5 Questions for Southern California ND Tamara Trebilcock

Tamara Trebilcock, ND

Tamara Trebilcock, ND, graduated from Bastyr University in 2005, promptly moved to Santa Monica, California, and established a successful practice, Integrative Health Institutes. She encountered active, health-minded patients hungry for new approaches to health care and pre-med students eager for a naturopathic medicine school in the area — a need Bastyr University California is about to fill.

Dr. Trebilcock spoke to us recently about Southern California health culture and the undergraduates knocking at her door for an inside look at natural medicine.

What is Southern California like as a place to practice natural medicine?

It's such a health-oriented culture. People are active. They like to be outside in the sun, exercising and hiking. There's also the Hollywood culture. So it's an interesting mix and a good place for NDs because we can offer treatment that's different than what people are used to. I've found that people are looking for a doctor who listens to them and helps them uncover the cause of their illness and treats them in the least invasive way possible. And they're interested in alternatives to conventional care. They may be having bad side effects to medications, or they're not seeing the success they'd like to have, and they've tried everything. Sometimes they've been suffering for years before they find an ND. It's really gratifying to be able to help them.

How is the naturopathic community going to greet Bastyr University in San Diego?

It's going to be great — there's a huge desire for a naturopathic school here. Almost every week I have students from local universities, like UCLA and USC and community colleges, who ask me to come and talk to them about naturopathic medicine and my practice. Many of them are going into medical school and are looking for a natural medicine degree instead of a conventional one.

I became chair of the education committee for the California Naturopathic Doctors Association (CNDA) because I wanted to see a school established here. There's a resounding need for it. When I first started practicing, there were only three naturopaths in Santa Monica on the coast. Now there are more than 20. There are more than 90 in Los Angeles and 200 in Southern California.

We're looking forward to the possibility of precepting partnerships between these doctors and Bastyr students. The new campus is also near the Veterans Affairs San Diego Medical Center and the Scripps Health hospital network, which has an integrative medicine program. Precepting with integrative doctors is another opportunity to broaden your education and gain experience seeing other patient populations with different types of illnesses. It makes your education that much more full.

And the Torrey Pines area where campus will be located is absolutely beautiful. The ocean is within a mile, and so are some stunning parks. It puts the natural in natural medicine.

How did you find your way to naturopathic medicine?

I was on the conventional route to medical school. I was very interested in cardiothoracic surgery, and I had my portfolio all ready to go to conventional schools. Then Bastyr came to visit my school. I talked to advisors, visited the campus and realized this was exactly how I wanted to study medicine. The focus on getting to the cause of illness was the big appeal. And I was still able to work in the gross anatomy lab at Bastyr for four years, so I could satisfy my special interest in anatomy.

How did you get started with your practice?

I started my practice in 2006. To establish and build it, I put myself out there any way I could. Every Friday I scheduled meetings with other doctors — general practice doctors, cardiologists, gynecologists, acupuncturists. That helped me build a referral network, which works both ways — they make referrals to me, and I do to them. Over the years that's grown into a sustainable mutual relationship. I also did lectures at Whole Foods, co-ops, compounding pharmacies and the Boys & Girls Club. Establishing an Internet presence was very important too, as well as showing my relationship to Bastyr, CNDA  and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Now my office is packed and I'm booked four weeks out for new patients. We're looking to hire another ND. I do less and less advertising, although the CNDA and its website are still important for bringing in patients. Word-of-mouth referrals from patients are now my biggest source of patients. I can rely on patients who have been with me for years and have come to trust what naturopathic medicine can do.

What are you learning through your practice?

I'm learning I'm really lucky in my career choice, because it's so rewarding to come in everyday and have patients tell me how much better they feel. People say they were unsure about this approach, but then they feel so much better, the best they've felt in years. What I learn from my patients is that simpler is usually better. Dietary recommendations and herbs themselves can be very, very powerful, often more powerful than many medications and surgery. And they have lasting effects on wellness.