Letting Go of ‘Perfect’: Tips for Success

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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When I entered my first semester at naturopathic medical school, only five months ago, I wanted to do my best and get everything right. I quickly learned that with 11 classes on my plate each semester that was NOT going to be attainable. If I focused on making sure every little detail was in place, and that every t was crossed, I wouldn’t be able to get my assignments done on time, or sleep and take care of myself. This model had to become less rigid if I wanted to succeed — both in school and my own practice. So back to the drawing board I went.

I came to the hard realization that I would have to loosen my concept of what I felt was perfect or complete. Perfect is an illusion that I chased for a long, long time. I learned that there is no such thing as perfect. I tried SO hard to find it in so many ways. I always found that there was one more draft, more edits, more work to do, more rehearsing, more weight to lose, more things to buy, more and more and more. For me, a survivor of bulimia, searching for perfect led me to a very dark and lonely place in my teens, like being in a bottomless hole of despair. Once out of that hole, I knew I needed to find a new way to live. And that included new tools and a new outlook, while tossing out the word perfect from my vocabulary.

Today, I am glad I don’t have to resort to self-destruction when I can’t get to that ‘perfect place.’ Instead, my motto is one of compassion, self-love, and awareness. Many days, my motto is, “I am doing the best I can with what I have.” Some days I just keep repeating this and use it as a mantra. Other days, my mantra is simply “Thank you.” I am thankful that in naturopathic medical school, I have these tools to be gentle on myself when the going gets tough. Self-care has become one of the best tools in my toolkit.

In changing my strategy of tackling naturopathic medical school, I needed to settle for ‘good enough’ to be able to whack a DONE stamp on each project, conversation, meal, etc. What did that look like? How was it going to get done? Papers still had to be completed by their deadlines, exams still had to be written, workouts still had to be a part of my schedule, and I needed to be mindful and show up for the people around me. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, at least all of the time, but I was going to try this strategy out and take it for a spin. It worked and led me to completing all 11 classes in my first semester.productivity_4

Here are some tools I use to get to ‘done’ and ‘good enough:’

  1. Start with a vision and work on it each day. I knew what assignments were due ahead of time and how much time I had to work on them each day. I created drafts of them and just plugged away until I felt like I put in my best effort.
  1. Pause, breathe, and let God/universe/creator in the door first. Often we rush into a room or building without being mindful or aware. Before I enter a room, I take a pause, breathe, and allow something greater than me into the room first, and then I walk in. If I just rush in with all of my ego, worries, and concerns in first, I find that my experience is not as peaceful and just mostly ego-driven.
  1. Have realistic goals about what you can achieve each day. In my past career as a public affairs specialist for the Navy, I had so many tasks on my plate but still wanted to get it all done in less than 24 hours. I quickly realized that writing, studying, and being creative takes time. I had to bring that skill with me to medical school and realize that although it looked like I could get all of my assignments done in about 3 hours, I had to plan for at least 9 hours.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. During the process of competing each task, meeting, assignment, class, I need to be gentle with myself in what each of those outcomes will look like. It’s ok if they don’t go as planned or if every word I had prepared wasn’t said. At least each task is done.
  1. What to do with writer’s block? Agh! My biggest hurdle sometimes is writer’s block. I have found that if I breathe through it, ask the universe for the right words, they always come through. If I just let go and let the words flow through me, the outcome is always better.

As I come upon another 11 classes this semester, I will be using all of these tips to stay sane, healthy and humble. Hope they help you too! What tips do you use to help with productivity?

Mental Health Week Jan. 23-27, at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, gives us a time to reflect, learn great self-care practices, and how to avoid burnout, among others. For more information about what we are doing at CCNM during Mental Health Week, check out: https://www.facebook.com/MentalHealthCCNM/

Surviving the Midterm Academic Obstacle Course in ND Med School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

I feel like I just competed in an Ironman crossed with a Tough Mudder of academics this week … and it’s just the first set of exams for this semester. We have just endured a week of six midterms in botanical medicine, homeopathy, anatomy, Asian medicine, biochemistry, and clinical physiology. Although I am mentally exhausted, I feel good overall and am relieved they are over.

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The transversospinal group drawn by Dr. Terzic.

So what were we tested on? What do we learn in ND school you might wonder? I can’t give away all of the secrets, since some students have not taken the exams (some have opted to resit), but I can share an overview with you. We competed in a variety of academic obstacles, with great success. I have never made so many flashcards in such a short amount of time in my life – nearly 400 of them!

So what did the obstacle course look like? Botanical medicine looked like a wall climb in actions AND Latin names of nearly 70 herbs. Homeopathy was an obstacle course of different homeopathic remedies and how they are made. Anatomy was a mud crawl of all our knowledge all of the bones, muscles and nerves of the back, neck and head (more Latin). Asian medicine was a hoop of fire of different conditions (excess, deficient, wind, cold, heat, etc.) based on the elements (some in Chinese). Biochemistry was an electric shock event of glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. And finally, clinical physiology was a plank obstacle of fever pathways, muscle twitches, and action potentials. Overall, it was glorious and definitely tested my strength and endurance.

Although exhausting, I did manage to put self-care in the forefront every day to keep up my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical strength. I love the hashtag, #SelfCareisHealthCare. If I am not taking care of myself, I cannot be there for those around me (or be kind to those around me) and be the person I aim to be in this world. Every single day this week, I made sure to eat healthy food, get 8 hours of sleep, work out, and practice gratitude. I know this essential for me in med school and will be essential in my practice.

As part of my wellness plan at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic at school, I had stress relieving acupuncture done during midterm week by my rockstar intern. I had my appointment the day before my Asian Medicine exam, which helped me see how a Traditional Chinese Medicine intake is conducted. I was also able to learn about issues that can lead to organ imbalance, such as liver stagnation causing skin issues. I left the appointment extremely relaxed and it felt like my anxiety had been washed away. It was an incredible experience that I encourage everyone to have. I can’t wait for this coming week of more stress relieving acupuncture!

When I started this program, I was told that naturopathic medical school would change you as a person. The person you were starting on day one would not be the same person as when you graduate. This is starting to show. Besides gaining a ton of knowledge in naturopathic medicine, my soft skills (listening, being empathic, understanding, etc.) are already becoming more fine-tuned. I am excited to learn more knowledge and stay open to the journey.

Learning to be Great Doctors in Naturopathic Medical School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Some of the first year naturopathic medical school books.

When I first saw the schedule of classes for my first semester, I was filled with excitement, joy, and … anxiety. Naturopathic medical school is not like undergrad with its five or six fairly rigorous classes. Oh, no. When I carefully looked at the schedule I was given at orientation at the beginning of last month, there were ELEVEN classes for this semester … count them … 11! We are mostly in class for eight hours a day with some breaks in between.

This is the list of our classes for this semester:

  • Botanical medicine 1
  • Anatomy 1 (3 times a week)
  • Clinical Physiology 1 (2 times a week)
  • Naturopathic History, Philosophy, and Principles
  • Homeopathic Medicine 1
  • Clinic 1
  • Principles in research
  • Anatomy 1 lab
  • Health psychology
  • Asian medicine 1
  • Biochemistry

Sounds amazing and fun, right?! It truly is. I have learned so much in the past month and am continuing to learn new things every day. Right now we are learning all of the vertebrae with their unique markings in Anatomy, sharpening our analytical skills in our research class, and cracking open the Synthesis Repertorium Homeopathicum Syntheticum or as we fondly call it, “Synthesis” to find a fitting remedy and symptom profile in Homeopathy.

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A drawing from Dr. Terzic showing us the ligaments of the cervical vertebrae.

In many of our classes, we are also learning the soft skills — the skills that will make us incredible naturopathic doctors. I honestly didn’t expect to learn these soft skills so quickly from the first week of classes but they are beginning to enrich my life as a person and future ND. We have been learning how to self-reflect after a patient interview, how to truly listen to the patient, acknowledge them and understand them — to truly make them feel heard. This is an incredible gift that I cannot wait to give to my future patients!

Some of us have begun shadowing the clinic supervisor at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic located here at the school. During our shadowing, we are able to see how the supervisor interacts with the staff, observes patient cases, and helps to solidify the treatment plan that each intern forms. I also bought my stethoscope and lab coat and am very excited for my first clinic shift later this month.

I have also been making it a priority to practice self-care every day. I have been making time for working out, meditating, and spending time with my amazing fiancé and friends. I love the hashtag #Selfcareishealthcare! If we keep ourselves healthy, we will be able to be there for those around us, as well as oxygenate our blood and support our brain function! I definitely don’t want to lose my health while studying health so I make it a point each day to practice self-care.

Overall, it’s been an intense schedule but I wouldn’t trade this experience in for the world. My fellow 79 classmates are the most incredible, amazing, emotionally intelligent, and beautiful people I have ever met. I am so excited to get to know them more during the next four years and look forward to becoming incredible NDs! It’s great that we all go through this program together. I am also so excited and proud to be the co-academic representative for my class. We truly embody our theme of Forging the Future!

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THE room where we spend all of our classes and time together for year 1. Also known as the menopause room because of drastic changes in temperature.

We are currently preparing for our six midterms that we will have in two weeks. Although this is a busy time, I am so happy I am able to share what it’s been like during the first month of naturopathic medical school!

The Power of Watsu (Water + Shiatsu)

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Dr. Frances Turk, N.D., performing watsu on me during Unity Summit at Lake Couchiching, ON, Canada. (Photo by Kieran O’Hagan-Wong)

I woke up to the ringing of my phone alarm at 7:00A.M. to do something incredible and disturbing — get out of my comfort zone. As I got up out of my sleeping bag in our wood cabin and started getting dressed into my bathing suit, it was like my body knew exactly what to do. My mind, on the other hand, wasn’t so convinced. Going swimming in a lake at 7:15A.M. on a September morning in Canada sounded horrible but somehow life-changing at the same time.

It was the last day of our two-day Unity Summit, a time when first year naturopathic medical students bond and get to know one another before starting an incredible four-year journey together and then graduate and become naturopathic doctors.

I heard about Watsu the night before from an incredible naturopathic doctor, Dr. Frances Turk, N.D., who spoke to our class about her life-changing experience being an ND and the lessons she learned while in her practice. She had the most soothing and exuberant energy about her. She told us that Watsu (water + shiatsu) was a massage technique that uses the pressure and resistance from the water to help stretch and move the spine in ways that could not be achieved on a massage table. I was intrigued. She also told us that she wouldn’t let us drown, so my trust was building.

Hoping that I would be one of the 10 people that would get to experience Watsu that morning, I started walking out the cabin door down to the lake. But before I opened the door, on my way out, I woke one of my cabin-mates, telling her what an amazing experience she should not miss and that she should get out of her toasty bed to jump into a cold lake. I trusted my intuition that this guarantee would pay off. Thankfully, she agreed to come with me, and off we went, shivering all the way.

Since the lake temperature was not as warm as the typical pool watsu is often performed in, Dr. Turk suggested we get into the lake before it was our turn in order to warm up. She could not move our spines and muscles easily if we were shivering and tense. We sat on the dock, watching each person get in the water to warm up.

Then we watched Dr. Turk help each person on the dock to put on “floaties” around their calves to help them float better during the session. Once Dr. Turk got the person in the water, the Watsu dance began. It really looked like a coordinated water ballet with Dr. Turk cradling each person, rocking their bodies back and forth, and stretching the muscles with ease. Dr. Turk spent about 10 minutes with each person.

Watsu video (By Catherine Rabo)

Then, it was my turn. Previous to my “appointment,” I warmed up by doing laps for about 15 minutes in the lake. Dr. Turk helped me put on the floaties around my legs and then brought me to the shallow part of the lake where she could still stand. Then, my incredible experience began. I was ready and fully trusting in the process.

As I put my head in the water, I could feel the water go up over my ears. I didn’t panic. Dr. Turk held my head so the water never came near my eyes. I was supported and felt my body completely relax. In my relaxed state, I heard the sounds of the other students talking on the dock in a muffled way through the water. They sounded so far away. I imagined this is what it may be like in utero in a safe, watery environment, hearing far-away sounds.

I listened to the sound of my own deep breathing with the water over my ears. I felt like I was being transported to another time in my life when I first learned to swim when I was four years old. In my relaxed state, I felt my past trauma from that time float away. “It’s safe to trust,” my intuition said. Just then, I could feel the sun’s warm rays on my face, deepening my relaxation.

While Dr. Turk held my head, she started walking backwards in the water and pulled me toward her with a swaying motion so my spine was like a water snake in the water. I felt an incredible and freeing stretching in my spine. It was like all the tension in my back was being slowly shaken off of me.

I came back to my breath and center. I was remaining to breathe deeply and my body felt like a wet noodle — no stress, no tightness. I lost track of time as Dr. Turk did her Watsu water ballet of stretches and movements.

When my time was up and I slowly opened my eyes, I started to smile. Then, I tried to stand up and felt extremely drunk. My body was trying to collect itself in space and time. As I stood up, I stumbled five or six steps all the way to the dock. I couldn’t imagine what I would have felt like after an hour of Watsu.

I am so thankful that day that I got to start my ND education with such a gentle and magical experience. I will forever remember the freeing and powerful effect of Watsu.

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Staying Open to the Journey in Med School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Fearful. Sometimes a combination of all of these. This definitely describes my emotional whirlwind during the first week of naturopathic medical school. It seems like I have a thousand questions zipping through my mind every minute. “Will I be able to handle the course load? Does my financial aid cover my on-campus rent? Do I need to buy all of my medical equipment yet for all four years in the first week of school?” Endless questions.

In preparation for all of these questions and emotions, the amazing staff at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine was prepared. I brought the ball of emotions I felt inside me to orientation. I felt pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. On the second day we had a panel discussion where the second year, third year, fourth year students, and a successful CCNM naturopathic doctor spoke about their experiences. Suddenly, I felt all of the anxiety, fear, and nervousness melt away.

I started to get excited. Excited for the path I have chosen with all of my heart to make a difference in the world as a naturopathic doctor. A path to help people get better and lead their best life in health and harmony. I suddenly remembered WHY I started on this path in the first place – because my ND lit that spark in me.

During the panel discussion, I raised my hand and asked, “How do you stay open to the journey?” I know I have an idea of what type of environment I want to work in after I graduate from CCNM. I know what type of population I would like to work with. But, that may NOT be THE PLAN in how things play out. Who knows what will happen in four years?

I started asking fourth year students their experiences with how their path changed. I listened to them talk about how they could not have imagined that they would be working with a certain population or in a certain location. Most of the time they had no intention of going the path they did, but they just showed up and did the work and amazing things happened.

I know I have to keep my options open. But HOW do you do this when you are supposed to be networking and creating space for a practice once you graduate? I don’t want to have blinders on through school, only focusing on MY plan, while having great opportunities I might not have considered pass me by.

Here are the tools that I received that I would like to share with you. I know I will have to be reminded of them as I continue on this journey.

  1. Keep the big goal in mind. Studying for exams and completing assignments are important but ask yourself WHY you want to become a great ND. Focus on the type of ND you want to become. What type of qualities do you want to possess? How do you want to interact with your patients? What does a successful ND look like to you?
  1. Create a dream board. Take a bunch of cut out magazine pictures and paste them on a board to give you a vision of maybe what area, what type of population, and what success looks like for you in your future practice. This is totally fun to do in a group to see what people come up with.dream-board
  1. Be grateful for the opportunities that present themselves while in school. Networking starts from day one of naturopathic medical school. Keep your options open to the opportunities that come your way and get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you don’t know where an opportunity will lead you.
  1. Ask yourself again and again, “How are you staying open to the journey?” That may change along the way. We never stop learning once we graduate. We need to stay open to new information, continuing education, and to our patients’ needs. It’s ok for your practice to change and evolve once you are established.

I am very excited to be on this amazing journey to be a licensed naturopathic doctor. I really have no idea what will happen in four years after I graduate but I am starting to make peace with this fact. It means I don’t have to control everything in life. Thank God/Goddess for this! In the meantime, I will continue to show up, do the work, ask questions, and be present and loving to those around me. Thank you for letting me be of service.

Preparing for Naturopathic Med School

By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student
Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine

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I sat on the beach in Florida last May, not sure what to do with my life. I watched the gentle crashing waves and felt the soft sand on my toes and heaviness in my heart.

I was working as a traditional naturopath at six physical therapy clinics, in what I thought was my dream job, but something just didn’t feel right. I had already completed a naturopathic doctor program at Trinity School of Natural Health as well as traveled around the U.S. for over a decade completing dozens of natural health and healing certifications. I felt like I was heading in the right direction, but not quite on the right path.

Not sure what the right answer was, I brought my dilemma to the universe. I asked, while looking out onto the beach in front of me, “Ok, if I could leave this earth or do something, what would I do?” (I didn’t have a functional rocket ship so I knew that wasn’t a viable option.) Then out of nowhere, it HIT me! I would go to a four-year accredited naturopathic medical school to become a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.). But HOW would that happen? WHERE would I go? I left all of the HOWs to the universe and started to take ACTION.

My skills as a journalist and excitement kicked in. I first went to Twitter and searched “ND” and “naturopath” and found a host of NDs and students who were from Toronto. I started reaching out to them and following them on social media.

I was ecstatic to tell my best friend, Laura, about my new epiphany! Meanwhile, I was looking at attending another ND school on the west coast since it was close to a beach. “Who doesn’t want to go to school by the beach?” I thought. Laura knew I needed some guidance and connected me with Dr. Jennifer Karon-Flores, ND, a successful naturopath in Portland, OR, who gave me the best advice and helped put me on my path. I want to share that amazing advice with you!

  1. Fall in love with the curriculum! You are not going to have a ton of time to be at the beach while in school. Coming to terms with the voice of reason, I started analyzing the curriculums at each accredited naturopathic medical school. I suddenly came across the curriculum at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) and fell in love! I remember I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so excited!
  1. Interview people who have graduated from or are in the program you are interested in. Looking at the curriculum is a great place to start, however, talk to people who have gone through and experienced the program. I interviewed a CCNM teacher and graduate as well as a few successful NDs in the field.
  1. Go to the school and take a tour. Once you set foot on the campus, you will have a better idea of how you feel being there. You may be able to envision yourself going to class there. The moment I walked into the doors at CCNM, saw the naturopathic doctor’s oath on the wall near the entrance, and felt the healing energy of the school, I knew it was the place for me.thumb_img_0093_1024
  1. Support your adrenals before you start! In order to effectively deal with stress, your adrenals need to be working properly. The high-stress position I left before starting on my ND path left me with adrenal fatigue. (If we don’t have the proper fight or flight hormones and are adrenals are weakened, we won’t be able to handle stress in a healthy way.) Before starting school, I made an appointment with a local ND, had my adrenals evaluated, and started taking a tincture to help support my adrenals. I no longer rely on coffee as an energy source to get me through the day!
  1. Take ACTION and leave the rest to the universe. You don’t have control over people or how every detail will work out, but you have control over what you can do and your intentions. Once I submitted my application at CCNM, I waited a few weeks and with relief, I was accepted! I also had to apply for a student visa, which was a yearlong process. I didn’t know how my tuition was going to be paid for but I just kept saying, “I am going to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine to be a naturopathic doctor.” I had faith that it would all work out.

Once I decided to go to CCNM, I started signing up for my pre-requisite courses. I had to take a full year of anatomy and physiology, a full year of biology, intro to organic chemistry, and psychology. The whole process to start ND med school and complete all of my prerequisites was a little nerve-racking but do-able. I often felt alone since I was the only one from my school going to ND school, but its good to stand out from the crowd. You don’t have to be like everyone else and that’s ok.

I am excited for my full week of classes this week at CCNM. All of this preparation was worth it! AND, my adrenals are ready for the challenge!

Welcome To Naturopathic Chronicles

13962659_10209547192257302_2365484379065521865_nWelcome to my first blog on Naturopathic Chronicles! I am going to take you on a journey through my adventures of naturopathic medical school at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in Toronto, ON. I am starting in a few weeks so this is an exciting time! I am about to start a program at CCNM to become a licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D).

In future blogs, you can look forward to reading about what I will be learning at CCNM, my own personal story in overcoming epilepsy, and my experiences with health and wellness. I am always open to suggestions on what you would like to know about becoming a licensed naturopathic doctor, healer, or anything you were wondering about natural medicine. Thanks for following me and checking out Naturopathic Chronicles!