As my first day of medical school approaches and I have limited my social media accounts to my classes facebook group, I can’t help but wonder
why Facebook is still a thing how my future classmates are feeling. For many of them, this might be the first time they attend school in a different state. Some of them are probably just turning 22 or 23. For most of them, this will be their first medical school orientation.
Not for me.
In many ways, I am the beneficiary of mistakes made in the past. Working in security for a couple years, while technically a successful venture, only truly succeeded in desiccating the already shriveled husk of my ability to interact with strangers. I suppose that brief career could also be considered successful if my intent was to acquire multiple concussions and MRSA infections, but it was not. I have also tried and failed miserably at establishing and maintaining multiple non-profit organizations. Hell, I’m even working on my second marriage. My wife and I are fine right now, but I’m waiting for the day when ‘fine’ turns into “fine.”
All this is to say: I have attended medical school before.
Granted, Bastyr University is not recognized as a medical school by the American Medical Association. It is a naturopathic medical school. Naturopathy, for your information, is basically a collection of alternative medicine modalities combined into one field.
They define themselves here:
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care that concentrates on whole-patient wellness while emphasizing prevention and the process of self-healing through the use of natural therapies. Naturopathic medicine attempts to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment.”
I used to joke that they were the general practitioners of things not generally practiced.
My jokes, along with my general outlook on mankind, are sad.
The naturopathic field has a few detractors; all of whom are largely ignored by naturopaths and the majority of people searching for “I can’t afford/trust a doctor, can this rash/bump/seizure be treated with apple cider vinegar?” Now, I must admit that I was one of them.
I first learned of naturopathy the way most do: while googling alternatives to the 6th prescription for ibuprofen I had just received from an MD. While I now know that I have ankylosing spondylitis – a chronic disease that can fuse my spine into a tube and other things if left untreated – back then I only knew that there were days where the pain made breathing and walking excrutiating. Also, every January my right eye would become so inflamed I couldn’t see. I also knew that most people thought I was exaggerating my symptoms or simply didn’t have the resources to help me. I ended up having to help myself, which resulted in a very high threshold for pain, a black belt in martial arts, and an extremely low opinion of the conventional medical system. While I succeeded in maintaining my ability to walk and breathe comfortably, I also fell for the genuine compassion of alternative healthcare providers. Tricky bastards, with their kindness and positive world-views.
By the time I graduated highschool, I was in cohoots with chiropractors, herbalists, pagans, and all sorts of energetic snakeoil salesmen. While I now doubt that any of their services had any physiological effect on me, the power of taking the time to listen and give me some hope is what augmented my natural pigheadedness enough to get me better. Being ever-so wise at 18, I attributed my recovery to their pseudoscience. Being even more ambitious at 18, I committed myself to pursuing a role as one of the best in the field of alternative medicine: a naturopathic physician.
Like most 20-somethings with a dream of changing the world, I ignored or rationalized all sorts of red flags around alternative medicine. I had dreams of setting up a non-profit clinic offering locally harvested herbs, counseling, and massage. In a naive way, it made sense. Herbs grow in the wild for free, and – aside from a couch for people to lay on – counseling and massage don’t cost any money to use. In theory, you could help people for free. It wasn’t long before I had set my sights on Bastyr University’s naturopathic medical program. It was one of the best (admittedly there were only 7 similar schools in North America at the time), and more importantly, it was in Seattle and not my home state of Wisconsin.
While I didn’t believe most of the school’s promises of an education on par with that of a conventional medical student, I believed the claims of combining science with traditional medical knowledge.
I was then frustrated in pursuit of further education by my first marriage/divorce and the subsequent brush with alcoholism and 2-3 years of great decisions involving bullet-proof vests and non-profit organizations. Even so, I always quietly held on to my dream of becoming a doctor. After my second wife realized that the homeless security guard she had picked up at the bus station (me) had a bachelors degree and graduated cum laude (Mom was so proud), I soon found myself in Bastyr’s ND class of 2015 Facebook page.
A year and a half later, I dropped out. The ads were wrong. There was no combination of science with traditional knowledge at Bastyr. There was just traditional medicine, with the occasional attempt at peer review or double-blind randomized controlled trials. More than anything, there was faith in their medicine and the innate healing power of nature. It was not so much a school as it was a church. Hell, the campus is an old monastery.
The painful thing is that with limited exception, my classmates at Bastyr were kind, loving, and otherwise wonderful human beings who I miss to this day. My hope is that if nothing else, their qualities as people alone help their future patients.
Now, another year and a half later, I am back in school again. I am 29, I have 16 month-old baby, I have traveled around the country and the world, and I am in debt up to my eyeballs. My application essay to this school began like this: My interest in the medical field is founded in failing every possible alternative pathway to improving the world.
Despite all this, I feel like I might actually get it right this time.
Third time is the charm, right?