Career Day: Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncturist

Tell us a little about yourself and about your job?

My name is Carmel Ferreira. I am a first generation Latina from immigrant parents from Michoacan, Mexico.  My first language was Spanish and I learned to speak English while in elementary school and from my older siblings.  I am the youngest of eight children and was raised Catholic.  My parents migrated to Bakersfield, California because that is where my father saw opportunity to find work in the agriculture fields by picking crops.  I was born and raised in Bakersfield with three older sisters and one older brother.  I converted to the Church in 1999 after my freshman year during my undergraduate studies at one of the most liberal universities, the University of California, Santa Cruz.  There I completed my Bachelors of Science in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.  I then worked in the medical research field for several years before moving to Arizona to attend graduate school for my Masters of Science in Acupuncture in addition to attending naturopathic medical school.  Upon the completion of both degrees I then decided to move to Utah to complete my medical residency.  I am the only one in my family to have received postgraduate and professional degrees, a Masters of Science and a Doctorate.

I am a Naturopathic Physician and Licensed Acupuncturist and my private practice is located in Taylorsville, Utah.   Not many people know what the former is so I will answer/explain that in the next question. You can also view my practice’s website here.

What does your job entail?

As a naturopathic medical doctor I practice family medicine/general medicine with a specialty in natural, alternative and complementary medicine.  In addition, I hold my acupuncture license which allows me to use eastern medicine too.  The medicine I practice is a mixture all of these in one. This allows me to create individualized treatments so that the patient gets the benefit from all possible options.  This type of medicine is becoming more popular and has led to the coining of the term Integrative Medicine and/or Functional Medicine.  The beauty of my education is that these modalities were part of my curriculum and not self-learned, therefore I have deep understanding of them and not a superficial one. I have a full and deep understanding of diet and nutrition, supplementation, medicinal botanicals and also conventional pharmacology.  I focus on treating the cause of the illness rather than the symptom, whereas the conventional model is based on treating symptoms instead.  In order to achieve the best possible individualized treatment plans I spend well over an hour on the initial visit to get a thorough history.  At follow up visits, when presenting treatment plans, I also spend sufficient time with the patient to help them understand it this way we can work together as a team instead to help them reach their health goals.  I know my patients by name as they are not a number to me, which is how medicine is intended to be practiced.

Why did you want to become a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist?

I knew I wanted to be a physician from the time I was a child.  I also knew that I wanted to incorporate natural ways of healing and taking the whole person into account instead of treating symptoms. I credit this to the inspiration I received from the culture that my parents brought with them from Mexico, including folk medicine.  Botanical medicine was only one aspect of natural healing that I grew up with and saw how beneficial it was to incorporate into the practice of medicine.  I had a goal to become a physician that would incorporate all aspects of healing so knew I had to figure out how I could make that happen.  Come time to apply to medical school I was able to get the answers I was looking for by finding naturopathic medicine.  I decided to incorporate eastern medicine too because of its benefit and also because it has fewer limitations on which states I can practice it since naturopathic physicians are only licensed in 17 states at this time (with education and lobbying my profession is hoping to change this so that we can be licensed in all of the United States—it would benefit the public in the long run to allow this to happen so individuals who have not gone to medical school to understand this specialty and the practice of medicine can not be given the privilege of calling themselves naturopaths or naturopathic doctors.  This confusion has hurt many individuals and has also has discredited this branch of medicine.) I am happy with the route I took despite it being a challenging one, the challenge more coming from the lack of understanding, acceptance and recognition of this field.

What kind of education/training is required? Any post-graduation? What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?

Like any physician, it was required that I pass the pre-med courses before applying to naturopathic medical school in addition to receiving a Bachelor’s degree.  The time frame for naturopathic medical school is no different from osteopathic medical school and conventional medical school, which is 4 years.  After my second year of medical school, like all other medical students from different disciplines, I took my basic science boards put on by the national governing board.  During medical school it was required to do clinical shifts were I worked with patients directly, where I completed hundreds of hours as a student doctor by treating patients under the supervision of an attending physician;  a set of clinical hours and competencies were required to be met before being granted the privilege to graduate. Passing basic science boards in addition to graduating from medical school are necessary before given the privilege of taking my clinical science boards, the boards necessary to provide me with a medical license.  The medical license I received did not allow me to practice medicine without being in a medical residency and was also restricted until its completion.  My residency was also based on a “match system” that both conventional and osteopathic medical schools use for placement of candidates in a medical residency.  Upon matching with a residency site I was then placed at the matched site for a year.  My residency was in Integrative Medicine, so I worked under the supervision of a naturopathic medical doctor and also an osteopathic doctor, while doing several rotations at various clinics—some which were out of state in Arizona, California and Nevada.

As per my acupuncture license, I also was required to pass core science courses, which were very similar to that of the pre-med courses.  The curriculum was also four years but I did this simultaneously while completing medical school (I went to med-school during the day while I worked on my Masters program during weekends and some nights).  Before being granted my Masters in Science in Acupuncture I also had to meet clinical competencies as I did in medical school in addition to completing my thesis.  For the acupuncture license there were also national board exams that I needed to pass, which covered western medicine, eastern medicine theory and also acupuncture point location and safety.

What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?

My job opportunities are mainly in private practice.  Only a few mainstream hospitals have embraced naturopathic physicians and acupuncturists, such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).  Such hospitals know and understand the importance of having a holistic approach to treating a chronic illness.  There are more hospitals that are allowing acupuncture to take a stand in the medical team and here in Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and the VA have a few of my colleagues employed in their holistic department.  I don’t see Naturopathic Physicians being hired any time soon though. For this reason, it is common to see Naturopathic Physicians and licensed acupuncturists start their own practice because outside opportunities are few and far between.  I am fortunate to do both, work for a private practice while I also build my own.

What types of jobs have you had within your profession?

The majority of my work has been in private practice, which is a good thing since I enjoy it very much. I have had an opportunity recently for consulting with a company on an essential oil line they are bringing down their pipeline but that was the only one thus far.  Being in a state where nutraceuticals companies run rampant, this type of work is still not common place (which can be a good thing since not all companies have quality products, but that takes me to a whole different conversation).

What is the best part of your job?

I am very lucky because I get the privilege to see people regain their life as they find improvement in their health.  The majority of people that come see me do not feel well and their poor health and/or challenges will often times affect other aspects of their life.  Then to see them regain their health allows them to regain the power they have over their lives, especially their spirituality.  I feel blessed to be trusted to see them at their most vulnerable state where they express and share with me their fears, hopes and desires.  It is beautiful to see their lives make that change and it often gives me a small glimpse of the joy Heavenly Father experiences—to see that hurt, vulnerable child become confident and strong.

What is the worst part of your job?

Along with the good in my profession also comes the bad too.  Giving individuals a diagnosis that is less than desired is difficult to do, despite the fact that there may be successful treatment that can be done for it.  I understand as I experienced my own heart sinking when I received a diagnosis that I knew I could work to remission.  Labels are difficult for some to hear because some of those people begin to identify with the instead of using it as a guide towards directing treatment.  In addition, not everyone who comes to see me has a condition that can be treated successfully.  Some of the hardest news I had to give was being honest with some of my terminally ill patients and letting them know of the downward trends I was seeing with their labs and images.  I never want to rob hope from such patients but at the same time I also don’t want to give false hope either.  I have to be very neutral and state the facts while not allowing my opinion and/or emotions to cloud my judgment.  This is another small glimpse of what Heavenly Father experiences, wanting and desiring the best for the person but also knowing the facts show they are far from a positive outcome.

What’s the work/family/life balance like?

It can be difficult at times because any business owner can tell you that the beginning stages of any business requires much work and nurturing.  Building a practice is more work than I anticipated.  Although I would like to spend all of my time working on treatment plans for patients and researching the more challenging cases, the reality is that I have to accomplish this in addition to all the other administrative and business aspects of the practice.  Wearing multiple hats is challenging.  For this reason my calendar becomes my saving grace to having a “life”.  Recently some friends joked around with me that I can’t do anything spontaneous as everything has be planned.  As I stand right now with a very tight schedule, that is true to an extent.  Hanging out with friends, talking to friends on the phone from out of state and even dating gets added as an event on my calendar.  At first I thought it was shameful to resort to putting my “life events” on my calendar but I think doing so has helped me not go crazy!  Scheduling times to see friends and going on dates is a great thing because if I don’t then the mountain of work I have on a regular basis would consume me!

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That it is glamorous.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it may look like it but it is certainly far from that.  It can be emotionally draining if you don’t learn to preserve yourself.  Some of the things I have heard still shock me. These experiences remind me how lucky I am to have such a loving family and group of friends who wish only the best for me.

What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?

I must confess that I have gotten special treatment in certain situations due to my profession.  One such example was when I had surgery almost two years ago.  Some nurses changed their behavior, in a positive light that is, when they began to attend to me after reading my chart and seeing that I am a physician.  One of my colleagues recently had several health challenges and found herself having multiple surgeries.  She too confirmed that the behavior from some nurses, going from negative to positive, happened within seconds from reading our occupation on our charts.  I have also noticed similar changes in behavior from some bankers and potential landlords I have dealt with.  I find the change in behavior rather amusing and disturbing at the same time.

As for opportunities, I have had the privilege of working with amazing people in the profession that I would never have had the ability to brush arms with otherwise.  In my residency I found myself with the opportunity to network and work on projects that required me to reach out to these amazing minds.  What I learned from these physicians I would never have been able to learn from reading the books they have written.  While some of my colleagues have wondered how I got the opportunity to work with these well known doctors in our field, I reminded them that sometimes setting aside our fears of being rejected and asking is all you need to do!

What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?

The most hurtful and challenging stereotype and criticism I have received has been from those within the faith, that I value having a career over having a family of my own.  Heavenly Father and I know that this is not a true statement but also are well aware that my opportunity to be a mother has not come yet, not because of lack of desire but rather because it has not been the right time yet.  I am lucky to find that my career does allow me to use my maternal instinct so when my opportunity to become a mother one day arises then I will not be able to miss a beat and jump into that role.

On the other side of the token, I have also gotten some criticism from some individuals outside of the faith stating that it is shocking to see an educated Mormon female as there are not many out there, however we know that is not a true statement as well.  Other criticism I have received is of being of Mexican decent and achieving a higher education.  All I can do when I receive such criticism is brush it off and not let it get to me.  Others opinions are not facts is what it boils down to me.

What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?

I don’t think I have enough time to write a true response to this question!  From the very beginning I have had guidance leading me to this career and allowing me to follow the path that has lead me to where I am today.  As a child I grew up with the desire to become a physician and to serve a medical mission, long before being baptized in this Church.  Being of a different faith does not exclude you from being influenced by the Spirit.  As a young child God and Jesus Christ were a large part of my upbringing that helped me grow into the religious and spiritual woman I am today.  The desire and goal was set as a young girl to be a physician and to help the sick and needy.  It was logical to me to acquire as much experience necessary to become prepared for medical school and with that being said I made sure every job or volunteer opportunity was in the medical filed.  God’s hand was certainly in the mix because such opportunities would fall in my lap when I looked for them that I recall high school classmates wondered how I managed to receive them, especially since they too were interested in a similar filed.  Each time that I served a position in the medical filed throughout my life I felt as I have grown a little closer to Heavenly Father.  Medicine is one of those professions, no matter what position you hold, from medical assistant to physician, that allow to you feel the spirit without even being religious or spiritual.  His healing power is there and when you are receptive to feeling the Spirit then there is no denying that the medical filed is very sacred.  When I find myself close to the Spirit can feel that I allow Him to guide me on directions I need to take with certain patient cases in addition to what treatment plans I need to present to the patient.  I become His vessel to do His work.  This becomes a motivation to not fall away from the straight and narrow path because there are others that are depending on the guidance He can provide me for their health challenges.

Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?

Achieving a career is not about trying to bend the envelope on the roles of women and men.  It should be based on what the passion and desire is.  In addition, no challenge should stop you from reaching it because of you gender.  As my mentor in high school told me, “The key to success is self-discipline.”

2 Comments on “Career Day: Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncturist

  1. I enjoyed your post. It’s great to know there are physicians who embrace the best of both western and eastern, conventional and natural medicine. Best of luck as you grow your practice!

  2. As one of Dr. Ferreira’s patients I can say without doubt that everything she has written here rings true to me. Carmel Ferreira has numerous gifts that she generously shares with her patients. She listens, understands, and makes me feel that I am worth every ounce of her effort. Would that all physicians could practice in this manner!

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