Tea with an ND-to-be: Jennah Miller and Caleigh Sumner

Jennah and Caleigh

Caleigh (left) and Jennah (right) doing patient research!

In this final month of 2016, I have brought back Tea with an ND…..to-be! Meet Caleigh and Jennah, fourth year interns at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic. I have had the pleasure of being on shifts with both of these ladies this year, and thought it would be interesting for readers to learn about some NDs-to-be!

Here are their answers to five rapid fire questions…..

Question 1 – What did you study for your undergraduate degree?

Jennah Miller (JM): Dietetics at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

Caleigh Sumner (CS): Health Sciences at Western University in London, Ontario (I started in Kinesiology but it was too sporty for me!).

Question 2 – Why did you choose to study Naturopathic Medicine?

JM: I have always been very interested in nutrition, and I know that it is a foundation of Naturopathic Medicine. I found that dietetics was not as holistic as I wished it would be, it was more by the book and not what I saw for myself in the future. Also, in grade 12 career management class, I was told I would make a good ND!

CS: Naturopathic Medicine was a part of my life before I was even born, and a huge part of my life growing up. I was always used to integrative medicine and it was normal for me to see an ND as a child. Ever since I was really young I knew I wanted to study Naturopathic Medicine!

Question 3 – Where do you plan to practice and why?

JM: I plan to work somewhere in downtown Toronto, hopefully in the west end because I really like that area (somewhere between High Park and Christie). I feel like people who live in that area are more focused on health and that Naturopathic Medicine is more mainstream….so the demand is there, and the area is not overly saturated with NDs.

CS: I’m planning to practice in Halton Region (specifically Milton or Burlington) because I’m a very suburban girl and I’m used to suburban communities. I may also practice in King West because that’s where my boyfriend lives…or I may just live in King West and commute to Burlington!

Question 4 – What are the top three things people can do for their health?

The ladies decided to answer this question together….here’s what they said!

JM & CS: A big one is definitely self-care. Taking time for yourself that isn’t a chore….so not necessarily going to the gym or taking your supplements. Someone at an OAND conference said “self care if anything you do for yourself that makes you feel sweet that isn’t a sweet”. It should be a nice moment. Try to figure out what serves you and get rid of what doesn’t. Surround yourself with people who build you up and who love you. Like-minded folks who make you feel at ease, like your friends and family.

Secondly, drink water! This is so simple and yet so important. Drinking more water can improve your health in so many ways. Water is important for immune health, digestive health, your integumentary system and general detoxification.

Finally, sleep! Routine in the basis for all health. Try to keep a consistent sleep routine, meaning go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and you will see the benefits!

Question 5 – How will you stay healthy (and have fun) over the upcoming holidays?

JM: I’m going to take time to recharge and not feel guilty about being “lazy”. I feel like a lot of people have many obligations over the holiday break, and it’s important to remember that it’s okay to take time for yourself. You can’t fill from an empty cup! I will be going to visit my parents in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. We will put up the Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve day (an annual tradition) and then I’m headed to Montreal for New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend. For fun I will be eating cheese fondue on Christmas Eve and drinking lots of craft beer from the brewery my Mom works for.

CM: Over the holidays I will be spending time with friends and family in Mississauga and Niagara-on-the-Lake. For health I will be doing intermittent fasting….probably for 16 hour chunks (overnight). Over the holidays I try to burn all the extra calories I will be consuming by staying active throughout the day (skating, walks in High Park, etc). For fun I will partake in movie madness, where I go to the theatres and watch a few movies in a row. My guilty food pleasure over the holidays are ginger molasses cookies!

Thank you Jennah and Caleigh for taking the time to answer my five rapid-fire questions! If you wish to see Jennah or Caleigh, they are both accepting patients at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic until April 2017. 

Stay tuned in the New Year when I publish my first post in 2017! Happy Holidays!



Endometriosis: A Personal Journey


Post-op in the hospital


5 days post-op


8 days post-op

The funny thing about plans is that we make them, with the full intention of seeing them through, but then life happens, and everything changes. I start my November blog entry with this as a way of saying, for this month I am, again, going to veer away from my ‘Tea with an ND’ concept, and discuss a health topic that is both timely and personal for me. I wanted to write about this while it was still fresh in my mind (and body)!

So, the topic this month is endometriosis – doesn’t it sound like a fun word? It must be a fun condition right? Ha – I wish.

For anyone who has endometriosis – this blog entry is for you. 

I am going to focus on my own endometriosis journey, but if you are looking for more general endometriosis facts, check out the recent blog post written by my intelligent, kind and lovely naturopathic intern gal pals from wholeandwholistic.com who recently wrote about endometriosis from an objective standpoint.

Before I start my personal story, I better share a few facts…so, what is endometriosis?? It is the presence of functioning endometrial tissue in sites outside the endometrial lining of the uterus. It is a condition that occurs in females of reproductive age and the most common symptoms are painful periods, pain during intercourse, pain during bowel movements and sub-fertility.

I’ve had painful, heavy periods since I first started menstruating at age 10 (yes, 10, I know – not fair). I am now 30. This means I’ve been suffering for a good portion of 20 years. For a chunk of those years my symptoms were “controlled” well with birth control of varying sorts. In my early twenties I decided to go off of birth control and learn the fertility awareness method (which, as an aside, acted as an excellent form of natural birth control). Each month I would dread my period and then suffer for days when it arrived. I had prescription pain killers which would help with the pain, but sometimes even that wasn’t enough.

As I began my naturopathic medical education I was committed to solving my menstrual problems naturopathically. Diagnosing endometriosis can be really challenging, and the diagnostic gold standard is laparoscopic surgery, so many women (like me!) go for many years without having a diagnosis. I didn’t know for sure if I even had endometriosis, but I forged on in my healing journey.

Over the last few years I tried just about every possible naturopathic modality (and beyond!) with the aim of resolving my painful and heavy periods. I did acupuncture, hydrotherapy, supplements, nutritional changes, homeopathy, vaginal steaming, arvigo abdominal massage, botanical medicine – you name it, I tried it. With each tried and failed treatment, I thought that I was a failure. I was mad at my body for not being cured by the medicine I believed in, that I was putting my blood, sweat and tears into learning. I thought, if I can’t solve my own issues with naturopathic medicine, how am I ever going to help a patient?

Earlier this year I went and saw a gynecologist who said she thought I was a good candidate for laparoscopic surgery. This would mean surgically looking in and around my uterus and then removing any endometrial tissue that might be found. It seems like a logical decision to make, but for me, it was such a hard decision. What it signified for me was that I hadn’t been able to cure myself with naturopathic medicine. I talked it over with lots of colleagues, friends and family. In the end, I decided to opt for the surgery and now I feel that this whole opportunity has taught me some great lessons.

I realize now, more than ever, that western medicine and naturopathic medicine are both incredibly powerful, important and useful. Different conditions require different approaches. There is no way that I could have removed the endometrial tissue in my body with naturopathic medicine alone. But I can (and did) use the principles and interventions of naturopathic medicine to prep my body for surgery and ensure that the rest of my body was as healthy as possible so that I could recover quickly.

As for the surgery itself, I had it just a few weeks ago. It was a three-hour procedure done in hospital. The surgeon made four incisions in total (see pictures above!). You get to go home the same day you come in (someone has to drive you home). The first few days after surgery are pretty tough. But each day things get better and your body starts to heal. After 20 years I finally know that I have endometriosis. Now that this procedure is done, I now know that there is no endometriosis in my body! Yes, it is true that it can grow back, but now I can use many different naturopathic treatments to help keep it at bay and make sure that my body is as healthy as possible.

At the end of the day, health care decisions can be really hard. There is no one size fits all. Every treatment option has risks and benefits. I am at peace with my decision and know it doesn’t reflect my ability to help my patients heal naturopathically. If you are struggling with endometriosis or any other menstrual issue, I would be happy to talk to you about the different treatment options available.

Be well,



Sitting with myself: A Vipassana Adventure


For the month of October I am taking a break from interviewing wonderful NDs so that I can share my recent experience having spent ten days in “noble silence” at the Ontario Vipassana Centre: Torana Dhama. As described on their website, the course has three aspects: sila, Anapana meditation and then Vipassana. Firstly you must observe silence and refrain from harming yourself or others (including mosquitos!!). Then you learn to observe the breath, and eventually you learn the art and practice of Vipassana. This latter aspects involves meditating in silence, eyes closed, and observing the sensations in your body: big, small, pleasant, unpleasant…absolutely any sensation.

Before this course the longest I had ever sat for a meditation was an hour….once….and I found it incredibly hard. So making the jump to ten hours a day may have been a bit risky, but hey, go big or go home, right?

In addition to not speaking you also can’t bring any reading materials, write, use electronics or leave the grounds. Might sound like a prison. Maybe it is like a prison…..but I think that’s the point. No distractions. Just you and you – so get used to it, because guess what folks, that’s the reality of life no matter how many times we try to ignore that fact.

I arrived in the afternoon of September 7, which happened to be an insanely hot day. As I dripped bits of sweat onto my registration paper I started to mentally prepare for what the next ten days would bring, I had absolutely no idea.

The first mediation was that evening, after which noble silence began. One hour in and my hips ached. Oh dear. I walked to my cabin in the dark and tucked myself in for the night. At 4am my alarm clock went off: game time. Each day ran the exact same. Meditation from 4:30-6:30am. Sweet, glorious breakfast at 6:30am. My shower time was 7:20am – another cherished time of the day. Group meditation from 8-9am. Independent meditation from 9-11am. The worlds most delicious lunch at 11am. And then free time until 1pm.

At free time you would find most people sunning themselves or lying under a tree. Many of us went for walks along the loop trail in the woods. I had my routine down by day two. Two loops of the trail, one in each direction, and then find a spot to stand and stare at trees. Talk to birds and chipmunks and caterpillars and grasshoppers (telepathically, obviously). Try to stretch out my body. File my nails. Maybe put my hair into braids.

At 1pm meditations started again until 5pm, at which point we stopped for tea and fruit (no dinner). At 6-7pm we had our last group meditation of the day and then we had a nightly discourse, in video form, taught by S.N. Goenka. Once the discourse ended we would meditate until 9pm and then lights out by 10pm.

Over the course of the week I had all sorts of emotions. But as time went on, my hips opened up, my mind quieted down, and I began to experience feelings in my body I never knew existed. As my monkey mind shut down my subconscious mind began to emerge. Long forgotten memories would randomly bubble up to the surface. Beautiful memories from my childhood that I had completely forgotten. At moments I traveled into dream spaces I had previously created. I could feel the energy flowing through my body like a river.

This experience proved to me the power of meditation. The goal of this course, of this technique, is mastery of the mind. How often have you felt like you are a prisoner to your mind? How often have you wished you could just shut off all your thoughts and be HAPPY. Meditation is for everyone. Vipassana has even successfully been taught to people in prison. If you want to learn more about the power of meditation, let’s chat, even you can do it.

When I arrived it was summer. Each day it became cooler, leaves began to fall, trees began to change colour. Each night the moon got bigger. Each morning my alarm went off at 4am and I thought to myself, I’m awake. I’m awake.




Tea with an ND September 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Talia Marcheggiania, ND

Talia pic

Dr. Talia Marcheggiani, ND graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in 2014. I first began my studies at CCNM in January 2014 (I did the accelerated program and completed first year through the summer). In my very first semester at CCNM my classmates and I got to spend a few days observing fourth year interns at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic. I have a clear memory of getting to observe Dr. Marcheggiania, ND (who was simply Talia at the time), because the way she interacted with her patients was distinctly different from some of the other appointments I had observed. She made a point to refer to her patients by name when updating the clinic supervisor on the case (vs the generalized he or she). She obviously really connected with her patients and listened deeply to their stories. Now, almost three years later, I am in my clinical year at CCNM and Talia is working in Toronto as Dr. Marcheggiani, ND. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the September edition of Tea with an ND. Enjoy!

ME: Let’s begin with a bit of your background: where did you grow up, go to University and all that jazz?

TM: I was born and raised in Toronto and I went to Queen’s University for Life Sciences. I remember in grade 12 I was trying to decide whether I should go into the arts (I was really into photography, creative writing and visual arts) or the sciences where I could learn more about the body and how it works. Having worked as a lifeguard and taking some physiology courses, I had begun to think that I would perhaps like to be a Medical Doctor. This is what prompted me to focus on Life Science in University. However, after my second year at Queen’s, I realized I didn’t actually want to pursue medicine.

ME: So what made you take the leap from deciding to pursue avenues, other than medicine, and then getting into Naturopathic Medicine?

TM: The summer after graduating from Queen’s I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. The science I had studied in school was very molecular and not big picture. Back then I had not yet learned about orthomolecular or functional medicine, and I felt like I was at a point where I wanted to focus more on the arts after four years of sciences. So I decided to move to Columbia where I taught English for two years. During those two years I often felt very fatigued and I was gaining weight (a typical hypothyroid picture). I was also living in Bogota which is at a very high altitude, and fatigue was getting the best of me. During trips back to Canada I would go to my medical doctor and be told that nothing was wrong with me – but the truth is, it’s not normal to feel fatigued all the time and gain weight at times you shouldn’t be gaining weight. Maybe I didn’t yet have a formal diagnosis, but it doesn’t mean there was nothing wrong with me, and it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done! Often in the western medical system they wait until there is something, diagnostically, wrong with you, before offering interventions. So between when you start to feel crappy and when you get a diagnosis, there is this whole space and time when you just don’t feel good and nothing is done about it.

So anyway, my boyfriend at the time suggested I see a “natural doctor” in Columbia. He did a combination of homeopathy, nutrition and massage therapy. From this doctor I received some remedies and some dietary advice and felt better really quickly. Funnily enough, this doctor was actually a plastic surgeon and a homeopath. In Columbia you don’t do an undergraduate degree before medical school, you just go straight into six years of medicine. After your degree you can specialize in different areas, one of them being natural medicine. Some of my friends there suggested I become a natural doctor. So, I decided to google “natural medical school Toronto” and CCNM came up! I saw that it was a four year program and I felt like that would be enough time to learn what I needed and wanted to learn.

It’s funny, I remember that Dr. Godfrey (Dr. Anthony Godfrey was well-respected elder and mentor in the naturopathic community who passed away in May of 2014) did our first lecture and he gave a clinical example of how when someone has their TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) tested it is only considered a thyroid condition above 5, but how people can experience thyroid dysfunction related issues well below that number. This was exactly what I had been dealing with on my own health journey and I felt like having that be in our first lecture was a sign: this was where I was supposed to be.

ME: Like so many people, it was your own health journey, and the limitations of the western medical system, that brought you to naturopathic medicine. I hear this story often and the message is profound.

Okay, so once you graduated in 2014, you decided to set-up shop in Toronto. I keep hearing that it is a bad idea to stay in Toronto due to oversaturation, how has your experience been regarding this in the last two years?

TM: Yea, that was a concern for me too. I was originally going to work in Hamilton but I traveled there a few times and wasn’t convinced it was the place for me. So I thought, why don’t I at least try Toronto. Getting started here is definitely slower than some other locations. However, I do know a couple of people from my class who set up here and are doing really well. I think they did a lot of marketing, things like Facebook ads that target a specific population or specific health issue.

ME: I think that makes a lot of sense, because generally, people really don’t know what naturopathic doctors do. And the truth is, different NDs do different things, so there is not one answer to the question. I think that one place we fit really well in, is the gap you were discussing earlier. Where people feel crappy but maybe they aren’t at the point of a diagnosis yet, by western standards.

TM: Exactly! That’s the message I’m trying to get across to potential patients these days. There is a list of symptoms that naturopathic doctors are so good at treating: non-optimal digestion, fatigue and mild depression being big ones. The message should be, feeling these symptoms? Come see us first.

ME: I think we should start a hashtag…. #seeusfirst #naturopathicdoctors. We discussed how different NDs tend to focus on different areas. I’m curious, where do you find most of the focus of your personal practice has been?

TM: I tend to treat mainly mental health conditions. My absolute favourite population to work with is youth. I have been volunteering at the Evergreen Drop-In Centre for street involved youth (ages 18-24) twice a month and I find that work really rewarding. These patients are out of the care of Children’s Aid Society but they are still quite young. I like to treat youth with stress, depression and anxiety. Many of the mental health medications on the market haven’t been tested on young brains (brains that haven’t even finished developing). I personally feel like counseling is where a lot of the healing lies. At Evergreen, it’s just nice for these youth to have an adult to talk to, someone they can trust. I think part of the reason I really like working with youth is because, even when they have lost some hope in the future, I rarely see complete hopelessness. Adults can often slide more easily into hopelessness and that can be really hard to counteract. Doing counseling as an ND is a bit tricky since we technically aren’t counselors, yet we learn a lot about counseling in school. Plus, ever since Psychotherapy became regulated in 2015, there are stricter rules around the titles we can be using. Boundaries are becoming more tightly defined.

ME: I haven’t met too many NDs who focus their care on youth, that’s really cool! I share your passion for working with youth, I think they are one of my favourite populations to work with as well. Okay, so given that you’ve only been out of school for a couple of years, where do you tend to source your information from when doing patient research? What does your practice process look like?

TM: Even after a couple of years, you start to see the same conditions presenting themselves to you, so you get familiar with a variety of treatments. That being said, at this point the longest I’ve seen someone has been two years! So how I feel about the long-term outcomes has yet to be decided. Someone who has had serious adrenal fatigue can take three years to recover. This is why communicating treatment and healing timelines to patients is so important, however this is the art of the medicine and can take a long time to learn. I try to avoid “protocols” since every patient truly is unique. Before I have an initial visit with a patient I get them to fill out an intake form, which is basically a review of systems. My first appointment is 1.5 hours, and since I already have that information from the intake, it allows the initial to be more unstructured. I try to make at least on recommendation at the initial visit, and usually ask for a diet diary, since we know that nutrition is so key for health. For research I may use PubMed, Kerry Bone’s The Ultimate Herbal Compendium, a variety of acupuncture desk references, notes I made in my clinical year at CCNM, class notes, and of course colleagues (to name a few!). It’s really helpful to be able to discuss cases with colleagues (without patient identifiers of course) to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked. A lot of my patients will do food sensitivity tests: a clean diet can help so many symptoms. Sometimes I will even call different supplement companies or herbal stores and discuss different options. Roger at Herbie’s Herbs is amazing. I often focus on adrenal support and counseling.

The thing with our medicine is that there are so many potential avenues you can take for treatment choices, and it isn’t one size fits all. It comes with knowing the patient well and having experience. There is an art to prescribing where first of all, you need to trust that what you are prescribing works, and your patients need to pick up on that trust so that they can trust you. Once you can provide even a bit of symptomatic relief they will be ready to take the healing journey with you.

ME: I find that to be a difficult part as a student: having enough confidence in your treatment protocols so that your patients can trust you. I’m sure it will come with time! On that note, what would you say have been some of the top lessons you’ve learned since graduating from CCNM in 2014?

TM: Hmmmm, that’s a good question. Let me think about it….I think it’s okay, and even important, to have an ideal patient. As in, a type of patient that works well with your style. Don’t try to cling to every single person who walks through your door. Don’t chase after patients, if they aren’t ready, just let it go. It’s important to remember that people don’t get better when they’re not ready. Define the boundaries of what you can treat, including where people are at on their readiness journey. The thing is, sometimes a patient may do what you recommend a year later and you may never know, so don’t get too down on yourself if a patient doesn’t follow your recommendations right away. We are part of a patient’s journey but we aren’t the whole thing.

I also found out that I’m not meant to have a sliding scale: it just didn’t work for me. I really wanted to and tried, but it got really complicated and I decided it wasn’t for me.

Don’t be afraid of marketing! I thought that if I had to advertise for people to come and see me, then they don’t really need the help. It didn’t feel authentic for me. It’s like when I see ads for weight loss. A lot of people want to lose weight, but may not need to for health reasons. But the truth is, it isn’t that people need to be convinced that they need the help, some people really do need help, and they just need to know that the help is out there! Marketing allows you to communicate with unknown people. In the end, marketing ended up being very therapeutic for me. When you come up with a marketing advertisement, you are forced to clearly define what it is that you do. This in turn forces you to get a sense of what your value is. Once my practice started to get fuller as a result of my marketing, I started to feel more confident in my practice, and confidence as a practitioner is really important. I found that Facebook was the easiest way to reach a bunch of people….although maybe not if your practice focus is on a geriatric population. At the end of the day, an ND is an entrepreneur. I joined a starter company program for young people where I get to share ideas with a group of different entrepreneurs and that’s been really helpful for me. The sooner you can embrace your entrepreneurial identity, the better!

ME: Those are some really great tips for new grads, and maybe old grads too! Any final tips you would like to give to a new graduate?

TM: Always remember the foundations for health. Make your patients feel better quickly, even if it’s just a bit. Enjoy the process!

ME: Thank you so much Talia for sharing your experience and energy with me today. For all of the readers out there, stay tuned in October, where the blog will take a month off from Tea with and ND and provide a little more insight into my personal story….


Tea with an ND August 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Kimberlee Blyden-Taylor, ND


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!



Tea with an ND July 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND

C Pickrell

Teas consumed: Three mint for Dr. P and a green tea for me

The interview was not audio recorded, but rather I typed as we spoke, so the below is not verbatim but rather summaries of what we discussed.

During my third year at CCNM I had the pleasure of taking botanical medicine and asian medicine classes taught by Dr. Pickrell, ND, or Chris has he more commonly goes by, at CCNM. He was one of those teachers who leaves you feeling empowered, inspired and full of great knowledge. He’s also funny, kind, professional yet down to earth and an all around great human being. I think I can speak for my entire class when I say that we all looked forward to learning at his lectures. He taught information in a way that was so relatable, which makes it so much easier to remember! Chris graduated from CCNM in 2008. In addition to teaching at CCNM he also works at the Herbal Clinic and Dispensary in Roncesvalles, Toronto, and co-owns a wholesale herbal dispensary called Perfect Herbs. In his private practice he is part of a community acupuncture clinic, which uses a pay-what-you-can model. For his one-on-one appointments he offers a sliding scale and is committed to accessible, affordable and quality naturopathic medicine. He is someone I greatly admire and I am so excited to share our interview with you today!

Me: Let’s begin with a common but important question: why did you choose naturopathic medicine?

CP: My feelings as to why I wanted work in naturopathic medicine were summarized in a banner that I saw many years ago at CCNM: I wanted to be part of the solution. For me personally, I felt that this profession was the best place that I could contribute my skills towards helping people. I had at one time considered pursuing conventional medicine, but naturopathic medicine just felt like a better fit for me.

Me: Tell me about your background….I know you have done many different things thus far in your life and career. I think people really value seeing an ND who is well-rounded, can you share some of your history?

CP: I grew up in New Brunswick and after high school moved to Calgary, Alberta to train as a short track speed skater. I then did my undergraduate degree there in Human Physiology at the University of Calgary. At that time I knew I wanted to get into the health care in some way, I just hadn’t figured out exactly how yet. I spent some time teaching pre-school in Calgary before moving to Korea for a year where I taught English. After Korea, I lived in Botswana, Africa for 8 months where I worked on community development for HIV/AIDS through sport.

The sister of a friend of mine was seeing a CCNM intern, which is how I found out about Naturopathic Medicine. I decided that this was the path for me, so after working in Botswana I spent some time in Ottawa and then made my way to Toronto to study at CCNM.

During my time at CCNM, I spent a month doing an internship in Hanoi, Vietnam at the WHO Hospital of Traditional Medicine. Upon graduating at CCNM, I was accepted into the two-year residency there, where I got to take on a number of roles, including being a supervisor for a year at Sherbourne Health Centre. During those two years I also studied Herbalism on evenings and weekends and became a Certified Herbalist.

After my residency I chose a date where I gathered all of my friends together for a party at midnight and gave away almost all my earthly possessions and decided to spend a year focusing on meditation and really getting to know myself deeply. I spent three months at a Vipassana retreat in Massachusetts, two months at the Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton Nova Scotia (which he spent with Pema Chödrön!!), one month at a Vipassana in California, a solo retreat at a cabin in British Columbia, and then slowly made my way back east while visiting friends along the way. During that year I also spent a month at an Ashram where I studied yoga and became a yoga instructor. For that year I really set everything in my life down and then chose to pick it back up once the year was done.

Me: Wow. That is an impressive list.

CP: It was a conscious decision for me to try and do a lot of things. Being young is a precious time in life and I wanted to experience a lot in my youth.

Me: What is your philosophy, as it relates to the healthcare you provide?

CP: In my practice and as a teacher my aim is to create an environment of supported independence. I do what is required, no more, and no less, in order to help someone reach their goals. I try to hold space for my patients, and once they gain the skills they are seeking they then become empowered to use those skills for their own health and life management.

Me: Aside from your philosophy, how do you approach patient care? As in, what is your practical approach to getting to know a case and coming up with treatment?

CP: I treat the individual, as a whole person, and look for the root cause of their concerns. These are the tenants of naturopathic medicine, and I practice true to them. I love practicing this way and being an ND because sometimes the cause is something very physical, and it can be treated as such. However, what I find these days is that the majority of the work I do is counseling as often the cause lies in working with someone’s psychology. I treat the cause, wherever it may lie.

Me: Since you started working in 2008, has your approach to patient care changed or evolved?

CP: To be honest, it hasn’t changed that much. When I first started practicing I put a lot of time into really trying to figure out what my approach would be: what made the most sense for me as an individual. I invested a lot of time and energy into the front-end of my career in order to figure out who I was as a practitioner so that I could be authentic, practice with integrity, and shape my career in a way that fit for me. I always maintained that I wanted my underlying approach to be providing affordable and accessible care, and that hasn’t changed. I knew I wanted to treat the root cause, and that also hasn’t changed. My goal was to create a practice model that was sustainable, realistic and practical for my patients in their own life. You could say that I approach each case from a harm reduction perspective…or you could call it health optimization.

Me: What are your preferred modalities?

CP: More than half of my practice is clinical counseling. This actually happened without it being my intention, but I’m really happy with how it all landed. It’s just where I receive the highest number of referrals from my patients. Next would be botanical medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (tied for second). My third most used modality would be physical medicine.

Me: That’s really interesting, have you taken specific courses in counseling, outside of our training at CCNM?

CP: Yes and no. The year I spent doing meditation retreats was also a time when I learned a great deal about Buddhist psychology, which in a lot of ways is a non-secular form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I intentionally devoted a lot of my time to time learning these theories of psychology, in my personal meditation practice and through Buddhist teachers and books, which highlight my tenants of practice:

1) you can only work with someone as far as you’ve gotten yourself, and

2) you have to meet people where they are at.

Me: I totally agree and think that’s a really important point. Now on to a somewhat unrelated question, more for the students out there: have you taken any courses that you really enjoyed?

CP: Yes! Most people will probably be surprised to hear this answer. I really enjoyed the recent prescribing course that I took. Additionally, in my fourth year at CCNM I took at Botanical Medicine course with John Redden which I really enjoyed.

Me: Awesome! Okay, for my last question, what do you think makes the naturopathic medicine community special?

CP: I believe as Naturopathic Doctors we truly are specialists in preventative medicine. We really do help people not get sick and stay well. I resonate with that.

There you have it folks. A speed skating, herbalist, meditation guru, yoga instructor, harm reduction, TCM, counseling Naturopathic Doctor. Sounds like a good option for health care to me!

Thank you so much to Dr. Pickrell, ND for taking the time to meet with me and sharing some of your life experiences and knowledge about naturopathic medicine.

Stay tuned for the next Tea with an ND coming in August!


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