goodbye to the 6 minute patient visit

A little more than 7 years ago, I found myself in the middle of a health crisis.  I began suffering from debilitating headaches multiple times a week, I developed severe episodes of abdominal pain with diarrhea, and I began experiencing panic attacks.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had just started my 3rd year of medical school, and was finally seeing patients.  This was the moment I had been waiting for since I was a little girl – patient contact. And here I was, miserable, sick, barely functional, and very scared.

In the months that followed, I saw many well-respected physicians who quickly rattled off my diagnoses- migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and anxiety attacks.  And they were equally quick to recommend the standard prescription medications- sumatriptan for my migraines, an SSRI for my anxiety, and um, psychotherapy for my irritable bowel syndrome.  But there was one question that nobody could answer in the 6 minutes we spent together.

Why was this happening to my body?

I had been on a path towards holistic medicine since the late 1990’s.  I knew that if I was going to be a physician, I wanted to give my patients the opportunity, information, and encouragement to find health and healing in all aspects of their lives.   And in the middle of this health crisis, I couldn’t find a doctor who was able to provide me with acceptable answers or solutions for my abrupt problems.  So, I was charged to fulfill that hackneyed adage that is so frequently tossed around by professors, attendings, and medical school deans- “Physician, heal thyself.”

I had to become the healer that I dreamed of being for myself.

My desire to understand the body’s wisdom intensified.  Outside of my busy days in the hospital and late nights studying, I was on a mission to heal myself.  I believed in my body’s innate capacity to heal.  I began a yoga and meditation practice – that helped tremendously with my anxiety, but my migraines and bowel issues were still severe.

I attended month long intensive with Andrew Weil, M.D. and the great folks at the University of Arizona’s Program of Integrative Medicine where I learned about botanical medicine, nutrition, bodywork, and energy medicine.  I became fascinated by these powerful forms of healing and wondered why we didn’t use these tools in the conventional medical world.  I’ll never forget a statement that Dr. Weil made to our group, “Integrative medicine is just good medicine.  We shouldn’t have to separate it out from conventional medicine, but in this medical climate, that is what we are forced to do.”

Later, I spent a month living in community in the Redwood Forest in Northern California with 30 medical students and about a dozen leading holistic physician mentors from all over the country.  Our mentors were trailblazers in the field who shared their passion for finding healing – through conventional or alternative means – for their patients.  It was an inspiring month – not only did I acquire many tools for my “healing toolbox,” but I experienced firsthand the power and enthusiasm of this network of progressive healers.

In 2007, after I had graduated from medical school, I attended a conference where I had a huge breakthrough in my health journey.   I had spent countless hours learning about nutrition and mind-body medicine, but I didn’t have a systematic approach that I could apply to my greatly improved, albeit ever-present symptoms.

Mark Hyman, M.D. spoke passionately about Functional Medicine and its systems-wide approach to the healing.  He spoke about inflammation, detoxification, elimination, and energy in a way that really resonated with me.  Then he mentioned that gluten sensitivity presented in many, vague ways – including irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches – affecting many of these same systems that he described.

I decided right then and there to eliminate gluten, dairy, and all forms of processed foods from my diet, and within a week, my bowels were normal for the first time in years, and within a month, I was almost migraine free.

It took 2 years, a lot of motivation, patience, and study to get a handle on my health.  And I was a physician. 

How could I possibly make an impact on my patients’ lives in a typical office visit?  I knew that if I were to truly help people, I needed to be able to examine their symptoms through a wider lens.  I needed to look at their relationships, their lifestyle, their food intake, their sleep patterns, their stressors, their beliefs, and their support system.

My health journey was truly a gift, because it solidified my desire to practice holistic medicine.  I didn’t want to rattle off diagnoses and prescribe mediocre fixes.  I wanted to find solutions. And I couldn’t accomplish that in a 6-minute patient visit.

Comments

  1. I love this! Thank you for sharing. I can understand as I have migraines other some other issues that I feel I have to figure out on my own. I agree with you that sometimes these terrible conditions end up being great gifts. I’m happy that you took the path you did. We need more doctors like you. I wish you lived in my city :)
    Thanks!

    • nourishmd says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jill! My hope is that more and more physicians will practice this type of medicine and be available everywhere. Good luck with making healthy changes and for finding healing.

  2. Susan McCulloch says:

    What the world needs now……is more med students/doctors like you! My family started a journey last year just to be cleaner in our eating. I know that is a buzz word but for us it included cleaning out the pantry and the fridge, passing by drive through windows, giving up grains/sugar & dairy. Fortunately we didn’t have any health issues that brought us to this decision, just awareness of how polluted the food supply is, not only by pesticides but government interest groups. We also turned away from doctors because we knew they also seemed to be incohoots with pharmaceutical companies. All fed by money, not our best interests. While we have relaxed a little on what we allow in our bodies, my husband lost 30 lbs, I didn’t lose any, but my body became less “puffy” and seemed to redistribute weight better. While I seem to be one of those that looks at the scale or the weight loss as an indicator or things happening, I knew that even though i wasn’t “losing weight” I was definitely healthier on the inside and that was good enough.Our knowledge about alternative medicane practices, be it chiropractic, or supplementation has grown immeasurable. I ran across a post someone made of yours on FB and started following you,thinking to myself, if/when I need a doctor I’m going to her. We live in Plano and it would be too far fetched, but finding doctors who think like you isn’t easy. Flu season is upon us and our bodies are immunity strong. We are taking all precautions,outside of the flu shot, which seems to be another highly debated issue that we have opted out of. But I believe if we do get the flu it won’t take us long to recover considering how strong we are. Thanks for taking the approach that you do and I look forward to more posts and info from you.

    • nourishmd says:

      Hi Susan- Thanks for sharing your story! It’s amazing how simple changes can be powerful and life-changing! Good luck with flu season – keep those inflammatory foods out of your diet and you will be worlds ahead of many other folks. You know where to find me if you need me! Austin is a great place to visit. Best to you and yours!

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I look forward to becoming one of your patients very soon!

  4. Jenny robertson says:

    You are trully an inspiration to me and im sure to many more as they read your story. I feel doctors dont treat the whole person they treat only what they were taught which in my eyes isnt enough. Compassion, love, bedside manner and most importantly integrative nutrition. Thank u for sharing your story i hope many more medical students get on track. We need more Drs like you!!! I applaud you and wish you all the best. Im on my way to learning integrative nutrition myself and cant wait to begin to help people make nutritional changes, n help them work with relationship issues and careers. Please keep posting your ideas n experiences.

    • nourishmd says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Jenny! I’m so glad to hear that you are learning integrative nutrition- we need more people like you, too! If we all worked collaboratively, we could really make a dent in the world. Good luck on your journey and thanks for your support :)

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