Why did you choose to pursue naturopathic medicine? What were you doing before?
Like many who find our profession, I struggled with my own unresolved chronic health issues from years of stress, frequent travel, and excessive antibiotic use. I found the best solutions for myself with naturopathic medicine. I also participated in many global missions and felt compelled to help resource-poor communities with health and sustainable living practices. One day, I came across a book about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti (Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder) and was inspired to become a doctor. I was actually running my own wedding photography company at the time, and although I knew it wasn’t going to be my career forever, transitioning to a STEM field was also not something I anticipated. Thankfully, naturopathic medicine was already on my radar, and my friends and family were really supportive.
How did you know it was the right path for you?
A crazy divine moment. When I was seriously contemplating the career transition, a complete stranger actually heard G_d speak to her and told me, “Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you’re supposed to do it.”
Why did you choose your naturopathic medical school?
The sunshine, more affordable housing, and the broad scope of practice initially put SCNM higher up on my options for schools. I also liked that acupuncture was in the curriculum. The admissions team was really helpful and organized, which gave me a great first impression, and I quickly felt that the sense of community there was something special.
What did you gain from your time at naturopathic medical school?
So many things, but most importantly, a comprehensive, whole systems, medical paradigm for diagnosing and treating the unique individual.
How did you plan for success in your career from the beginning?
I got involved in research early on, went to as many conferences and trainings as I could, and shadowed doctors specializing in my areas of interest.
What happened after you graduated?
I just recently graduated – last December! It was a joyous ending to all that was 2020. After I took boards in early February, I took a much-needed week off to relax. It’s an intense program, and even more so if you have a lot of work or extracurricular commitments outside of the program like I did. I then started working in my current role as an assistant research scientist at the Ric Scalzo Institute for Botanical Research. It was a natural transition from the research I got involved in during the program.
What is your work and your life like now?
My work is mostly on site in the microbiology lab performing benchtop assays such as ELISA and Western Blotting to test various therapeutic aspects of botanicals and botanical products. I also help with general lab maintenance, writing manuscripts and other tasks. We have several exciting projects we’re working on involving acne, COVID, and Cannabis spp., among others. The work we do will assist in developing novel naturopathic healthcare solutions and advancing botanical research methodology. It’s fun to be a part of the genesis of the new lab and I really enjoy working with everyone in the research department. I always tell people, “I get to work with the dream team!”
What do you like most about being a naturopathic doctor? What aspects are you passionate about?
Naturopathic medicine is something that everyone can benefit from. Our profession is so needed. I personally enjoy spending quality time with patients and providing hands-on care, whether it be acupuncture, regenerative injections, IV therapy, or physical manipulation. I am passionate about finding root cause answers for patients and providing comprehensive care with sustainable solutions. Addressing mental health and community systems are two aspects of sustainable health care that I feel are often under-emphasized, even in our field. Healthcare also continues to become more complex and difficult to navigate. NDs are well-suited to educate and partner with patients to help them understand their health and to reach their goals using different tools.
Does the flexibility of the profession appeal to you?
Absolutely! I never thought I would start my naturopathic career in research, for example, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s an incredible opportunity to continue the work I started during the program and to keep learning and growing in a different way as a physician. I am also confident that if I want to start my own business someday, teach online courses, or move abroad, all of those are viable options.
Does your practice focus on treatment of a specific health condition(s)? If so, please explain why you chose to focus on it and how naturopathic medicine can make a difference in treating that condition.
Although I’m currently in full-time research, I do plan to integrate clinical practice in the future as well. My focus during my education was on regenerative medicine treatments for pain. I completed an honors track in regenerative medicine and clinical apprenticeships in this area. I’ve seen perineural, prolotherapy, PRP, and stem cells help a lot of patients with all kinds of acute and chronic pain conditions. These were some of the most effective therapies I observed during my time at SCNM. Although it’s less invasive than surgery, regenerative medicine is a little higher on the therapeutic order compared to some other interventions. It should be considered carefully with alternatives, like physical therapy and acupuncture, but can be a powerful solution for the right patient.
What advice would you give to those considering naturopathic medicine?
It is an opportune time to be in naturopathic medicine. With COVID-19 and all that has changed in our world, people are increasingly interested in preventative medicine and taking control of their health. Having a trustworthy physician to partner with is critical and we have so much to offer.
Anything else you would like to share in your success story?
It’s okay to not have it all figured out. Success comes in different ways for different people. Although I would have preferred to know exactly what I wanted to specialize in and to have a master game plan from day one, I was open to G_d’s direction and the process leading me to the right place. Approaching it this way, I quickly discovered I had passions for research and regenerative medicine, two things that don’t ever feel like work to me. I am someone who often has to try a lot of things to figure out what I don’t resonate with before I know what does. I worked hard and walked through open doors when opportunities became available. I also learned to say no to things that no longer made sense for me. The journey will look different for everyone. It might take a little longer for you to find your path, but you will learn a lot along the way, and you can still be successful and help a lot of people.
To learn more about Dr. Keely Puchalski
Website (coming soon): DoctorKeely.com