Katarzyna Podolska is a fourth-year naturopathic medical student at Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine. She shares her path to naturopathic medicine, how she balances life as a single mother and ND student, and advice for future students.
Why did you choose naturopathic medicine?
“A miscarriage and the health issues that followed made me to realize how valuable and precious life really is. This experience forced me to rethink every aspect of my life, from my own health to my overarching purpose in life. I was determined to become a healthy human being in body, mind, and spirit. I decided to make some changes in my life, and began doing research, reading, and watching health documentaries. Eventually I decided to see a naturopathic doctor. Never had I felt so cared for and listened to by a healthcare professional. It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to help others like she had helped me. I wanted to have a career I was passionate about, a career I could be proud of. Naturopathic medicine was an obvious choice because I saw it as not only a job, but a way of life. I knew naturopathic medicine was the right fit for me because it aligned with my morals, my beliefs, and my values. I see naturopathic medicine as the future of health care, and I am determined to be a part of it.”
Preparing for ND school
Katarzyna spent the next two years completing her prerequisites. Although she was not accepted the first time she applied, she remained optimistic and used the time between application cycles to upgrade her science courses. On her second admission attempt, she was accepted into naturopathic medical school. This acceptance came with many life changes. Katarzyna sold her home, said goodbye to her family and friends, packed up her two-year-old daughter Zofia and four-month-old son Zayden, and moved from Alberta to British Columbia.
How do you maintain a school/life balance?
“Creating a school/life balance is challenging for everyone in this program but especially for the people with children. Being a mother is a very selfless job, and I, like most other moms, put my children first and myself last. This program has challenged me to learn that sometimes taking care of myself is needed in order to not only be a better mom, but a better student, and a better future naturopathic doctor. Naturopathic medicine has pushed me to learn that making time for myself (whether that is a manicure or massage appointment once a month, or a yoga class or dance class once a week) is so important for my mental health. No matter how busy I have been, staying connected to the people that matter most to me has been crucial.”
In addition to being a full-time mom and ND student, Katarzyna has served as secretary of the Boucher Naturopathic Student Association and is the president of the Boucher herb club. She also has a part time job at Boucher as a student representative for a health industry company.
“My life is incredibly busy and I have very little time for myself. Any free time I have is usually spent catching up on studying. This program has been incredibly challenging, especially the first two years. I can’t tell you how many times I broke down in tears thinking I couldn’t go on, that I couldn’t fit any more information in my head, or that I was not good enough to be in the program. I ended up failing my first year of biomedicine and it was devastating for me for so many reasons, not only did it take such a toll on my self-esteem, but it also put me behind my cohort and placed me on a modified track. Ultimately, the modified track was a better fit for my life as a mother. Although at the time I remember feeling so embarrassed because I felt like a complete failure. Eventually there came a point where my mindset shifted and I told myself that I was going to do this, I didn’t care if it took me ten tries, I would not give up until I made it through. Now here I am, on the other side of the biomedicine nightmare, and still standing!
Another big challenge for me was being diagnosed as an adult with a learning disability. Reflecting on my education I don’t know why I didn’t see it growing up, or how any teachers didn’t pick up on it. Learning was always a struggle for me, I never understood why I was the kid spending my whole evening studying, studying, studying, and struggling to barely pass exams. Once I was diagnosed, I learned about my disability and treatment options to benefit my learning. I developed better study strategies, hired a tutor, and requested exam accommodations that I did not know I even qualified for. It was a game changer.
And of course, one of the biggest challenges of all has been raising two children while in naturopathic medical school. My children take up all my time. It is this funny balance of my kids draining all the life out of me, and at the same time, they are what give me life and a purpose for being. This has been the hardest unpaid full-time job I have ever had, and at the same time, the most rewarding.”
What advice do you have for future ND students?
“Although this program has been challenging and I have shed many tears, I would do it again because it has shaped me into the person I am today. My parents and I immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1990. We had two suitcases and $500.00 to our name. My parents have shown me that it takes hard work and sacrifices to achieve something in life and I am lucky to have had them as an example. I understand the value and importance of an education and I know how to dedicate myself to a goal, to work hard, and to ultimately achieve my goals. I believe that one day, all my hard work and sacrifices will pay off.
Growing up as a first-generation immigrant has taught me that ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ You can truly do anything you want in life; the possibilities are endless. As long as you want it badly enough, and have a sense of must, you will be unstoppable, and you will make it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because you are not smart enough, because you are a woman, or because you chose to have children. Thankfully we live in a world where a woman doesn’t have to choose between having a family and having a career, she can have both. Life is short so live it to the fullest. Pursue your dreams.”
Click here to learn about other naturopathic doctors’ paths to naturopathic medicine.