When Robert Martinez played doctor as a little boy, instead of fake syringes and candy pills, he carried homeopathic remedies in his doctor’s bag. And instead of pretending to perform surgery, he adjusted backs. Clearly, he was destined to become a chiropractic and naturopathic physician. In fact, since Dr. Martinez had been born at home, delivered by his father, Dr. Jerry Martinez, who was both a doctor of chiropractic and naturopathic medicine, well, you could almost say both careers were engraved on his DNA.
Martinez, though, was tantalized by three dreams: “Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor, a great chef or Jacques Cousteau,” he says. And for awhile, it looked as though the mysteries of the sea might win out over those of the human body or the perfect soufflé.
At 14, Martinez learned to SCUBA dive. Then, after a few years of college, he enrolled in the two-year marine biology program at Shoreline Community College in North Seattle. The lure of the sea, however, began to fade after he found himself doing a three-week tour on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship in Alaska. He realized that being a marine biologist would likely mean long stints at sea with an uncertain future based on the shifting priorities of government funding. “That just didn’t sound like an ideal way to have healthy relationships and a sound financial future,” he says.
So Martinez dove instead into chiropractic studies at Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. He wasn’t there long when he started hearing rave reviews about a new school that had just opened in Seattle. “My father was encouraging me to transfer to John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine as soon as possible,” he says, “and, since I was already drawn to natural medicine, it sounded like a good idea to me.” After starting his chiropractic practice in 1981 to finance his tuition, he enrolled at the John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, now Bastyr University.
Since the whole philosophy of naturopathic medicine was already central to the way Martinez lived his life, he thrived at Bastyr. An important lesson Martinez had learned early on was that “people want to have their story heard.” He points out that simply listening and allowing patients to tell their whole story is integral to good doctoring. “I’ve found that it’s one of those lessons you first learn in your head,” he says, “and then you spend the next 50 years learning to live it from the heart.”
After graduating from Bastyr in 1985, Martinez added naturopathic medicine to the services he provided in his private practice on Seattle’s Eastside. He also taught physical medicine courses at Bastyr—something he’d begun while still a student there—and he began teaching post-graduate courses at the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic.
By this time, Martinez had a wife, Frances, and a toddler, Michael. A few years later, Michael’s sisters Briana and Calli were born. To say that Robert Martinez found himself a busy man would be an understatement. Yet, through it all, his love for people and healing kept him grounded. “I enjoy acting as a coach and facilitator,” says Martinez. “Teaching patients to take personal responsibility for their health and helping them make changes using natural processes are two parts of the naturopathic philosophy that drew me to this career.”
While Martinez continued making a name for himself in natural health by, among other things, serving on the Washington State Board of Chiro-practic Examiners and holding a number of prestigious positions in the Washington Chiropractor’s Association, Dr. Joe Pizzorno, co-founder and president emeritus of Bastyr, was coveting Martinez’s time and talents on behalf of the university. “For years Joe was trying to get me onto Bastyr’s board of trustees,” Martinez says. “Dr. Michael Murray, a classmate and board of trustees member, was encouraging me, too.” Their enthusiasm was partly fueled by the fact that these two physicians/ authors had chosen Martinez to write the chapter on manipulation in their own popular Textbook of Natural Medicine. They knew from experience just how good Martinez was.
In spring 2003, Pizzorno’s and Murray’s tenacity paid off: Martinez accepted the invitation to join the Bastyr board of trustees. He takes his trustee responsibilities very seriously. “My role on the board is to help keep the focus on the heart of natural medicine and on Bastyr’s vision,” he says. “The board is deeply engaged in discussions about nurturing the roots of our profession while gaining access for our practitioners to observe and participate in patient care in more settings. While we build opportunities in collaborative medicine, we have to be mindful of the risks our medicine faces in becoming co-opted and reduced to a modality in the allopathic model of care.”
Martinez’s position on the board allows him to share with others a personal dream he nurtures for the school: “I would like to see us create the world’s premier center for integrative, collaborative medicine.”
Although Martinez continues to teach, to heal and to write—authoring the cover story in the June/July 2003 issue of Integrative Medicine—he makes a point of enjoying the outdoor lifestyle the Pacific Northwest offers and taking time to be with his family. “I continue to enjoy the process of becoming a human being,” he says, “rather than a human doing.”