"If I had known that after graduation I was going to have such a successful practice, I know I would have been a more enthusiastic and happy student." After five years Laurie Steelsmith (aka Laurie Steele) ND, MSA ('93) has created that successful practice in Honolulu. She would like that transition from student to practitioner to be easier for others. Her recommendation: "Have confidence in the power of your medicine, visualize where you want to be and manifest that success with a plan that provides the support you need to be a good doctor."
Joining an established practice was a major source of support for Laurie. "When I got out of school, I was offered a salaried job that was set up as a residency, and I was able to defer my loans for two years." She feels this loan deferment was integral to becoming established as a physician. She also feels the entire profession would be more successful if established NDs would offer salaried "residencies" to recent graduates. In April Laurie is hiring Stephanie Hoener, ND ('98), under a similar arrangement.
The biggest challenge for Laurie was creating her own business. Two and a half years ago she opened up her own clinic, Kahala Natural Health Center. That meant breaking into a new community and making connections with MDs and support services. She had to create her own practice from the ground up. She met the task by writing a business plan and compiling the facts and figures necessary to secure a bank loan, a $20,000 debt she has already repaid.
Laurie built her practice largely through public speaking, beginning with free lectures at health food stores and community centers, and eventually with invitations to lecture at local hospitals such as Queens, Kapiolani and Kaiser. "I eventually made money giving lectures, and it was a great way to meet people. I was teaching, which I feel is an important aspect of what I do as a naturopathic physician." Educating the public continues to be an important part of her business strategy and her philosophy. She took four levels of a presentation course in public speaking and recommends that any graduate who wants to promote a practice through public speaking should get formal training. Laurie also advertises and promotes her clinic through an engaging, professional newsletter she publishes for her own patients, Kahala Health News.
Specializing in women's health care, back pain, digestive disorders, and arthritis, Laurie regularly collaborates with other physicians and exchanges referrals with local MDs. Acupuncture is a significant part of her practice. "I cannot stress enough how much that has helped my practice and my patients. NDs should be required to have licensure as acupuncturists." This is part of Laurie's personal credo: "If we want to be successful, we need as big a tool box as we can possibly have."
Laurie says Bastyr University offered her an excellent medical education. "Bastyr gave me good research skills and guidelines as to when naturopathic medicine is appropriate. I've taught myself a lot, but I know that Bastyr gave me the tools to find answers if I don't know them. I know I received the best natural medicine education in the world." She believes NDs must continue to learn, constantly taking advantage of opportunities to continue their education and research through seminars and consultation. She also maintains a support system with her Bastyr mentors.
Her advice for new graduates? "Go and work with another doctor. Make whatever sacrifices you have to make to get as much experience as you can. See a lot of pathology, and your practice will all come together. You want to be completely confident with your case management skills before you start practicing on your own. Dress and behave like a professional. Above all be congruent with your message by practicing what you preach.
"Our medicine is very effective. Students just leaving Bastyr should know that we are excellent doctors, and we give a lot to our patients." Laurie is clear about her role: "I am a professional who understands when to treat and when not to, and when to refer to another physician." She loves helping people get well through natural medicine. "My drive is to help my patients treat the underlying cause of their disease. I want to know as much as I possibly can so I can give them the best advice.
"In five years of practice, I have seen our medicine work, seen people get well and live healthier lives. Our medicine is powerful and can transform a person's life. It's empowering to be a naturopathic doctor."