Hailing from Baker City, Oregon, Tanya Denne is a third-year naturopathic medical student at Bastyr University – Washington. She shares her path to naturopathic medicine and as an ND student with a special interest in Parkinson’s and Mucuna research.
Why did you choose naturopathic medicine?
“In a similar path to how many arrive to here, chronic illness and running into dead ends within conventional medical systems led me to naturopathic medicine. My father worked as a liaison between the Forest Service and tribal populations so I grew up with exposure to Native American medicine. My favorite books as a child were the ones describing how Native Americans used the plants around them to create medicines. Since childhood I was unknowingly searching for this medical system of sustainability and prevention. I was thrilled when I found out there were medical schools and degrees dedicated to treating the whole person, and removing the obstacles to cure!
“Being a naturopathic doctor will allow me to bridge the gap between patient care and bench research. I’ve always wanted to use the natural world around me as medicine. Naturopathic medicine allows me to do this. I can focus on researching Mucuna pruriens for Parkinson’s Disease, and develop my skills as a student clinician. Naturopathic medicine inspires hope. I want to be part of this dynamic group of unique forward-thinking individuals that come together to form an eclectic and vibrant healing community.”
How did you prepare for ND school?
Tanya prepared to become a strong candidate for naturopathic medical school by volunteering and working at Oregon Health & Science University. She researched botanical medicine, Parkinson’s Disease and childhood developmental disorders. Before making the decision to become a naturopathic doctor, she shadowed NDs, attended medical conferences, interned with MD and NDs, volunteered in herb shops, and worked as a florist. “These experiences allowed me to sort through what I was really passionate about. I realized a career in naturopathic medicine would give me the freedom to combine all of my interests in a creative way to care for patients.”
“It was important to me to continue my botanical research on Mucuna and attend a school that was open to collaborative research. Being around mentors that were doing what I am interested in was my top priority. When trying to decide on a school, “I listened to a podcast featuring Dr. Laurie Mischley, where she mentioned Mucuna pruriens for Parkinson’s Disease treatment…which was the very plant I was studying at OHSU at the time. I was thrilled to find a like-minded researcher at Bastyr. I interviewed Dr. Mischley and knew Bastyr University was the right fit for me!”
“Bastyr University has been great; we continue to conduct collaborative research with OHSU. We actually just finished a very successful pilot study demonstrating the neurorestorative potential of Mucuna. I am happy to be at school that has supported me through these endeavors.”
What is your favorite thing about school? What surprised you?
“Parkinson’s Disease Summer School (PDSS) at Bastyr University is one of my favorite weeks of the year. We spend multiple weekends preparing and getting to know our patients based on their extensive lab tests, and required paperwork. We then get to meet and spend a full week, developing that relationship, facilitating their learning, and fine-tuning treatment plans. The patients leave feeling grateful for all the knowledge and care that has been shared. Translating my research skills to clinical ones, specifically with PDSS, working with patients to help them understand how to implement Mucuna in their PD treatment plan has been very important to me.”
Tanya notes her surprise with enjoying classes that she was hesitant to take. She encourages others to keep an open mind, and to enjoy the adventure.
How do you maintain a school/life balance?
“I keep moving! I enjoy hot yoga and running with my dogs that together weigh a total of 200 pounds. It can be hard to stay motivated in the rain in Seattle, but my dogs push me to get outside and we all are better for it. Animals are my balance, and caring for them brings me joy.”
Additionally, “I attend conferences, network, and give poster presentations. These experiences renew me, and I always leave with new collaborations and possibilities. At the most recent Movement Disorder Society Conference in France, I made a connection to the Parkinson’s Institute in Italy. We are now collaborating on a manuscript and Mucuna farming manuals for Indigenous populations in Africa where conventional Parkinson’s medications are expensive and mostly inaccessible.
What advice do you have for prospective ND students?
Tanya encourages future students to seek out mentors who share your passions. Learn about their career paths by taking the time to interview them and build a connection. Networking and mentorship are huge pieces of professional development. Tanya’s mentor is skilled researcher and clinician – Dr. Traci Pantuso. Together, they are conducting QAQC research surrounding Mucuna pruriens. Their plan is to work in the SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cell line to expand on what is known about the neurorestorative potential of Mucuna. Click here to learn more about Tanya’s Parkinson’s and Mucuna research campaign.
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“Dr. Pantuso is living proof of my career aspirations; bridging bench research and clinical practice, I am very grateful our paths have crossed.”
Finally, remember to take time for self-care. Naturopathic medical school will test you in many ways. “Choose a school that resonates with your mission and interests,” to ensure that you have the support that you need to be successful.
Click here to learn about other naturopathic doctors’ paths to naturopathic medicine.