I'm Going to a Naturopathic Doctor – Here’s What It's Like
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
As someone who is a co-host of a wellness podcast, runs marathons, teaches yoga, eats plant-based, and works for a CBD company focused on bringing balance to women’s lives, you would think I would have my health dialed-in. Truth is, I don’t...at least not lately. Plus, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have too readily accepted that a 15 minute yearly physical where I get more face-time with my iPhone screen while I wait for the doctor to come in is good enough in evaluating my health. On top of that, I haven’t really asked questions when I do see the doctor briefly at these visits, even though I always push my family and friends (and podcast listeners) to come prepared to doctor appointments with questions.To be clear, I’m a generally healthy person with no major complaints or complications. But I’ve approached my health like the Western medical health system has trained me to approach it -- if I don’t have symptoms, I don’t have cause for concern and can keep doing what I’m doing.
I know that I am very privileged in that I have not had any major health scares, have always had health insurance, am able to afford fresh, organic food, and am physically able to move my body in all ways. With that being said, not having a major health scare or having a perceived high level of physical fitness does not mean that I am healthy. Somewhere I heard that the body will whisper to you until it has to yell -- meaning that your body will give you small hints that you need to “take better care of yourself,” and, if you don’t, then it forces you to address the issue with something more drastic. For example, had I taken the pain I was having in my feet in college more seriously and done the stretching, taken the time off, etc., then I likely wouldn’t have partially torn my plantar fascia and been forced to take care of it (oh, and lost a year of my college track career.) So when I started to feel a little off recently, I decided to look into what was going on with me.
Why I Decided to See a Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
I knew that I wanted to work with a medical professional that would take the time to really learn about me and my health goals, not someone that would focus solely on my symptoms. Since my main complaint had to do with the chronic fatigue that I was having, I wanted to make sure that all avenues were considered: diet, lifestyle, mental health, and disease. Thanks to this podcast and having the opportunity to interview an Integrative Medicine Doctor and two Naturopathic Doctors, I felt that one of those specialties would be best for me because I wanted a more holistic approach with someone who wasn’t operating under the constraints of insurance. What ultimately led me to choose a Naturopathic physician over an Integrative Medicine one was that I felt more of a connection with the ND and liked her personality. (While I’m sure I’m oversimplifying it, practitioners for both Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine seem to have a very similar approach to healthcare with the main difference being that an Integrative Medicine doc goes to “normal” med school before focusing on their specialty whereas a ND goes straight to school for Naturopathic Medicine.) I also knew from talking with Dr. Kelsie Lazzell, the doctor that I ended up working with, that she was not opposed to Western medicine and referring me on to a traditional (read: Western) medical professional if my needs were beyond her expertise. This was important to me as I value Western medicine and wanted someone that ultimately had my best interest in mind rather than being dogmatic in their opinions and treatment plans.
What to Expect When You Go to a Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
After deciding on the doctor, I set up an appointment and went about filling out the forms prior to my first visit. I think it is important to highlight that I had the option of either an in-person visit or virtual appointment for all appointments with the ND that I chose. In the world that we live in (regardless of the current pandemic), I think it’s crucial to have the ability to be virtual. It offers flexibility and the ability to be treated by professionals that might otherwise be too hard for you to see. But I’ll get off that soap box…
Besides the typical forms you expect to complete prior to a medical visit such as HIPAA, general medical history, and emergency contact details, I filled out a comprehensive form about my health. And when I say comprehensive, I mean that I answered multiple questions about bowel movements, my menstrual cycle, what I typically eat, how much water I drink, my mental health throughout my life, and the list goes on. What’s more, the doctor reviews this form prior to the visit to prep and then goes in depth reviewing my answers and asking additional questions. I honestly believe that Dr. Lazzell might know more intimate details about me than anyone else in my life (although, as a runner, I do talk an awful lot about pooping with my runner friends so they definitely know quite a bit about me too.) After talking through the form and asking what felt like 1,000,001 questions, Dr. Lazzell started to lay out some of her thoughts on what might be going on with me, why I might be experiencing the fatigue, and what blood tests she would like to do to get a fuller picture of what might be going on. As she talked through all of this, it brought up additional questions that she asked me and led to further explanation of why she was asking the things she was asking. At the end of this first meeting, over 90 minutes later I might add, she sent me away with a print out of her recommendations of some lifestyle changes to start making. She also ordered several blood tests for me - about 11 of them I think - and told me to schedule a follow-up appointment for roughly two weeks later when the test results should be in.
Before talking through my follow-up, I want to acknowledge the fact that I had to pay completely out of pocket for this appointment and for some of the blood tests. However, many of the blood tests were covered by insurance as they are part of the wellness care portion of most health insurance. And for those tests not covered, Dr. Lazzell made a point of being selective as to how “in-depth” (read: expensive) of a test was needed for this initial testing. I truly felt like she was being very aware of cost and wanting to see initial findings from more low-cost testing to see if more in-depth and potentially costly testing was needed. Also, she said multiple times that, if more testing was needed, she would refer me to my primary care doctor to ask for the specific testing so that insurance would be more likely to cover it. Finally, I want to highlight that I had several blood tests done that no doctor has EVER run on me. Take that for what you will -- for me, I felt like I was finally having a doctor take a more well-rounded view of my health.
The follow-up (which I did virtually and was 45 minutes) was spent diving into ALL of my test results, even the results that were marked as normal by the diagnostics company. Dr. Lazzell walked through each test, why she ran it, what the numbers mean, what my results were telling her about my health, and what further testing *might* be necessary in the future. I was incredibly fortunate that most of my results came back with no cause for concern. There were certain results, like Vitamin D, that I need to re-test after taking some supplements. And other results that might need more in-depth testing if I’m feeling no change in my fatigue after making some of my lifestyle changes for three months. I left this appointment with even more detailed lifestyle changes/recommendations to do and a rather long list of supplements to take. This all was framed in the context of a three month plan to see the effect of the changes on my wellness. At the end of three months, I’ll meet again with Dr. Lazzell, likely re-test some things (eg. Vitamin D levels), and figure the next steps.
Two important things to point out:
Within two weeks of starting this three month plan, Dr. Lazzell had already emailed me asking me for an update. And, I’ve emailed her questions on supplements, and she’s responded within 48 hours. I’ve never had this kind of access with any other doctor. (To be fair, I’ve never asked to have this type of access. But I didn’t have to ask Dr. Lazzell for this, she just offered it.)
I have a generally “clean bill of health” as the saying goes so there wasn’t anything that was alarming to Dr. Lazzell, and she said that outright. If something was concerning to her, she gave every indication that she would have either sent me for more testing, asked me to follow-up with her sooner, or referred me on to another healthcare provider if needed.
What You're Committing to When You See a Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
Without getting too preachy, I think one of the biggest flaws of the Western medical model is that it makes you a bystander in your health. I’m guilty of letting the doctor tell me what to do and blindly following the advice without asking questions or getting any real explanation or understanding as to what is going on. I don’t blame the doctors. And, more importantly, I have had some really great doctors that have tried their best to work within the constraints that insurance puts on them while also offering me explanations and time to ask questions. However, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve taken a backseat when it’s come to my healthcare decisions more often than not. If you go to see a Naturopathic Doctor (or an Integrative Medicine doctor), you are committing to being an active participant in your health. From what I’ve experienced so far, I have to make lifestyle changes and provide feedback to my ND and take the time to understand why I’m doing the things she has recommended. Going to a ND has made me want to know and truly understand more about my health. It’s forced me to recognize unhealthy habits (like horrible sleep hygiene) and take steps to create healthier ones.
Ultimately, working with Dr. Lazzell has been a way for me to take control of my health and to practice what I preach on the podcast. It is work right now since I’m building new habits. So you need to know that a Naturopathic Doctor is going to challenge you. They will need you to block out time for their appointments with you (heads up, tack on an extra 10-15 minutes to the length they tell you the appointment will be because these doctors are talkers.) They will tell you more information about your health than you’ve likely heard before and will want you to ask them questions. They will “prescribe” lifestyle changes that require you to make both big and small adjustments to your current habits. But don’t think that they will ask too much of you or that you won’t be able to manage it. I know that I could say to my doctor “holy shit! I can’t do this. I’m intimidated by these changes” and I know she would work with me to figure out how to implement her recommendations, which ones to hold off on, which ones aren’t necessary, and which ones I should do first. Being an active participant in your health also means being honest with your healthcare provider on what you can do. If you do that with a Naturopathic Doctor, I am confident they will do everything they can to help you optimize your health at the pace that is right for you.
Want to learn more or try it out yourself?
Check out our episode on Naturopathy with Dr. Kelly Simms: Episode 20: What is a Naturopathic Doctor?
Check out our episode with Shanna's Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Kelsie Lazzell: Episode 33: Alternative Routes to Pediatric Wellness
Learn more about Dr. Kelsie Lazzell