My journey to become a Functional Medicine doctor began in a small Italian town called Tropea Italy in Spring of 2005. While I was there to chase my Italian heritage and learn the language, I also embarked on a personal health journey unexpectedly. The flat I was staying in was shared by two other roommates, one a jolly brazilian chocolatier and the other an inspiring yoga instructor 9 years my senior. The three of us were an unlikely trio but somehow it felt meant to be. Tessa, my yoga-teaching roommate, shared lots of insights with me around her experience doing yoga training, growing up in a prominent family in the fashion industry, and other life lessons my 20 year old self should have recorded and studied more closely.
She knew of my interest in fashion and introduced me to a friend and colleague of hers who was willing to take me on as an intern at the fashion designer headquarters, Valentino, in NYC later that summer. What a dream! I followed the wind and found an apartment quickly in NYC where I met the Valentino team and jumped into the bustling world of high fashion, New York style. So what does this have to do with Functional Medicine? Well… the job was TOUGH. Long days, challenging boss (think “The Devil Wears Prada” but worse), and absolutely zero time for personal care. When you’re at the bottom of the food chain in NYC fashion, saying no to your boss means “no more job”. Throughout that time period I started to develop a condition called “episcleritis”. I was treated at the top ophthalmology clinics at NYU without any real solutions, other than immunosuppressive drugs. Additionally, I had gained weight. My skin was irritated. I was unhappy. Tired. Lastly, I had a family member with a new medical diagnosis that I had been emotionally unavailable to support. Was this dream of a fabulous career in fashion really all that fabulous? I think not.
So I quit. I had already committed to returning to Europe that Fall to continue to study International Business and realized I needed to do some MAJOR soul searching about how I was going to proceed in my career. Remembering the words and guidance of my wise yogi roommate a few months prior, I started doing yoga. And pilates. I walked around NYC and enjoyed the city I had been living in for the first time in months. I felt addicted to this new found health “high”.
I moved to Switzerland that Fall to attend an American University through a study abroad program with my home school, the University of British Columbia (love you Canada!). I had a tiny dorm BY MYSELF. It had a kitchen and it’s OWN shower/bathroom. For those who were dorm living college students, you know what luxurious accommodations this is…But that’s an aside… I also started running, daily. I practiced pilates and became interested in a certification program in Zurich. I then took the step of TEACHING pilates in English/Italian at the school I was attending. I studied nutrition on my own. I lost weight, skin cleared, and my eyes were no longer inflamed. I was totally HOOKED on health. After the year was up, I knew that another pivot point was inevitable. Again, I moved back to NY and finally home to Seattle where I changed my major to study Exercise Science and Human Biology.
Fast forward to 2012. I managed a medical wellness and outpatient cardiac rehab facility, I had a team of 11 exercise physiologists, and started a whole foods nutrition program by hiring a Bastyr University graduate dietitian. It was amazing, exhausting, rewarding. Again I realized I need to pursue bigger dreams. My love for nutrition and kinesiology developed into a passion for biochemistry and lifestyle medicine to treat chronic disease. My referrals from cardiology clinics were rolling in… I wanted to do MORE for these people who had diabetes, hypertension, prior heart attacks than what my scope allowed for.
I travelled again and spent time in Bethesda, MD at the National Institute of Health (NIH). I shadowed at New York Presbyterian Hospital. I studied for the MCAT. I loved the rigor, the research, the SCIENCE of conventional medicine but ultimately felt called to do training that reinforced my early ambitions and interests of exercise, nutrition, and biochemistry. Bastyr University Naturopathic Medicine program offered all of these. I won’t say I never looked back, because that would be a lie. Most people who have made a “fork in the road” decision likely wonders what the other road would have looked like. For me, I chose Naturopathic Medical training (4 year degree program with 2 years of primary care residency) and Functional Medicine certification post-doc. Functional Medicine (from the Institute for Functional Medicine) significantly augmented my training as a naturopathic physician for approaching chronic disease management. However, I have a deep appreciation for the training I received in school which was targeted for primary care and allowed me to thrive during my residency years.
When I look back at that late Spring in Tropea, I feel gratitude and peace that I am exactly where i’m supposed to be here in Summer 2019 as a doctor, a wife, and a mother. While I don’t have the same affinity for fashion I once did, I do encourage everyone to follow the wind to their dreams. Sometimes it will end up taking you on a ride you can, one day, write about and smile.