On finishing his final year online and what the next chapter holds.
We catch up with the Class of 2020 graduate (and class valedictorian) to learn what drew him to naturopathic medicine, how he dealt with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic six weeks shy of graduating, what he’s been up to in the months following and his plans for the future.
What led you to study naturopathic medicine?
I had never heard of it [naturopathic medicine] ever in my life. I was studying for my MCATS and was working as a clinical researcher at our local children’s hospital. Originally, I started working on a project focusing on how exercise can benefit pediatric epilepsy. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with Crohn’s so I switched into the gastroenterology department. I worked for the chief of the department and because a lot of these kids had to be on a biologic, I witnessed a lot of conversations with families where they were told to take a specific medication and if they didn’t have insurance, it was going to be very expensive. At that point, I started asking myself, “Am I okay doing this?”
I noticed that the younger GI physician worked a lot more with the dietitian on staff. They would trial the diet for a few months with the understanding that, “We’ll see how they do and if they don’t do well, then we’ll go a medication route with them.” I kind of thought, well, there’s something there. These kids are improving. It takes a lot longer and it takes diligence on their part, but they’re still improving. I was quite upset leaving work one day and I went home and sat down with my parents and said I don’t know if I can continue to proceed down my original route.
What did you do after making that realization?
I started looking at different avenues connected to health care and I ended up finding Dr. Colleen McQuarrie, ND (Class of 2002). I reached out to ask if I could come in and shadow her for a day because I wanted to make sure that naturopathic medicine was something I could see myself doing every day, especially given the big investment of time and money. Colleen was phenomenal and I had a wonderful learning experience with her. I applied to CCNM and four years later, I’m still very happy with my decision.
Let’s go back to earlier this year: your class is getting ready to finish the program and your clinic internships and then COVID hits. When you realized that this was going to be around for a while, what thoughts and feelings were running through your mind at that time?
I hate feeling in limbo. I had a very structured approach to how everything was going to go on in my life: I was going to write my practical in the beginning of July, August is going to be my clinical science exam. I’ll be licensed by September and then start my job. It didn’t work out that way.
I had trouble articulating all of my feelings at first, but the best way I could summarize it was that it was a sense of mourning. I think what I was most mourning was not having closure on such a major chapter, the defining chapter really, of our academic experience. To be plucked out a month and a half ahead of finishing was really tough.
I had such a positive clinical experience, so I was really upset not being able to say goodbye to these patients that I built these strong relationships with over the year. I was unable to give them my final best to help them improve. It was really hard to come to terms with that. In addition to patients, I wasn’t able to say goodbye to a lot of my classmates and wish everyone well. It was very tough and very emotional.
The RSNC’s transition to telehealth care happened quite soon after the pandemic was announced. How would you describe that transition process?
There’s really no critique or criticism that you can give because this was new to everybody and every single sector had to adapt. Dr. (Lindsey) White, ND (Class of 2012) and the rest of her team worked tirelessly. They turned everything around while also meeting the constantly shifting regulatory body guidelines and Health Canada guidelines. I thought that was incredibly impressive. Even if it took them longer than it did, so be it because I considered this more of an opportunity: what other graduating class in the history of CCNM was going to come out with the experience of, “Hey, I did online care with my patients for a month and a half and it went really, really well.” Now I will be more comfortable providing that option in private practice because, been there and done that. I know what it takes. I understand the prep time and how I can research beforehand. I understand the privacy laws a bit better, where I can meet patients virtually and how I can store things securely.
What have you been working on since graduating in May?
There was something I was working on before, but COVID really gave me the time to set it up. It’s called Science and Nature. I think we can all inherently say that we feel better when we’re outside either walking in nature, being on a beach or near the water. So the project was about answering the ‘why’ behind this. I had been collecting the research over the years and I loved prescribing vitamin ‘N’ in clinic, so I wanted to provide that information in an accessible format. It’s also showed me how powerful greenery can be when you can correlate health inequalities related to income with the amount of greenspace in a neighbourhood or influence mortality. You can find it on my website (owenwiseman.com) and Instagram (@scienceandnatureofficial). It’s something I’m very passionate about and I hope more practitioners can use the research-backed recommendations for their own patients.
What’s been really neat is that the project has opened a lot of doors. I’m working with a few different magazines to contribute pieces. I’ve also connected with people in Africa, India and Sweden for collaborations, so it’s been quite humbling to see the connections formed.
What do you have planned after writing your licensing exams?
Things have really come full circle with me and Dr. McQuarrie. We’ve had ongoing conversations over the years since I first went to shadow her at her clinic. I think we both see something in each other that is really beneficial for the patients. We’ll see where the future takes us. I have been extremely grateful for all the guidance she has provided over the years.