Becky Chollet knew she wanted to be in the medical profession ever since she was a sensitive 5-year-old in her New Hampshire neighborhood.
“I spent a great part of my childhood rescuing wounded animals,” she says. “It’s very difficult for me to see other beings suffer. This was my motivation to become either a veterinarian or doctor.” Dr. Chollet eventually grew out of her “veterinarian” phase, but held steady to her dream of working in medicine in some capacity.
A 2004 graduate of the naturopathic medicine program at Bastyr, Chollet is now just months away from joining Dr. Lorilee Schoenbeck’s practice at the Champlain Center for Natural Medicine in Shelburne, Vermont. Chollet will start her first job after graduation in the practice that inspired her to become a naturopathic physician. The owner of the practice, Dr. Warnock, was in the third graduating class from Bastyr and was the first naturopathic doctor in Vermont and just happened to retire right as Chollet was graduating. Yet, Chollet laid the groundwork for a medical career for so long that it hardly seems an accident that her vision is becoming more real than she ever dreamed.
Destined to be a Different Kind of Doctor
Chollet had the grades and MCAT scores to be accepted into a good conventional medical school. Yet, her early experiences led her to think differently about medicine and healing.
Chollet started off at an alternative school that allowed her to spend time at a local hospital. She found the environment invigorating, and she was fascinated by X-rays, the emergency room and the pathology lab.
She began volunteering at a local hospital as a candy striper but soon became disillusioned about the conventional (or allopathic) medical system. “I saw the weaknesses of it,” she says. “It was impersonal, and patients weren’t recovering.”
She found it so disheartening that she temporarily turned away from the medical field. She attended Middlebury College in Vermont and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology with a self-designed minor in ecology. She became a “first responder” for her college town’s fire department and she enjoyed environmental education as much as the medical aspect of that role.
Teaching appealed to her enough that she decided to become a junior high teacher at her former school and lead outdoor trips during the summers. She also furthered her emergency medical training, serving as an EMT on her local volunteer ambulance. “I loved being an EMT,” she says, “but it bothered me that I spent 15 minutes with people, dropped them off at the emergency room and never saw them again. I needed more continuity.’” She realized that whether she’s teaching adolescents or working with patients, the opportunity to build relationships was (and is) her motivating force.
Combining a Love of Teaching with Medicine and Nature
The yearning to delve further into medicine persisted. While obtaining her medical prerequisites, Chollet shadowed a number of doctors including DOs, medical doctors (MDs) and naturopathic doctors (NDs). When she found Dr. Schoenbeck, she knew she’d found exactly what she wanted to do: provide excellent medical care with a truly holistic healing philosophy.
Chollet says that compared to the other professions she researched, naturopathic medicine appears to be more rooted in a holistic approach to healing. She adds, “It became very clear to me that naturopathic medicine in practice really honored the doctor-patient relationship.” Since naturopathic physicians educate patients about how to heal themselves and prevent future health problems, Chollet had found the perfect union of teaching and medicine. Becky spent six months as a part-time preceptor with Dr. Schoenbeck, and then decided to attend Bastyr University to pursue her naturopathic medical degree.
One main reason Chollet chose to attend Bastyr was that she was impressed by the classes she witnessed. “I saw dynamic, incredible interactions between students and faculty,” she says. “I knew at Bastyr I would find a group of peers who were really thirsty to understand.”
Chollet did a preceptorship with another Bastyr graduate in Vermont the April before graduating. She knew she wanted to practice in Vermont, so she was planning to move to move to there in the fall to set up a practice by January.
After the preceptorship, Chollet planned to return for a conference held by the Vermont Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She received an e-mail from Dr. Schoenbeck that said: “Dr. Warnock decided to retire and sell his practice. I want to buy it. Do you want to join me?” Chollet was thrilled and arranged to meet with Drs. Schoenbeck and Warnock in Vermont during the conference weekend to start things in motion.
Future Plans: to Practice and to “Preach”
Chollet will take her board exams in August 2004 and plans to become licensed as a naturopathic physician in Vermont by October. Her family is completely supportive of her, even though they initially pressured her to become a conventional doctor. Since she knew exactly what she wanted to do, she didn’t budge from her dream. Now her mother is so supportive that she belongs to several health care boards in New Hampshire where she educates others about natural medicine.
Throughout her years at Bastyr, Chollet has been educating prospective students about the field by working in the admissions office as a peer advisor and admissions interviewer. “I tell prospective students deciding between allopathic and naturopathic medicine that they will have a challenge either way they go,” says Chollet. “A medical doctor’s philosophy could be antithetical to their philosophy of healing. On the other hand, a naturopathic education will be totally nurturing and supportive to their personal philosophy, but the challenge could be in the political battle after graduation in states where the profession is not licensed or widely accepted.”
In Vermont, which is one of the states in the U.S. that licenses naturopathic doctors, Chollet will assume much of the pediatric segment of Dr. Warnock’s practice, and plans to specialize in using homeopathic remedies (among many other naturopathic modalities). In addition to practicing, Chollet plans to market herself to various support groups and at the area’s major hospitals. She would also like to do local health talks at major corporations and at her alma mater just down the road. She wants to educate the public about the profession while helping people to be healthier. “I want to totally revamp the health care system in this country. My vision is that naturopathic physicians will become the primary care providers in the United States.”