You're What Kind of Doctor?

Cocktail hour small talk, I dread it. For one I’m a total introvert (hello any ISFJs out there?), and secondly, I find it so difficult to describe what I do. I get confused with Reiki healers, essential oil gurus, nutritionists, homeopaths and health coaches. I have no issue with any of those practitioners, it is simply that I became a Naturopathic Doctor because I wanted to be just that. A Doctor. I remember my dad asking me why I wasn’t content with being a certified kinesiologist. For me, it was not enough. I wanted the ability to run blood work, diagnose and treat, prescribe certain medications, and perform physical exams. I craved the knowledge and knowing that I was making a huge difference in people’s lives. Plus Dr. von Hagen sounds pretty cool if you ask me.

Growing up I always wanted to be my family doctor. During my undergrad, I reached a crisis point. I was learning so much in my kinesiology degree and knew that health went away beyond diagnosing and give a pill. It was the neighbourhood you live in, where you buy your groceries, your self-motivation and self-efficacy for exercise, your behavioural patterns, perceived control over your health and so much more. How was I supposed to treat people and address all these things if I only got 15 minutes per appointment? How was I supposed to make a difference and feel that I was serving my patients to the fullest when our health care system doesn’t have an OHIP billing code for The Mediterrean Diet to treat hypertension. So I focused on research and applied for my Master’s in Clinical Anatomy. One day when I was teaching medical students about irritable bowel disease in the cadaver lab I asked if they would recommend any dietary or lifestyle changes to their patient in addition, not in lieu of, medications. They laughed in my face and said none of that stuff makes any difference. This was the tipping point for me and I knew traditional medicine was never going to work. I was not against anything they were prescribing, it was simply not the way I ever saw myself interacting with patients. Fate has it, a guy in my programmed was married to an ND. Over drinks at my cottage one evening, she told me about her job and I knew then it was exactly what I wanted. It was the integrative medicine job I had dreamed of but never knew existed. I scrapped my Ph.D. applications, applied to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and moved to Toronto to be my boyfriend (now husband). After four gruelling years of naturopathic medical school, I finally had the right to call myself Dr. Laura von Hagen, ND.

Since our appointments are covered by insurance benefits plans and not OHIP, I have the privilege of spending lots of time with my patients. During my initial 90 minute appointment, it is not uncommon for most new patients to break into tears. Many feel this is the first time in years anyone has listened to their health concerns. I focus on providing health in a non-judgemental space and really hearing everything they have to say. I never tell off my patients for being ‘crazy’ or ‘its all in their head’ or ‘it's just the way things are, take your medications’ as many have told me their experiences. It is my job to connect the pieces of the puzzle and get to the root cause of their health concerns. Unlike seeing a family doctor it is not one complaint only type of visit. I encourage my patients to lay out all their health concerns, in order for me to determine where we need to focus our priorities. Using a functional approach, I know how one bodily system can put pressure on another, and lead to a domino effect of symptoms. As an ND, my toolkit goes far beyond prescription medication. Every patient gets a custom meal plan, lifestyle recommendations, blood work and a tailored supplementation plan. I incorporate other modalities such as acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and Intravenous Infusion Therapy (IVIT) when necessary. I go home satisfied every day knowing that my relationship with my patients gives them the health care they truly deserve and achieve their best health.