How do I select a practitioner? (Part 2)

I came to Arizona to become a Naturopath, because I want to help my patients find true health from a holistic and science based approach. I want my patients to enjoy true health, not just suppression of symptoms. Since I still have a year and a half until I can practice, I wanted to publish a guide to help my friends and family find their doctor.

It is unfortunate that I can’t just tell my friends “go find a functional medicine doc” or, just look for a Naturopath. For the most part, the way we practice medicine (as a whole) is not conducive to true health. We have to be selective when we trust our health to a practitioner. Most importantly, every profession has practitioners that lack the tools to truly help their patients. This is not to say that conventional medicine is malicious, or that holistic doctors are superior. Every practitioner that is true to their profession has the best interest for their patient, it just means that sometimes you need more than just a prescription or a specific modality to find real health.  

How will you find a practitioner that is concerned with true preventative medicine? Or, maybe you developed or know someone with a chronic condition such as cancer, MS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, etcetera, and you want to look at complementary options.

In my previous post I discussed simple steps to narrow down the pool of practitioners. In this follow up post, I will discuss why the letters behind the name are sometimes not as important as the type of practitioner selected.

When I first started learning about the Paleo diet, one of the most informative podcasts I listened was “The Paleo Solution” with Robb Wolf. It was during one of his episodes that I learned about Chris Kresser a licensed acupuncturist. Chris Kresser has influenced my philosophy of health more than any book, doctor, talk, or documentary. He practices functional medicine, or a type of medical practice or treatments that focus on optimal functioning of the body and its organs, usually involving systems of holistic or complementary medicine. In other words, a type of care that optimizes your body, even if you are not sick.

Having the appropriate philosophy of practice will be more important than the type of degree your practitioner holds. Your doctor should focus on true cure, they should address the illness and not just the symptoms, and they should be concerned on all aspects of health (emotional, physical, social) and not just concerned with the numbers printed on your lab report. There are other intangibles that your practitioner should have. For example, if your doctor holds a doctorate degree from an Ivy school, but is not willing to listen, is not up to date with the literature and is not compassionate, he might not be the best practitioner for you. On the other hand, you could go to an acupuncturist, that has experience dealing with your concerns, is willing to work with you and has the right approach to correct illness.

Beware, your practitioner must practice within the limits of their scope of practice. This is very important, you want to be treated by someone who is honest and practices well within the scope of their professional training. This might be limiting, for example, an acupuncturist might not be able to order labs or prescribe medications. Sometimes these obstacles can be circumvented. Functional medicine practitioners might have associations with other licensed practitioners that have laboratory or prescription rights. Having those associations allow for truly integrative care, and having more than one practitioner working on your case has advantages. The integrative approach allows for more scrutiny and it prevents one practitioner from over prescribing labs or over utilizing drugs or supplements.

Health can come from many different places. I believe that the best place to start the healing is the kitchen, and Mom can be the catalyst of healing the whole family. You can also find inspiration from family members, friends, bloggers or writers. I am enrolled in Naturopathic school because of the influence people like Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser have had on me. Do not get confused, only a licensed professional can prescribe you pharmaceuticals, supplements, order labs and diagnose you with a disease. But a health coach can guide you to better health. Your health coach can be a nutritionist, a personal trainer or your yoga instructor. They are not your doctor. The same goes for podcasts or blogs, they can guide you on your quest for health, but never use podcasts, blogs or videos to come up with your own diagnosis or to treat yourself.  

Finally, make sure your doctor has an open mind. No matter who you chose as your practitioner, make sure that they use the latest research to treat you. Your doctor has to know the limitations of treatment, and have to be aware of not being confounded by their expertise or method of practice. For example, using an herb might be gentler than using a prescription drug, but, botanicals do not have the same level of quality control as pharmaceuticals, their dosage guidelines are very murky, and therefore they might not be as effective as a prescription drug. Acupuncture might be amazing for chronic pain, but it will probably do little for a broken bone. Same with surgery, removing your gallbladder might be one of the worst things you do to fix gallstones. Never let practitioner confirmation bias be the reason your health does not improve.

In my final post of the series, I will talk about removing obstacles to health, and how that is the basis of finding true health. Thanks for reading!