Our inaugural class at Bastyr University California spans 20 years in age. Some of us come straight out of undergraduate college. Some of us are married, some are divorced, some are parents. Like many of us, I had a career in between my undergraduate days and naturopathic medical school. For the last decade I taught science to eighth-graders in some of the most challenging areas in inner-city Los Angeles. These populations were "underserved," as they say, not only in education, but also in the most crucial elements of living: health, nutrition and safety.
My job was to teach science and help my students raise their California Standards Test scores. But I knew my real role was larger than that. I wanted to inspire them and their families to live healthier, be safer and have more opportunities in life. I told them stories about paddle-boarding with my mom and doing yoga with my toddler, and I could feel their energy change as they sat up straighter in their chairs. They wanted to know what these activities had to do with science — and with them. We talked about force and velocity. Then we studied them by racing. (Ms. G. kept up pretty well, I have to say!) We learned about buoyancy by trying surfing and swimming on a field trip. My principal told me, in a comment I'll never forget, that I taught by example.
Walking into Bastyr's new San Diego campus for the first time, I saw people with bright eyes, welcoming smiles and energy that made me breathe deeper. Looking out our windows to the tall trees, bright sun and clean ocean air, I realized we are in one of the most beautiful coastal towns in the world. At lunch, students ate healthy, colorful meals. They stretched, laughed, even meditated. It was clear to me that all of us — instructors, students and administrators — are teaching by example. I got excited not only about becoming a doctor with the support of this group, but also about becoming healthier and happier along the way. In that moment I realized I was now the student who just sat up straighter in her chair, ready to learn from the teachers around me.
During our orientation week we watched our clean, white-walled campus building bloom with orchids, photos of tranquil places around the world, and the colorful wisdom of our instructors. Our class got to know each other quickly. Our first assignment was given by the inspirational Tabatha Parker, ND, who came basically straight off the plane from Nicaragua, where she practiced for the last seven years and co-founded Natural Doctors International. She had us write an essay about our future lives in which we gave ourselves an “A.” We followed our minds into the future and saw ourselves as successful in love, in life and as health practitioners. I can’t imagine a better way to begin our journey than by envisioning ourselves and one another as great doctors.
I heard from one of my eighth-grade students yesterday. She is now a freshman in college and she reminded me of the silly chemistry videos we made and the marathon we ran together with a student running group, and how those things made her excited about learning. I asked what she is studying in college. She said, “I want to be a doctor. The natural kind.”
It was clear to me then that we are a tribe of healers. We will be doctors who treat whole people, not just their diseases. We will aim to keep our patients healthy and empower them to live the lives they deserve. We will serve in all communities and make health a way a life for everyone. We may be at Bastyr University to become physicians, but the truth of this medicine will provide justice along with health.
---Learn more about studying naturopathic medicine in San Diego or Seattle.