Dr. JoAnn Yanez, AANMC executive director, joins Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine‘s The Daily Dose to discuss how a passion for illness prevention and naturopathic medicine lead her to a career in advocacy, academia, patient care and public health. Learn why there isn’t a better time than now to start a career in naturopathic medicine.
Full Transcript of Interview Below.
Janet: Welcome to The Daily Dose. Natural health tips from clinicians, researchers, and faculty plus College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences.
Chris: Brought to you by the SCNM Medical Center, Neil Riordan Center for Regenerative Medicine, and the Medicinary at SCNM. Your trusted source for physician grade vitamins, natural supplements, and herbal remedies.
Janet: Hosts Janet-
Chris: And Chris. Today on The Daily Dose podcast, we welcome Dr. JoAnn Yanez.
Dr. Yanez: Thank you so much for having me today.
Chris: Dr. Yanez, tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to naturopathic medicine.
Dr. Yanez: I am currently the Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. Well, how I got here? I was one of those itty bitties who always wanted to be a doctor ever since ever since. If you asked me when I was three years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a singing doctor – the singing part, that still I do in the shower, but the doctor part is really thanks to a journey that I took. I prepared myself just like all the other pre-meds. I thought I was going to be a psychiatrist. I volunteered versus a candy striper back when they were called that. Aging myself here. Then in college I had the opportunity to, well I participated in a suicide hotline and then in college I had this wonderful opportunity to participate in research at a psych hospital. I got to the psych hospital and I was so excited. I’m like, “Oh my God, here I am, I’m pursuing my dream. This is going to happen. I’m making it happen.” The very first day I got on the floor, it just slapped me in the face, and it was like, “Wow, this is not for me.”
It was very, very, it was just one of those like, you know in your gut when something feels right and you know in your gut when something just is not a fit. It wasn’t that it was bad, or wrong, or a bad choice for anyone, it just wasn’t the path for me.
I then went on this journey of exploration and questioning. Well, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t know what I want to do. How do I find out? And this was pre-internet, so things were a bit more hit or miss as to the information you found sometimes was by luck. I just began on this journey trying to find out what it was. “Through the course of college, I had some health issues. Loved ones of mine had health issues. The role of nutrition, mental health, the mind/body connection, what you ate, how you exercised, all of that became really clear to me that it had a powerful and integral role in our health. And so, I started looking down different pathways. Well, maybe I’ll be an EMT for a while or maybe I’ll go and study genetics and understand how everything pieces together. Nothing just felt right. My mom was bugging me. She’s like, ‘Talk to this doctor, talk to this doctor. He’ll really be able to at least provide you some information.’ He was a lovely chiropractor in southern Florida and said to me, ‘Have you thought about naturopathic medicine?’ And I said, ‘Natural what? What’s that?’ And told me, ‘You learn physical medicine. You learn the connection with the mind, you learn nutrition, you learn all of these other natural therapies and herbs and botanicals.’ And I was like, ‘where was this all my life?’”
It was one week prior to the beginning of my senior year of college. I said to my mom, I’m like, “Where are these schools?” We started looking – at the time there were three. I had thought I had had some health issues, which naturopathic medical school helped me understand I didn’t have. I had stupid teenager syndrome who did the dress warmly enough or eat right, but that’s another story for another day.
What I did have was this understanding that I needed to pursue this medicine. Life took me to SCNM, which I completed my naturopathic degree in 2000 and then completed a residency in ’01. Then just life started happening. 9/11 occurred during the course of my transition into practice and I very much wanted to go back home to New York. I went back to New York and started practicing, found myself in the State Association. Another 10, 15 years later, here we are.
Janet: While we’re all stuck at home here, I know that there are a lot of students and seniors who are graduating with their bachelor’s maybe this year, who are looking for that next step. Maybe they are kind of in your shoes where they’re like, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I’m looking right now.” They have a lot more time to do research on their career paths. Why is now the perfect time to start exploring naturopathic medicine if you’re interested in medicine?
Dr. Yanez: Well, I think, COVID-19, this coronavirus, has really been a major disruptor in anything and everything that constituted our daily normal life. It’s really caused many of us to take stock in what is really important. Take a look at ourselves, go inward, think about what do I want out of life? What is my meaning? What is my purpose? Where is my value and what do I value?
I think for many of us that’s brought us down to two answers. I know I’m speaking for myself right now, but it’s health and it’s family. I think it’s really drilled down for so many of us, maybe not everybody, but for so many of us the real value in our family and friends and our close relationships and our health. Why is now a good time to study? There’s no time like the present to follow your passion. So, if you’ve determined that this is your passion, go for it. Come up with a plan. We have many resources at AANMC.org for folks who are looking into this as a pathway, who are trying to figure out, “How do I get started?” “What do I need to do?” All of that is available to you. And like you said, there’s a lot of time to do research right now, and there’s a lot of good research out there. There’s also some misinformation. And so, I just always want to reinforce for folks that, when they’re going out, make sure that you’re looking at reputable sources. Talk to licensed naturopathic doctors, contact the schools. Contact admissions counselors early on, to understand your journey, your path, what courses you need to take, so you don’t start barking up trees that maybe aren’t as accurate or appropriate for you.
Chris: The next question is on the topic of NDs becoming more of a primary care providers for people throughout the world and specifically in the United States after COVID-19. What is your take on this since everybody is going through COVID-19 and they’re trying to prevent this virus, do you see a rise in naturopathic medicine after COVID-19?
Dr. Yanez: COVID-19 has definitely made us more aware of health disparities and our role in that. We have power over some of these underlying conditions that we’re starting and I’ll preface this. This is a novel virus. Things are new and we’re first just starting to figure out, and just seeing some early data on some of the health disparities and some of the mortality issues, but we do have power over some of these preventable illnesses.
Things like diabetes and hypertension. There are fabulous tools in the naturopathic the toolkit that exists to help people on their journey to better health. If you’ve identified for yourself that maybe I could eat a little bit better. Maybe I could prioritize stress management a bit better, or I think of myself, all of these hours on the computer and Zoom calls. I keep seeing my shoulders inching up closer to my ears and I’m like okay, bring those bad boys back down.
It’s awareness, it’s mindfulness, it’s gratitude for what we have. In naturopathic medicine, what we have, we have the ability to address those core foundational principles of health. We do it really well.
I see all of these memes popping up and folks posting and talking about anxiety right now and mental health and how COVID-19 and these orders of staying home can have different impacts on people. And can hyper-amplify, so to speak, all of the things that may be already existing, but this is an amplifier. If you already kind of tend to a little bit of anxiety or tend to being slightly germophobic, well this is going to definitely challenge you.
With naturopathic medicine and naturopathic medical education, we train students, as you know at as SCNM, we train students to really understand the root cause and identify and treat that root cause and do so usually with the most natural means possible. As primary care providers, what is a better tool to have than to help people understand why they’re sick, get to root of the issue, and make it go away. That to me is the power of our medicine.
Janet: Absolutely. I mean, right now people have so much time not just do research, but to overanalyze themselves and their bodies. It’s also a great way to get to know yourself. That’s really what NDs I feel like that’s their goal is to get to know you, and your health, and your behaviors. To your point, to teach you how to lead a better life and lead a healthier life.
Dr. Yanez: Well, and you brought up that awareness. I’ve spoken all over the country about mindfulness. Mindfulness I think is one of the most empowering tools that we have to help us tune in. It’s like the shoulder joke. I was half joking. I actually have been wearing them as a set of earrings over the past six weeks, but if I wasn’t mindful, if I wasn’t kind of scanning my body every day like, oh, my neck has been hurting a little bit more than normal. What’s different? What’s changed? We’ll I’m at the computer more. Maybe I’m carrying more stress in my shoulders, but that mindfulness, that awareness is a powerful tool for us to check in on those symptoms.
Symptoms are a warning sign. They’re just a, “Hey, pay attention to me. There’s something off balance, off kilter.” I am grateful for my naturopathic training and my education in understanding how to be present with myself, how to pay attention, how to pay attention to my family, my surroundings. So and so is feeling a little bit… They’ve been kind of a little shorter lately. Let me check in with them. I think those are the types of things that I value personally from naturopathic medical education. Definitely in the role of a primary care provider and having that insight and helping to guide people. Like you said, doctor as teacher, “docere” means to teach. So doctor is teacher helping people understand how they themselves can take a more empowered role in their healthcare.
Janet: People are ready to make that change. They see the benefit.
Dr. Yanez: Yeah and I think this has just highlighted it for everyone. It’s like, okay, nothing like a major pandemic to put in your face. No kidding.
Janet: When people are at home and they’re like, “You know what, Dr. Yanez is right. I keep hearing this. I do need to take some action.” A lot of the rules and regulations pertaining to who can practice telemedicine and I know we’ve seen a lot of telemedicine recently. How has this impacted naturopathic medicine?
Dr. Yanez: Well, I can tell you the naturopathic medical clinics at all of the academic medical centers have embraced telemedicine as one way to provide continuous education for their students and continuity in patient care. Medical students across the country have basically been sidelined in order to conserve PPE for the frontline providers. We have been telling the students, okay, sit back, let the PPE go to the frontline providers first, make sure that they have enough. And then, of course, we can resume when it’s safe, and when distancing measures have been loosened up at the state and the national levels. But for telemedicine, for practitioners, we’re seeing NDs really embrace this technology. Many naturopathic doctors had already been embracing telemedicine and they’re helping their colleagues get on board. They’re saying, “Okay, here are all the tools and tricks that I’ve used.” I know our national associations have been providing continuing education for doctors, maybe lighter on the curve of telemedicine to get them up to speed, but we’ve seen it as a really powerful tool.
One of the things that I love about technology, telemedicine, obviously there are some things you cannot do via telemedicine. Like deliver babies and acupuncture is difficult via telemedicine. There are some things that are better left to a doctor and their own hands.
However, what I will say is that telemedicine is definitely, we are identifying at the colleges level and the dean’s level, what are the areas that we can excel with, with telemedicine, and telehealth, and tele-instruction and all of that and where does that make sense? And where does it not?
We’re actually looking at it as a competency now for students when they graduate to be competent at least a baseline level of telemedicine. I think I talked about COVID as a disruptor. We’re likely going to see a very different next year, two years, three years down from now. I think that public’s expectations are going to change for education, for healthcare, for so many different things. Only time will tell. I don’t have a magic eight ball. I can go grab my sons in the other room, but only time will be able to truly tell what the future of healthcare and healthcare education is going to look like, but it feels to me, if I can trust my gut on this one, that it’s going to be different and improved upon.
Janet: Yeah. Well the door’s been opened when we’ve seen that telemedicine works. We can get connected with our providers through a screen and when we are not feeling great, maybe we don’t want to leave the house. Having that option there, I don’t think we can really back away from it anymore.
Dr. Yanez: Yeah, it does bring up two things for me. Telemedicine has an amazing power to reduce barriers in some area in the country and so on. To actually provide access for people who don’t have access to providers. Maybe there isn’t a naturopathic doctor, a licensed naturopathic doctor that does what they’re looking for nearby. It has the potential to really increase access, but it also highlights health disparities for people who don’t have access to reliable internet, reliable computers, and so on.
I tend to be a little bit of a broken record on diversity issues and disparity issues, but I definitely see that we’re going to have to work harder and get more inventive and creative at coming up with different ways to increase access because with that also comes a heightening of the divide.
Janet: I am curious, what has naturopathic medicine done to lessen the divide in the disparity between reaching different segments of groups of people for healthcare?
Dr. Yanez: Oh gosh. If you look at Google, and you go to YouTube, there’s like an old YouTube from me in New York City with some legislators talking about health disparities. I thought of this term, ‘healthy for the wealthy,’ and it very much concerned me that naturopathic medicine was viewed as something that was only for wealthy clientele. We often hear of celebrities using naturopathic therapies or naturopathic doctors and so on. But one of the things that I loved that was core to my education in naturopathic medical school was our community clinics and our outreach and all of the care that we provided for patients that were underserved, for patients that did not have health insurance. I was a staff physician at an HIV center, and we were providing free care to folks there. It was really eye-opening for me that this does not have to be ‘healthy for the wealthy.’ This really is the people’s medicine.
People will often have this misperception of, “Oh well all of that stuff costs a lot of money and eating healthy costs a lot of money. And oh man, it all costs a lot of money.” Some of it is prioritization. I used to always kind of chide my patients that would say they didn’t have money for vegetables and so on. I said, “So how many beers do you drink a week? And that pack of cigarettes, how much is that?” We’re prioritizing certain things and we’re not prioritizing certain things. So some things are expensive if you choose to see them that way, but then there are other ways to make health more accessible to buy vegetables in season and join food co-ops. There are ways of buying bulk. Buy things in bulk.
If you have the option, I currently reside in Southern California, I’m growing herbs. I’m growing things in my yard because I’ve got sunlight most of the year and not so much water, but I got sunlight at least. I’m growing plants. If you have access and you’ve got a little bit of a know how or somebody who’s willing to walk you through it, like an ND can teach you that, some of these things are actually more accessible than people give credit for it.
Janet: The things you mentioned are actually really interesting because I feel like there has been a huge uptick in people who want to learn more about bulk buying. How to grow their own food in their backyards and gardening. COVID-19 has really created, I would say a big group of people who are now interested in these things. If you’re interested in this, naturopathic medicine, I mean that’s just a small little jump over a very, very tiny stream. Definitely check it out if you haven’t heard anything about it before.
Dr. Yanez: Yeah, it’s funny, my mom was a World War ll baby and you know, my mom and stepdad and people had victory gardens. They called it… It was your victory. This was your way of supporting the war effort was growing your own vegetables. I’m seeing like we are going to have COVID gardens. This is just what it is. Yesterday I plucked out a bunch of onions and potatoes from my garden and there’s a sense of empowerment and pride. Like I grew these things.
Dr. Yanez: Yeah.
Janet: I did that with carrots this last weekend.
Dr. Yanez: It’s pretty fabulous and not for nothing when the stores are kind of going crazy. I’m a little thankful that I’ve got some food in the yard. If worse came to worse, I can feed my family. I think that there’s definitely a spirit of self-preservations in that, but there’s also so much positivity in knowledge. when I go and I look at the weeds in my garden, I’m like, “I know what those are and I know which ones are edible if I so choose to.” I think that that’s really cool. One of the things that I loved about our education is that interaction with nature in your natural environment. There was a course, we took it as SCNM and we went into this mountain preserve and we studied with a master herbalist for a weekend and hung out. We just took nature walks. As we would walk, he’d point out a plant and say, “Okay, grab out your notebook, write this down. This is what this plant’s used for. This is if you’re stuck in the desert and you’ve got no water, here’s how you can survive.” “Wow, okay, note to self. Here’s how to slice open a prickly pear leaf and suck out the juice if you really have to.” But it’s very empowering to be able to interact with your natural environment like that and know what’s healing.
Chris: We wrap up every single episode by asking the same question, what are you doing right now to stay healthy and sane? What is your go to wellness exercise?
Dr. Yanez: Oh, my go to wellness exercise. I’ve maintained my Pilates practice. It’s not on a reformer, but I have my little Pilates instructor and she meets me twice a week on Zoom.
Chris: There you go, yeah.
Dr. Yanez: I have kept Pilates going on. It’s nice enough now outside and my neighborhood is safe to socially distance and walk. I have been walking several times a week and getting out in gardening. Our pool just warmed up. So we’re able to swim now. I’m really taking advantage of the fact that when I think of gratitude, wow, okay, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for here, but yes, I have been doing that.
I talked about gratitude, I talked about mindfulness and both of those, especially when this hit early on, there wasn’t a day that I clocked in under 10 hours, including weekends. It was very stressful for at least a month of solid work. My husband is a hospital administrator and he was working around the clock as well. For both of us, I think it was just okay, I got to check in with myself, make sure I stay healthy. Take my supplements. Get my rest and manage my stress so that I can stay healthy for my family and my job. Yeah, that was for sure part of the regimen. Was the mindfulness, the gratitude. I did not cancel those two Pilates appointments a week.
Janet: Absolutely. If you have any advice to give to people out there about supplements or how they should stay healthy, what would you tell people?
Dr. Yanez: It’s very individualized. I think that’s one of the things in naturopathic medicine that there’s no one size fits all solution for everybody. In general, like the general, make sure you get enough sleep, make sure you keep your stress in check, and have ways of knowing when it’s going out of bounds, and eat whole foods as much as you can. Try and stay away from stuff that’s processed when you can. Eat more whole foods, eat more variety in general. If you eat something and going back to that mindfulness thing, if you eat something and you don’t feel so great afterwards, pay attention.
Janet: Thank you so much for taking the time today to chat with us.
Dr. JoAnn: You bet.
Janet: If anyone listeners out there, if all of the things that Dr. Yanez has said today, if they just light a spark and you think to yourself, man, these are all things that I believe in, and that I’ve known, and you’re really starting to get interested now, please check out AANMC.org and learn a little bit more about naturopathic medicine and the career of becoming a naturopathic doctor.
Dr. Yanez: Thank you so very much for having us on or having me on. I always think of AANMC is the big we. Yeah, I really appreciate the opportunity.
We also host free monthly events. For those who were interested in this as a career, check out our events page as well. We have alumni from all of the schools including SCNM on and speaking. We also have a whole archive of past webinars. If you don’t see something coming up that interests you, feel free to check all the old ones because we’ve been doing this for many years and have lots and lots and lots of stuff in our archives. Please feel free to check out our events in our archives too.
Janet: Absolutely. We’ll put that link in the description of this podcast.
Dr. Yanez: Fabulous. Thank you so much.
Janet: Well thank you and you have a great day and stay safe.
Dr. Yanez: You as well.
Chris: Stay well and healthy. Thank you.
Dr. Yanez: Take care guys.
Janet: Until next time, take care of yourself and each other. This has been Janet-
Chris: And this is Chris.
Dr. Yanez: Tune in tomorrow for another episode of-
Chris: The Daily Dose Podcast.