Thursday, April 7, 2011

ND Alumna Describes Building a Practice from Scratch

Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND, spent a year building a patient base as a resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, then launched her own practice, Waterleaf Naturopathic Medicine, right on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle's University District.

Emily Colwell

Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND, graduated from Bastyr University in 2006 with a head full of knowledge, a heart bursting to heal and a pressing need to earn some money. It's a familiar story for many graduates. She spent a year building a patient base as a resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, then launched her own practice, Waterleaf Naturopathic Medicine, right on the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle's University District.

Three years in, she's got a full calendar of patients, a new business partner and a 10-month-old daughter at home. She spoke to us about building a private practice fresh out of school.

You were fortunate enough to land a competitive residency at Bastyr Center for Natural Health after graduation. What was that like?

Amazing, intense, exhausting. I was slammed with patients all the time, which was stressful, but also a fast learning curve. At first, I just hoped the patients didn't know how nervous I was. Then I realized I did, actually, have a clue. I was figuring things out.

I was also teaching student clinicians, which was strange, because some of them were classmates the year before. But I learned through teaching and came to realize I knew more than I thought I did.

How did you decide to start your own practice? Was that your plan all along?

As part of the residency, I saw patients alone through Bastyr Center’s Practitioner Care shifts. So I started building a base of patients that way. I discovered that I like having the freedom to direct myself, and I could just feel that it was time to go out on my own. So when this space opened up three years ago, I went for it.

What's it like owning a small business?

All of a sudden I was in charge of these things that I had not been managing at the clinic — scheduling, billing, office systems. I'm not a natural at these things. I can do them now, but I've had to learn them step by step.

QuickBooks accounting software is a lifesaver for bookkeeping. I use a great online scheduling system that lets patients go online and make appointments themselves. Hiring an office manager was a huge help. At the beginning, nobody has an office manager, which is not a bad thing, because it means you have to learn how to do things.

What's it like having patients who depend on you?

With a lot of patients it's pretty clear what they need. There are others with conditions that push me more and require me to research more to figure it out. Then I start mastering those issues, and new ones come along. So every time I get to that place where I feel more confident treating a particular condition, I'm challenged again. When younger colleagues call looking for advice and I start spouting stuff off, I'll stop and realize, gosh, I've learned a lot in these last five years. I'm not always aware of it, but it's a nice feeling when I am.

What's been important for retaining patients or for having them recommend you to others?

It's all about relationships. I was a social worker for almost 10 years before coming to Bastyr, so building relationships and asking patients about their lives came naturally to me. I think that makes them feel heard. Counseling is always an important part of my practice. I'm always listening for the psycho-spiritual piece, along with the physical/medical piece. I use botanicals and homeopathy and nutrition, too, and sometimes prescription medication, but emotion is almost always a factor, even though it may not be what patients come in thinking about.

It sounds like you're using the "doctor as teacher" model.

I tell patients that our bodies use symptoms to communicate with us. Our bodies don't use English, so we have to translate. Sometimes when symptoms get louder and louder, it's because our bodies are trying to get our attention. Almost always there's a lifestyle piece relating to stress and how we live. Unless that gets addressed, the physical symptoms are going to keep returning.

In the allopathic world, the focus is often about stopping the body from showing symptoms, instead of listening to what it's trying to tell us. When my patients start learning to listen, they'll email or call to tell me about a reaction. I'll tell them "Reduce your dosage, or let's do something else, and we'll see what your body tells us." It's almost like they start to have a relationship with their body, which is how it should be.

Subscribe to Newsletters

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.


Apr 16

Deepen your understanding of the interconnectedness between energy and healing. Engage the four levels of your being and experience flow as you fuel your body and feed your soul with the Elemental Healing™ Method. Our energy body codes our experiences in its energetic architecture where there is a complete record of all our past experiences and emotional wounds. Healing those wounds is one of the primary rewards of one’s Inner Journey.
April 16, 23 & 30, Wed, 6-9p.m.
Instructor: Lauren Nalder, BSc.
(8 CEUs, PDAs)

Apr 16 Community Ed

Yoga is a way into life. Develop greater awareness of your body's strengths and challenges through yoga. Using the yoga postures (asana) appropriately, we can bring more freedom and peace into our bodies and minds. Working with the breath (pranayama), we can cultivate stillness and strength.
April 16 – June 18, Wednesdays, 6-7:15p.m.
Heidi Fischer, Certified Yoga Teacher.
12.5 HRs

Apr 17 Admissions

Bastyr University will be in Chicago to help you learn about the amazing opportunities that await you at Bastyr.

Student & Alumni Profiles

Coquina Deger, MBA, and David Siebert fill key roles as part of President’s Cabinet

Herbal sciences students cook up foods with love -- and health-giving herbs -- in a popular lab class.

The actor and author joins us for a Q-and-A before her May 22 talk at Bastyr's Spring for Health Luncheon.

Spring 2014: There is a lot blossoming at Bastyr University

A mysterious illness transformed Priya Walia's vision of medicine and gave her a plan for her future.


Bastyr University Nutrition Faculty Member Receives Prestigious State Honor

The public is invited to a free community event to explore Bastyr University’s teaching clinic

Teaching clinic earns second consecutive year of stellar results in regional patient satisfaction survey

In the Media

FOX Q13: Bastyr University's Ellie Freeman Discusses the FDA’s New Food Labels
Bothell-Kenmore Reporter: Bastyr Center for Natural Health Expands Integrative Oncology Services
Puget Sound Business Journal: Bastyr University's President Daniel Church to Retire

Health Tips

Here are some ways to eat an inexpensive and well-balanced diet consisting of many nutritious whole foods.

Here's how to create a healthy posture to improve your health.

The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods.

While tax season can be daunting and stressful, these are simple, easy ways to help lighten the load.

Behind the calm exterior of a doula is a person who is constantly thinking, strategizing and endeavoring to create an environment to support a pregnant, birthing or postpartum family.