How did you decide to blend being an RN with being an herbalist?
I went to nursing school to become a better herbalist. I never wanted to be a typical hospital nurse. Although, when I learned more about nursing and the nurse’s role in health and healing, nursing and herbal/holistic medicine seemed very much aligned. I wanted to add nursing skills (nursing assessment, anatomy/physiology, understanding lab results and pharmaceuticals, etc.) to my herbal training to offer my patients a broad spectrum of ways to intervene and understand their health situation. And to know how best to intervene in a person-specific way, that was more than just giving a medication. I also wanted some common ground that would allow me to speak to conventional health care providers, and nursing gave me a language to do that. I always wanted to be a bridge between modalities.
How do conventional health care providers react to your training, and has that changed over time?
Most conventional health care providers do not understand the herbal training, but they are comforted by my nursing training, and that is a place to begin to build trust. As I mentioned above, being a nurse helps provide a language to dialogue amongst us, if I need to discuss our patients. Being a nurse gives me the credibility to explain why I'd like them to order a lab, or give them the rationale (those few who have the time or inclination to inquire) for the program I developed for the patient. As more physicians are being trained in integrative medicine over the past ten years, there is more interest in knowing about herbal medicine, or in recommending a qualified herbalist, or wondering where to go for good herbal references. Most physicians still do not have the time to explore integrative medicine or add it to their practices, and are still watching with their noses pressed up against the glass of this paradigm. But it is growing in acceptance, and there is less anxiety in their faces when I mention what I do. I am receiving frequent requests to speak to health care professionals, am included in panel discussions, and have given lectures to medical and nursing schools on herbal medicine. This is real progress!
In your experience, is acceptance of complimentary medicine growing?
Yes, it seems that complementary medicine is growing in acceptance (or the resistance is exhausted), as we see it increasingly included in medical school curricula throughout the country. Unfortunately, nursing school programs are lagging behind. But I see referrals from physicians growing, and a desire on the part of the more inclusive-thinking physicians to include some aspect of integrative medicine in their guidance to their patients, even if it doesn't (yet) mention herbs.
What was it like studying with David Winston?
Working with David changed my life. He is a living library of information, and generous with sharing what he has been taught and what he has experienced. I know of no other herbal program which can offer the scope of material that his does. Although I came into his foundation course with a good basic herbal background, his teaching gave such a comprehensive botanical, physiological, historical and philosophical education, that I felt it compressed ten years into two. It was so much more than I expected and even knew was available. And it helped me feel more comfortable in taking on people with increasingly more complicated health concerns. The graduate program helped to pull all the information together in a practical way, as we composed patient formulas from class case presentations. Plus, I was not an easy student for David. I asked (too?) many questions in my effort to comprehend it all, and tie it into what I was learning at the same time in nursing school. David patiently obliged my constantly raised hand and frequent calls.
Do you encourage your patients to develop a working knowledge of herbs so they don’t necessarily need to call you for minor health conditions?
If my patients are interested in furthering their knowledge of the plant medicines, I’m delighted to point them in the direction of excellent reference books, classes, conferences, whatever. I am very much in favor of increasing the level of awareness of herbal medicine and the safe and appropriate use of the plants, especially in this culture, where that information is absent or distorted for the general public. Often, I will copy informative articles for my patients about a plant or plants they are taking, to help them feel more comfortable with their program, especially if they are nervous about their herbal formula. It is also empowering for patients to have a deeper understanding of, and take an active part in their own healing journey. However, most of my patients, like many of the rest of us, are overworked and/or short on time and money, and just prefer to leave it to the experts.
Please share with us some of your most rewarding experiences as an herbalist.
It’s always rewarding when my patients say how much better they are feeling after bringing even some of the changes I recommend into their lives. Recently, I saw a patient with a diagnosis of breast cancer who was two weeks post-op from a partial mastectomy and breast reconstructive surgery at our first visit. My immediate concern was to help her heal from surgery, and prepare and strengthen her for the upcoming radiation series. Two months later, after a huge change in her diet, and with the addition of herbal and dietary supplements, she had very good news from her surgeons—not only was she fully healed and with good range of motion, but she had saved her nipple, something both her main and plastic surgeons had told her she would most likely lose. It was described as “almost a miracle.” During radiation, this same patient developed low white blood cells, a typical radiation side-effect, even though she was on an herbal formula to help minimize radiation problems. The radiation series was nearly complete, but the radiation oncologist was about to stop due to her low whites. The patient was disheartened and wanted to finish the program and have it behind her. She was willing to add an herbal blend I targeted specifically to increase her whites. The next week when she was retested, her whites were in the normal range, to the astonishment of the radiation oncologist, and she continued her radiation, uninterrupted. We were all very happy. She continues to do well.