Finding the Balance Between a Private and Community Practice

Before becoming an ND, I was headed to medical school so that I could become a primary care doctor. I really only knew the medical paradigm: I was from the Midwest where there was little exposure to naturopathic medicine, my father was an OB/GYN, and I had spent most of my adult working life in medical clinics. When I moved to Seattle in 1994, my first job was at the 45th Street Clinic, now part of Neighborhood Health clinic system. I spent my days at the clinic, and volunteered one night a week at the Homeless Youth Clinic. The 45thStreet clinic is a wonderful clinic serving low-income, under or uninsured patients. The exact place I wanted to practice medicine when I became a doctor. But, then, reality hit. Demand for care was high, appointments were 15 minutes long, and care was palliative. I realized that I could not be the doctor I wanted to be by getting my MD. Fast forward 6 years later I found myself studying Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. Now, an alternate reality hit: who can afford this medicine? Am I serving the population I intended to serve? Fortunately, there were clinical shifts that helped me learn to provide care to underserved populations, but once out of school, how do I pay back my loans, make a living, AND serve a population that very much needs our medicine?

I love working side by side with the other medical providers, and being treated as an equal. I am learning a lot from them about acute care (and prescriptions), and love that they are learning from me as well. I love seeing the other volunteers’ interest in our medicine, but more importantly, seeing the patients light up when I explain my approach to medicine.

Fortunately, I found this resolve with The Olympia Free Clinic (TOFC) a little over a year ago. I felt like I found my balance between making a living, and bringing our medicine to those in need. I had moved to Olympia about a year before this and started building my private, solo practice in the community. Then my son’s care giver told me about her work on the board of TOFC, and the moment she mentioned it, I knew that this was the place to be involved. So, I started going to board meetings, and began working with a set of passionate people drawn from various aspects of the Olympia health community to get a free clinic open and serving the people of Thurston County. TOFC is a part of the greater Washington Free Clinic Association.

After a lot of hard work, we finally were able to get the clinic doors open in May of 2011. The Olympia Free Clinic exists so that low-income, uninsured people in Thurston County have access to cost-effective, quality, acute health care and linkages to appropriate community resources. We are open one night a week, averaging 25 patients a week. The clinic is solely volunteer run, and includes 3 primary health providers, an intake/triage nurse, a nurse for each PCP, 2 social workers, a pharmacist, intake staff, and the volunteer coordinator. There is also a PT/chiropractic clinic 2 nights a month.

The very hard working executive director is the only paid person, and earns a very small stipend. Thus far, we have kept close to 800 people from visits to the Emergency Room, and with an average cost of $1,450.00 per visit, that is incredible cost savings for our local hospitals. I have gleaned so much from working as both a board member and provider for The Olympia Free Clinic. I love working side by side with the other medical providers, and being treated as an equal. I am learning a lot from them about acute care (and prescriptions), and love that they are learning from me as well. I love seeing the other volunteers’ interest in our medicine, but more importantly, seeing the patients light up when I explain my approach to medicine. When they are brought back to the exam room, they have no idea what kind of doctor they are seeing. I have gotten nothing but positive feedback and gratitude for our medicine. In addition, and very importantly, I am integrating Naturopathic medicine into the greater medical culture of Olympia and Thurston County. The Olympia Free Clinic represents the way medicine should be practiced.

Help Needed

My biggest limitations right now are time and medicines. I have my practice, 2 small children, and other community involvements, so being on the board, getting supplies and working more than once a month has been difficult. Currently, I have NO source for donated medicines. The medical providers and the board wish to NOT use expired items out of respect to the patients. If you would like to help by sending medicines, or cash for medicines, or to volunteer at the clinic, please let me know. We are a 501c3, and I can send receipts for donation. I am best reached at whnaturopathy@gmail.com. My current wish list:All medicine pertaining to acute disease is needed. Common ailments include URI, UTI, abdominal pain (think entire GI system), heavy menstrual bleeding, dermatologic issues, headaches, anxiety. If you have it, I will use it. I have space at the clinic for a small dispensary.

  • Homeopathy kit in 30c, especially more common remedies for acute disease
  • Any herbal anti microbials. Capsules of combination of herbs and vitamins would be great, but I will use what I can get.
  • Herbal teas (more difficult with compliance) and tinctures that address the above issues
  • Adrenal and Neurotransmitter support
  • Vitamins: multis, fish oils, Magnesium, Zinc, C, Vitamin D….etc.
  • Hot water bottles
  • Castor oil-in 4 ounce bottles would be ideal.
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