Plenty of naturopathic doctors enjoy time outdoors, but very few know how to rope cattle. Melody Keller, ND (‘10), (holding a calf above) helps rancher friends with branding in eastern Montana, a sparsely populated cattle-farming region. The area is also home to the Bakken oil boom, which has brought a flood of workers, wealth, and health concerns.
After graduating from Bastyr University’s Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program, Dr. Keller established Radiant Natural Health, where’s she focuses on treating fatigue and other chronic conditions. Dr. Keller spoke to us about building her practice and balancing a career and parenting.
Eastern Montana isn’t most common place for an ND practice. What’s it like practicing there?
It’s busy. Sidney, the town I live in, has 5,000 or 6,000 people, and it took me about a year-and-a-half to find office space because demand is so high. I actually rent clinic space in Fairview from the local hospital. We’re about 30 miles from the center of the oil boom.
There’s a lot of heavy truck traffic going by my clinic in Fairview. It’s a challenge because some people don’t want to deal with the truck traffic. On the other hand, there’s plenty of demand. I’m the only naturopathic doctor for about 250 miles in any direction. The key is getting the word out that I'm here.
What kinds of patients do you see? What kinds of conditions?
I work a lot with women, both older and younger. I specialize in hormone issues and fatigue. While treatment for fatigue would benefit a lot of the oil field workers, I haven’t seen very many of them. Mainly because men are generally still not big health care consumers. Most of the men I see are the husbands or the sons of other patients. The schedules they work also make it difficult to fit in a doctor visit.
How do you approach fatigue treatment?
It’s a primary complaint for a lot of patients. That led me to get additional training on adrenal fatigue such as the use of hormone precursors, vitamins, minerals and herbs. I do some IV (intravenous) therapy, but mostly its oral supplements. That work has largely grown by word of mouth.
I’m starting to get more patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which has piqued my interest in learning more about the best ways to treat that. Treating fatigue and pain and chronic diseases is the direction I am headed in practice right now.
How do people in eastern Montana respond to the idea of naturopathic medicine?
I tell them my training is roughly equivalent to a medical doctor’s, but with a different philosophical perspective. That’s what a lot of people are looking for. It hasn't been too hard to explain. Some folks walk over from the clinic next door and just want to know what I’m doing because they’ve never heard of it before. I’m still developing my “elevator speech.”
How did you find your way to naturopathic medicine?
I’ve always had an interest in natural health, and I was about 14 when my mom told me, “There’s a school that teaches natural medicine.” Once I knew you could get a degree in it, I was pretty sure about it. I started going to some of Bastyr’s prospective student events while I was still in high school, and I had this plan from the get-go.
What was your time at Bastyr like?
I loved it, challenges and all. I had wonderful classmates and some really excellent professors who taught me a lot. It was demanding but very rewarding. I had some personally stressful life events happen while I was in school, but the friends I made at school there helped me through it. The Bastyr Christian Fellowship introduced me to many of my friends, and we still keep in touch to some degree.
Having such a rigorous program also demanded much of my attention. It was good to have that to focus on. That said, I am glad to be done with Gross Anatomy Lab! It is a great class but it is difficult. The first year is probably the hardest, but I made it through. Lately I’m going back and reviewing some of the muscle attachments from gross lab, so it’s definitely relevant in practice.
What are your plans for the future?
To keep growing. I’d like to keep learning more about treating chronic diseases. I’d also like to get more training in IV therapies and do more Nature Cure/hydrotherapy work as well, starting with offering constitutional hydrotherapy, as soon as I can get the equipment.
The practice has been growing through word of mouth, but I haven’t had enough time to focus on some of the practice-building things in marketing. That’s in the works. I’ve hired an assistant, which will help. So far it has been the best decision ever — I highly recommend hiring someone as soon as you can.
I’d also like to offer preceptorships and set up an internship program to hire naturopathic graduates who are interested in working in a small-town practice. It’s a different kind of place than a city practice. Montana is great with its licensing laws, so we have a lot of freedom here.
What are you learning about yourself through your practice?
I’m learning I can’t do everything. Between being a mom and being a doctor, I’m learning to try and find a balance. I’m learning to plan ahead but also to not get too far ahead of myself that I stress myself out. It’s a day-by-day process to fit things in and to make sure it’s all working.