmated plovers. I would sit out in the tundra with binoculars and watch the birds. I would then write about their potential cognitive function.
ME: Very cool! I’m glad I asked that question! This has been great and I’m so fascinated by all that you have done. To end this interview I would like to ask you one last question: what do you think makes the naturopathic medical community special?
KBT: To me, doing what’s ethical is really, really important. So the question is, what does this mean in day-to-day patient care? Treating a patient without trying to get to the root cause doesn’t feel ethical. Not saying the hard things that need to be said doesn’t feel ethical. One thing that I love about naturopathic medicine is that it gives me the opportunity to work in a capacity to be fully encompassing which is so important given how passionately I feel about ethics. In naturopathic medicine the door is wide open and I feel that this way of medicine is an ethical response to our current state of healthcare and it forces everyone in the profession to really think about what that means.
Thank you to Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND for having a tea and chat with me! Be sure to check back on the blog in September for the next Tea with an ND!