When Adam Silberman graduated from UCLA with a BA in psychology in 2003, he had never been exposed to naturopathic medicine. When he traveled to Australia in 2005 to earn an MBA in International Business at Murdoch University and fulfill a variety of speaking and community service duties as a Rotary international ambassador, his plan was to return to the United States after a year to begin medical school.
Enter a severe case of mono, a naturopath who would later become his fiancé, and the sudden death of his father ... and seven years later, Adam is now one of the 49 enthusiastic individuals who make up the first class of ND students at Bastyr University California. Also serving as Bastyr California's first student representative with the California Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CNDA), Adam is clearly a man full of passion for the life of healing he has embarked upon.
Discovering a passion
AANMC: You had never been exposed to naturopathic medicine until came down with mono while in Australia and sought help from a naturopathic doctor (ND). What was that like for you?
AS: I had grown up always just taking antibiotics. But this naturopath, he had me taking all these different supplements and doing different exercises. And within three weeks, I was totally healed. It was a lifesaver! I'd always been interested in my own nutrition and health, but before then I'd never made the connection that nutrition and health actually were medicine.
AANMC: While in Australia, you also lost your father quite suddenly. How did that affect your life and contribute to your decision to pursue naturopathic medicine as a career?
AS: It was out of the blue and it was extremely traumatic. But it also provided the push I needed to realize that even though things were going really well for me, I was not doing what I was passionate about. His death kind of shook me up, like "Hey, this life is precious. It's time to find out what your passion is and follow it." So I looked back at my father's life, and saw that he had valued balance, enjoying life, being there for others — all ideals inherently encompassed in the ND profession. And that was what ultimately lead me to naturopathic medicine.
AANMC: Your fiancé, Serena, is a naturopath and acupuncturist herself. What role has she played in your decision to become an ND?
She motivates me and inspires me, and she has this ability to empower and inject passion into people about their health that's unbelievably addictive. Bottom line, if it wasn't for her exposing me to naturopathy and supporting me in taking a leap of faith, I would not have done this. And I hope she can continue to be involved in my professional development, both during school and after, in as many avenues as she wants.
The first class
AANMC: When you decided to come back to the United States for medical training, you were accepted into every school you applied to. Why did you ultimately choose to come to Bastyr University California?
AS: I was born and raised in San Diego, so being able to come back and be close to family was really important. I also realized that naturopathic training didn't have to just supplement allopathic training; it could be my central training. Plus, I just really liked the combination offered by a university like Bastyr: it's been around for more than 30 years, so it has financial grounding and an established academic process, but it's is also new and groundbreaking and pioneering.
AANMC: So far, how would you compare your academic experience at Bastyr to your previous academic experiences?
AS: It's 100 percent different. UCLA has a hundred thousand students. At Bastyr, we're a class of 49, so the community environment is really different. I've also never been at a university where there is only one program. We're all doing the same thing. So even though it's been a pretty crazy four weeks, we're all working through it together and the camaraderie is already quite strong.
AANMC: Does that sense of community include the staff?
AS: Definitely. Alison Scott, associate director of admissions and student services, has been just incredible in transitioning us into this new student life. She's played this combined role of counselor, advisor, and guide. One minute she's getting wash towels for the kitchen, and the next she's figuring out what we're going to do about health insurance and how we're going to establish our clubs. And Dr. Moira Fitzpatrick, the vice president, she's teaching a class, she's working towards integrating our university with the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and the UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine, and, just now, she was taking out the trash!
AANMC: How has your actual instruction compared to what you've experienced before?
AS: The independent learning that goes on here as part of the integrative curriculum is new to me. For example, we'll learn how a muscle works, biochemically. Then we'll look at it physiologically. Then we'll be in lab learning how to palpate muscles. Then we're working in a group to solve a health problem that is associated with the muscle. And then we're expected to do additional reading and to look at the other types of symptomologies that are occurring. The idea is that when we get to our test, we can have something that wasn't even discussed in class put in front of us, and we'll have developed the tools we'll need to navigate the problem. Because the reality is, in practice, you're going to get stuff from all different angles.
AANMC: What has been your greatest challenge in ND school so far?
AS: I would say that time management is already the most challenging thing. And when I get out and start practicing, one of the main things I plan to do is talk to people about work-life balance. We're all constantly trying to juggle our passions, our interests, our commitments, and our responsibilities so that we can get the most out of life. So I've committed to doing is to start practicing what I preach. Because if I can move through this rigorous of a program and still connect with my family, friends, and my fiancé; have time for myself; do some surfing; stay in shape
Becoming a pioneer for policy
AANMC: You mentioned that one thing that drew you to Bastyr California was the sense that it was groundbreaking and pioneering. How do you feel that as a student?
AS: It feels pioneering in that there's a lot of flexibility in terms of how we define our role as students. Like in being involved in the California Naturopathic Doctors Association (CNDA) and establishing how, as a student body, we want to influence policy regarding naturopathic medicine in the state. There hasn't been a student body here before, so there's never been naturopathic students to lobby California legislators. We're going to be the first ones to do that! And I see that as an incredible opportunity for us to move toward a full scope of practice rights and coverage by medical insurance here in California.
AANMC: What are some of those missing rights that limit NDs currently practicing in California, and why do you feel it is so important to lobby for change?
AS: The lacking rights are individual things, like granting NDs the right to write prescriptions and to perform minor surgeries, like doing sutures. Another big item is gaining the ability to instruct nurses or physicians assistants in our practices. How can we act as primary care physicians if we can't, by law, advise nurses and other health care professionals to do what is required for the health of the patients in our practices? In addition, how can we treat a situation in the most integrative way possible if we are limited in our scope? We are trained extensively in both minor surgery and pharmaceuticals. Thus, it makes no sense that we cannot use these tools we're acquired through our professional training and expertise as part of a patient care plan if required. By limiting our scope, the legislation limits our ability to benefit the people of California. I am confident that it is only a matter of time before the legislation catches up with our training and we achieve a legal scope that is commensurate with our abilities.
AANMC: You also mentioned the importance of lobbying for healthcare coverage — can you expand on that?
AS: Unfortunately, because it is not covered by health insurance , naturopathic medicine in California is predominantly a luxury for the wealthy. This is unacceptable, especially when considering the proven benefits of naturopathic medicine for the individual, family and community. A bill just came up that would have required health insurance companies to cover all professionals who are licensed by the state of California to practice medicine, but that bill did not pass. So we, as students, need to continue to fight toward passing a bill of that nature so that we can really serve everyone.
Looking to the future
AANMC: You've done a fair amount of philanthropic and volunteer work throughout your life. Is that something you see carrying over into your training and work as an ND?
AS: Absolutely. With a full scope of practice and coverage by health insurance, I would love to go into the underserved areas of San Diego with mobile clinics and set up shop for a week at a time. Then, with time, we could establish permanent facilities where a family could see an ND on a regular basis. But even if health insurance wouldn't cover it, we could find other ways to make it work—like providing corporate wellness services and treating private patients in an integrative clinic, and then putting a portion of those funds towards a clinic in an underserved area.
And I don't visualize just us NDs going to those communities: I would like to see us go with an allopathic doctor, an osteopath, a dermatologist, an acupuncturist, etc. With all the schools and health care professionals in San Diego, the place could be full of people ready to serve...and there are definitely populations ready to be served. Every family in California deserves to have a group of health care professionals that will develop a long-term relationship with their family. Longevity and consistency are essential to providing quality health care. Unfortunately, this dynamic is currently missing when addressing the health of underserved populations here in California.
AANMC: You also have quite a bit of teaching experience. Is teaching something you see being important as you pursue your education and career as an ND?
AS: Definitely. It's that whole teach a man to fish analogy. One of the keys to our medicine being effective is that we empower our patients by giving them the tools to improve their own health. We don't cure people. We facilitate. We assist. And a gigantic component of that is teaching. If I could, I would love to be like Robert Kiyosaki or Dr. DeMartini or Tony Robbins, great teachers who empower large numbers of people on a very practical and personal level. I would also like to bridge the gap between professions by teaching allopathic physicians about how we, as NDs, connect with patients. Because, by actually teaching future physicians (who will teach their patients), our impact on the community can be a thousand times that of teaching just our patients.
AANMC: Having left behind an extremely successful professional career, is there ever part of you that wonders about the life you left versus the new one you are pursuing as ND?
AS: I was wary of the risk associated with being in a sort of non-established profession in California, especially considering the financial outlay it takes to become trained as an ND. There's no guaranteed job waiting for me, and most people would probably say this wasn't a good idea. But to me, this is not a choice for a life of luxury; this is a choice for a life of service. This decision is based purely on my passion for what I feel is my best way to serve in this lifetime. Period. Because really, what better way to give back than through health, than by empowering people to be their own health advocates, working with people naturally, and really being an advocate for those individuals lost in the medical system?
Barely four weeks into his training as an ND student at Bastyr California, Adam is only beginning his career in naturopathic medicine. But even in the midst of his first exams, his enthusiasm about discovering his passion for naturopathic medicine, beginning his education, and planning for the future is contagious. And if he is any indication, there can be no doubt that as he and his fellow classmates advance in their studies and professions, they will not only impact in the field of naturopathic medicine, but the entire State of California.