“As the first naturopathic physician and acupuncturist appointed to lead a Veterans Affairs Whole Health program, I will do my best to represent our professions and medicine in the best way.”

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Austin College, John S. Finnell, ND, MPH, LAc told the admissions advisors at the allopathic and osteopathic medical schools that he was interested in studying preventative, nutritional, and botanical medicines. Much to his dismay, his advisors informed him that he would have to look elsewhere for preventative healthcare education.

Prior to pursuing his naturopathic medical education, Dr. Finnell completed a Master’s of Science in environmental engineering and sustainable infrastructure at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. His first career was as an environmental engineer and chemist, contracting for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Dallas. Dr. Finnell completed Superfund site assessments and remediation plans, refinery site inspections, and emergency response for the Columbia Space Shuttle accident.

“I knew that I needed to get back on my original path, once my work in the environmental field began to negatively affect my health.”

Bastyr as a springboard

“I had a dejavu moment my first week in Seattle that made me a believer that Bastyr chose me. I was driving around Green Lake and remembered that, ten years before, a dear friend had told me that I should check out this small herbal medicine school, as she drove me to visit the medical school admissions office at the University of Washington, in 1994. Across from the Seattle Zoo, as I reminisced, an oversized pickup truck t-boned my car. The next thing I knew, my car was totaled and I was at the Swedish Hospital, alive and more than a little rattled. You see, I was given another chance to get back on my path. Perhaps whomever was looking out for me decided that I needed a dose of my own medicine. I got it in the form of a full recovery with the help of naturopathic and east Asian medicines at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health.”

While at Bastyr University, “I gained an understanding of the human condition that I could hardly have imagined when I started my first day of class. I learned of the life stories of my patients, classmates, and teachers. I saw healing take place within each of them as we walked the path together. I learned about human anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, and about the diseased state and creating the conditions for healing. I learned how to practice the art of the medicine, and I learned how to simultaneously become a critic and an aficionado of our art.

After I graduated, I completed a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH; previously NCCAM) post-doctoral research fellowship at the Bastyr University Research Institute, under the mentorship of Ryan Bradley, ND, and Leanna Standish, PhD, ND, LAc (5T32AT000815), and a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) in epidemiology at the University of Washington. I successfully obtained foundation and faculty seed grants to conduct a clinical trial of the effects of vitamin D supplementation (Traub et al., 2014). I also participated in collaborative studies assessing the patterns of use and safety of CIH interventions (Mischley, Vespignani, & Finnell, 2013; Sexton et al., 2014; Sexton, Cuttler, Finnell, & Mischley, 2016).

I then gained an appointment as director of a postgraduate doctoral program and research at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, a regionally-accredited CIH institution in Austin, Texas. While at AOMA, I became funded by an administrative supplement for a complementary health practitioner research experience (PA-16-013) awarded in support of the parent R01 entitled: Functional Orthopedic Rehab Treatment-Amended (FORT-A) Program (R01AT008422-01). All of this work helped me find my way to the next stage of my career.”

Finding fulfillment as an ND

I love my life in San Antonio, in my home state of Texas. Texas, specifically San Antonio, was the home of Herbert Shelton, ND, one of the pioneers of the practice of natural hygiene within the profession. The Stark Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, hosts the Todd-McClean Library with one of the largest naturopathic medicine collections in the world. I am now the Whole Health Program Manager at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, one of 18 Whole Health Flagship sites. As the first naturopathic physician and acupuncturist appointed to lead a Veterans Affairs Whole Health program, I will do my best to represent our professions and medicine in the best way.”

I love my profession and will never get bored. The part that I love the most is the size of our toolbox. What do you do when your patient comes into your acupuncture practice but is afraid of needles? To name a few…diet, exercise, mind-body practices, fasting, mythopoetic exploration, herbal medicine, physical medicine, and homeopathy. What do you do when your patient comes into your acupuncture practice but is not afraid of needles? Well…you do all of the above plus acupuncture.”

Advice for aspiring NDs

When I interviewed at Bastyr, they asked me what I wanted to do with my education. My reply was that I wanted to study naturopathic and Chinese medicine, research to bring this medicine into the mainstream, and move back home, gain licensure and start a school in my home state. Patience – I am working on it!

My plan was to complete the MS in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, in order to be able to practice in Texas, while we gained licensure for naturopathic medicine. I also planned to gain rigorous training in research methodologies in order to create broader acceptance of this medicine in the halls of medicine and in the halls of Congress. I am still walking along that path; it’s my life’s path.

The late Bill Mitchell, ND, said in class one day that: ‘The truth will bubble up!’ Those who know me know the turtle mantra: ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ Be true to the medicine and steadfast in your calling. Along your path, you are the holder of the medicine of the past and the medicine of the future.”

Learn more about Dr. Finnell

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