Every Summit County resident has a story about what drew them to this valley in the center of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Something pulls at the heartstrings. In a similar fashion, every naturopathic doctor has a story about what called them to become an ND. It’s not a glamorous path and you’re not going to become rich. You commit yourself to a life of service, and will probably be in debt for much of your life from years of medical school. But as many of you know, when you do what you love the rewards are limitless.
For Dr. Kim Nearpass and me, the calling to naturopathic medicine started with a deep love of the natural world. It was fed by meeting naturopaths in the field who spoke of treating the cause of disease. “If your car’s engine light comes on, you don’t unplug the light with the equivalent of a pain killer, you explore why the light is on, and do your best to fi x the source of the problem.” Travel to, and service in, countries where people still rely on the food, spice, and herbal remedies that have served them for countless generations, kindled the flame of interest in both of us. Kim spent two years serving in Lesotho, Southern Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. She grew up in Colorado and graduated from Colorado College. I spent nearly a year in Central America, working with a community health project in Nicaragua after I finished my bachelor’s degree at the Evergreen State College in Washington. Both of us worked as river and nature guides before entering our naturopathic studies: Dr. Nearpass at National University of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon and me at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. We met while whitewater kayaking on a river on the Oregon-Washington border near the end of our studies in naturopathic medicine.
Naturopathy is a philosophy as well as a practice of medicine. Naturopathic treatments integrate current medical science with age-old philosophy based on the healing power of nature: Vis Medicatrix Naturae. Treatments are based on the principal that the body possesses the innate wisdom to heal itself. One Star Wars geek described naturopathic doctors as “Jedi” (of course, we are not Jedi), referring to how Obi-Wan Kenobi explained the force to Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars. He could have easily been describing the vis medicatrix naturae with “It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
Illness occurs when the natural, healthy balance of the body, mind, and spirit is off set by imposing stressors. Licensed Naturopathic doctors (ND) are trained to identify the cause of the imbalance or “dis-ease” using a variety of investigative methods, the most important being a complete and thorough history. Once the ND has gathered information about the whole person, he or she will perform the appropriate physical examination and decide which, if any, labs should be ordered. Because the doctor covers detail with the patient, an initial visit may take as long as two hours.
Once the thorough investigation is complete, the doctor will then design a treatment plan that will allow the patient to work together with the doctor in the healing process. Naturopathic treatments gently and effectively guide the patient to rediscover their own balance and return to a state of health. NDs use natural, non-toxic therapies, avoiding side effects and encouraging the body’s own strength and wisdom to heal. Modalities include, but are not limited to: botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy and bio-energetic medicine, lifestyle counseling, hydrotherapy, and physical medicine. Naturopathic doctors can be thought of as living historians of medicine, using therapies that have been forgotten or unfairly discredited by mainstream medicine or pharmaceutical interests. NDs are also considered specialists in preventative medicine, because their approach is thorough, and can often identify and remove obstacles that hinder health and lead to disease.
Naturopathic medicine can be described as holistic, because it considers, not only the whole person, but also the person’s environment. Without a healthy planet and community, the health of the individual suffers. Part of the naturopathic oath is to “assist and encourage others to strengthen their health, reduce risks for disease and preserve the health of our planet for ourselves, our families and future generations.”
Complementary is yet another appropriate description of naturopathic medical practice. If a patient requires additional support, an ND will refer to a specialist, and work together with other health care providers to provide optimum care. In Summit County, we are fortunate to have a collaborative health care community that is relatively free of the turf barriers that exist between holistic health care practitioners and medical providers.
Licensed naturopathic physicians who graduate from one of the accredited schools of naturopathic medicine undergo a rigorous four year course of study, after completing a Bachelor’s degree and pre-med coursework. The first two years of naturopathic school involve the same basic science courses as medical school and require successful completion of basic science board exams. The third and fourth years consist of clinical science classes and internship as a student practitioner. Licensure is then dependent on the completion of a three-day clinical sciences board exam.
Colorado passed a regulatory bill for NDs several years ago, with oversight from a division of the Department of Regulatory Agencies that is completely self-funded. While we see patients for general complaints or check-ups, we also specialize in a few different areas. Dr. Kim Nearpass has expertise in naturopathic pediatric and women’s health issues (annual examinations, PAPs, menopause, irregular menses, infertility, PMS) thyroid and adrenal imbalances. I have expertise in functional wellness checks and care for chronic issues (sensitivities, allergies, atopic conditions, fatigue) digestive issues, brain health and cardiovascular care.
You have many options for health care so we want to thank you, Summit County, for supporting naturopathic medicine. You have allowed these doctors outside the box to serve residents and visitors since 2003.
Look for us at MountainRiverClinic.com, call (970) 668-1300, or stop in and see us at 507C East Main Street, Frisco.
About Justin Pollack and Kim Nearpass: