Dr. Poonam Patel, ND

Class of 2005, CCNM - Toronto

We catch up with the sisters and learn what inspired them to pursue naturopathic medicine and how they motivate and learn from each other

For sisters Dr. Rita Patel, ND, and Dr. Poonam Patel, ND (Class of 2004 and Class of 2005, respectively), health care was always in the cards. When Rita discovered naturopathic medicine, Poonam would soon follow suit, and the two embarked on a career path that changed them – and their family – for the better.
What is your educational background?
Rita – I received my B.Sc. at the University of Toronto, where I studied biology, then came to CCNM where I received my naturopathic degree. I also have my M.Ed. (specialist) degree from the University of Calgary.

Poonam – My love for biological sciences led me to receive my undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Toronto after which I obtained my degree in naturopathic medicine at CCNM. I started my private practice working in interdisciplinary clinics upon graduation and had opportunities to teach in various courses and eventually also supervise at the RSNC. My interest in teaching and the science behind it led me to pursue further studies at McMaster University where I am currently working towards my master’s degree in health science education (MHSEd.) and my teaching certification with the MacPherson Institute. This has given me a greater understanding and appreciation of CCNM’s program design and has evolved my teaching practice with my students and patients.
What made you decide to pursue naturopathic medicine and why did you choose to study at CCNM?
Rita – I had decided that I wanted to be a doctor at a very young age. During my second year of undergrad, I decided to volunteer at our local pharmacy as I wanted to learn all the medications and their uses. During that time, I started to notice several repeat customers who would be coming to get refills or medications for the side effects of their current medications. This really made me think about why nothing was being done to help them get better, and instead they were getting worse from their medications. Then I happened to stop at the CCNM booth during a career fair and I learned about naturopathic medicine. I was lucky enough to preceptor with Dr. Fateh Srajeldin, ND (Class of 1990), in Etobicoke. After watching his interactions with patients, and hearing about their stories and how naturopathic medicine had helped them, I was quickly convinced that there was a way to treat patients so that they could actually get better without relying on medications for the rest of their lives.

CCNM was the only naturopathic college in Canada in 1999 when I applied, which was important to me as I did not want to leave Canada to study. I came to a CCNM tour and sat in on some classes. I was really impressed with the rigorous workload and variety of classes. I felt that I would get a quality education at CCNM.

Poonam – I had a fascination with medicine and health care from a young age, and considered a few different career options in health care. I became certain of the value of naturopathic medicine with two personal experiences that helped me realize that the current health care paradigm simply focused on addressing the symptoms, with very little emphasis on prevention or treatment of the causes. I took organic chemistry in my summer term at university and developed a reaction on my hands. This drove me to see my doctor who admitted he was not sure what it was but had a medicine to help. Instead I went to see a dermatologist who took a quick look at my hands, diagnosed it as (dyshidrotic) eczema and wrote me script for hydrocortisone. As he was leaving, I asked what had caused it, and he answered that eczema was usually brought on by stress. I asked how I could resolve it and he asked, ‘What do you mean, the stress?’ with a puzzled look as he walked out the door. This helped drive the principle of ‘treat the cause.’

My other experience helped me understand the principles of do no harm, use the power of nature, and focus on prevention, after attending a weekend retreat where many people contracted strep throat infections. I was able to prevent getting sick by changing my diet and lifestyle, and taking a few botanical medicines even though I had tested positive for beta-hemolytic strep.

Rita had also explored naturopathic medicine so I was aware of it as a regulated health-care profession, and encouraged me to preceptor with a naturopathic doctor to decide if this would be ideal for me as a career choice. The idea of prevention, using natural remedies and identifying the cause became the driving force to deciding that naturopathic medicine would fulfill my dream of working in health care. CCNM had a program that was diverse, comprehensive and recognized. Being close to home was also important for me so I could get the support I would need from my family, and I am glad I chose to study at CCNM.
How did you feel when you found Poonam was interested in naturopathic medicine as well?
Rita – When Poonam first told me that she was considering a career in naturopathic medicine, the first thing I said to her was that I wanted her to experience it for herself before she made any decisions. I wanted her to make this big decision after doing more research. It was a big decision to make and I wanted her to know all the facts before applying.
How important is naturopathic medicine/ health care to your family?
Rita – When I first suggested I was interested in naturopathic medicine, my family had no idea what I was talking about. We all discovered it together when I, and then Poonam, went through the program. Over the years, my parents started making changes to our eating habits; less sugar, less fried foods, and overall we started eating better and exercising more. The whole family is now healthier. My parents are more active and stronger than most people their age.

Poonam – Naturopathic medicine and health care is an important part of our family – in general, we have incorporated some key aspects of health into our lives as a family, and try to actively balance physical health with our mental, emotional and spiritual health. Our parents are retired and strive to keep busy, and have been (and continue to be) our support system throughout our educational (and life) endeavors. We also have a younger sister (Krupa), who helped keep our heads up and feet planted on the ground. Having my family believe in achieving optimal health has made naturopathic medicine an integral part of our lives.
What are the benefits of having a sibling in the same profession? Do you and Poonam ever ‘talk shop,’ etc.?
Rita – It is amazing to have a sibling in the same profession. She is always the person I go to when I need help with a case or when I need practice advice. She always helps me think about things in a different way, which really helps me solve many puzzles.

Poonam – With Rita, I share a naturopathic degree, and between us three sisters, we all have a degree/experience in the field of education. I feel blessed that I can share my positive/negative experiences and work stressors with both my sisters. I know that I will be listened to without judgement and supported unconditionally. I will often ask for advice in cases I am struggling with, exchange inspirational stories, and share teaching strategies or concepts to improve my abilities as an educator and practitioner. While we often share strategies we are using in clinical cases, and our successes and frustrations in our professional lives, we also are careful to keep our boundaries with our personal lives and will actively stop talking shop for the sanity of those around us.
How would you describe your relationship with your sister? How does she inspire you?
Rita – I am lucky to have Poonam in my life. We have a good relationship. I feel like I can share anything I want with her, as she is a great listener. We have a relationship filled with respect and admiration for each other. One of the qualities that I most admire about Poonam is how much she cares about others. She will always do whatever she can to help others, be it a patient or a student. This selfless quality is what inspires me the most about Poonam, as it motivates me to be a better human being.

Poonam – Rita is my sister, but much more than that. She is my role model and mentor and has been my guiding light in all the years we have grown up together, as well as throughout my education. From helping me create my high school courses plan, to guiding me towards naturopathic medicine, she has inspired, encouraged, and supported me throughout the program mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was her love for medicine and exploring ancient principles of Ayurvedic medicine that helped her discover naturopathic medicine and CCNM. My curiosity only peaked once she pursued her dreams and I experienced the value of naturopathic medicine myself.
This article was originally published in issue #24, Mind|Body|Spirit, Spring 2019, page 16
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