First-year students launch creative projects to probe the philosophy of naturopathic medicine.
"Once upon a time in a land not so far from here
Lived a princess, so quaint, so frail, and so dear
She went by the name of Princess Razzle
This is the tale of how she overcame her frazzle"
So begins "Princess Razzle," one of the world's only children's books about naturopathic medicine. It's the creation of Bastyr University student Brenton Murphy, who wanted to share his passion for wellness with readers young enough to form their first healthy habits.
He invented Princess Razzle, a young girl who loves to play outside and eat well — until she falls under the influence of Miss Kandi Dandi, a villain who tempts her with candy and sugar-laden root beer. Razzle feels her mood and energy plummet, loafing grumpily around the house until her parents arrive and rescue her. When she regains her vigor, she wanders the kingdom teaching the delights of nutrition and exercise.
Murphy, who recently completed his first year in the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program, comes from a family of teachers and hopes to use his degree in a public-health setting.
"If we can teach kids to eat healthy and respect their bodies, that's where prevention starts," he says. "You can do it as an adult too, but kids are so willing to learn and change."
The book is part of a stream of creative projects coming out of Bastyr’s yearlong Naturopathic Theory and Practice course. In a first-year curriculum heavy on biomedical sciences, the class is a chance to study the big picture of what makes naturopathic medicine distinct.
"This is part of what makes them into naturopathic physicians," says instructor Christy Lee-Engel, ND ('91), MS ('95), LAc. "The material in the basic sciences is really comparable to any conventional medical school. This class is different."
In Naturopathic Theory and Practice, students study the vis medicatrix naturae — the healing power of nature, the underlying philosophy of naturopathic medicine. They learn to understand six core principles (see them here), including first do no harm, treat the cause, prevention and doctor as teacher. They learn how the vis affects how they will treat patients as naturopathic doctors (NDs).
They hear from "elders" of the profession — visitors such as Joseph Pizzorno, ND, a founder of Bastyr University. They also learn about the history of the medicine, and about the importance of caring for themselves during their studies. (See students' 17 ways to stay healthy in school.)
They also undertake "creation projects" to illustrate a principle or dimension of naturopathic medicine. That's how Murphy's book came about. Others create videos, paintings, songs or dances. Showing the work to their classmates is often an intimate time and a bonding event, Dr. Lee-Engel says.
"It's meant to be a way to express a part of themselves that doesn't get expressed in a science-heavy curriculum," she says. "We often hear, 'I've never told anyone this before,' which is also something our patients say to us. In the class, they trust each other enough to do this."
Murphy's book focuses on prevention, the principle that emphasizes promoting healthy habits rather than waiting for diseases to arrive. Princess Razzle learns that eating fruits and veggies makes her "less edgy" than junk food. He drew "Princess Razzle" in a child's style of stick figures and bright crayon colors "to tap into the mind of a kid."
"I was glad he chose prevention, because it's an unglamorous principle," says Dr. Lee-Engel. "People think of seatbelts, orthopedic shoes, condoms, things like that. The book was a great representation of what Brenton is going to be like as a doctor. He's already a great educator."
In illustrating prevention, Murphy learned about the connection among all the principles of naturopathic medicine. Prevention requires teaching patients, after all (doctor as teacher). And prevention requires treating the whole person, another principle.
"The goal of the project was to hone in on one principle that resonated with us," he says. "In the process, each of us learned that the principles of our medicine are so intertwined that you really can't separate them. That's really what I gained."
In the spring quarter, students create group projects that deepen their understanding and promote wellness in their community. One group offered babysitting to campus parents, recognizing that relieving stress is a part of health. At Bastyr University California, one group built a community garden on a student's property, offering a space for community-building and learning about botanical medicine.
Another group in Kenmore lived in a tent for a week to learn what it's like to be homeless. The idea came from volunteering at Tent City, a homeless community in Seattle. The group of four raised funds to pay for Tent City medical supplies like gauze, gloves and tongue depressors, says organizer Allie Donnell. They went without showers, cell phones, computers (except for class uses) and cars, and enjoyed wakeups from the campus sprinkler system at 1 and 7 a.m. They hope it grows into a bigger event next year.
"By the time I'm in my fourth year I want to see this whole field filled with tents," says Donnell. "It can be a community-building thing."
Dr. Lee-Engel helped adapt Naturopathic Theory and Practice to the integrated curriculum the School of Naturopathic Medicine adopted in 2012. As a graduate of the school's 1991 class, she knows that NDs follow different paths and grow to emphasize different modalities in their practice. Some rely on botanical medicine. Some use homeopathy. Some specialize in physical manipulations. What unites them as a group is their philosophy, she says. That's why she believes in teaching it to new students.
"People come to ND schools for different reasons," she says. "We specialize in different things. We have really, really different opinions about things. But we all agree on our philosophy. Any naturopathic doctor would tell you, I think, it's not our modalities that define us. It's our philosophy."