Business is blossoming for Bakersfield naturopathic doctors Karis Tressel and Satish Mohan.
Tressel opened Sunrise Natural Medicine last November and added Mohan to the practice last month to keep up with Bakersfield's desire for a different kind of doctor.
Demand for alternative medicine isn't a new trend. A 2007 survey found that 83 million Americans had spent $33.9 billion on complementary and alternative medicine in the past 12 months.
But in Kern County, Tressel and Mohan account for two of only three currently licensed naturopathic doctors. Bakersfield's third naturopathic doctor, Kalyan Gaddam, practices at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center.
"In terms of family practice naturopathic doctors, it's Dr. Mohan and myself," Tressel said.
Tressel and Mohan gave The Californian on overview of their trade at their 20th Street office last week. The Q & A was edited for conciseness and clarity.
TBC: Why did you go this route? Did you consider becoming a nurse or a medical doctor?
Tressel: When I was in high school, I worked front desk at an internist's office, and I knew that I didn't wanna do what he did because people weren't really getting better. He just seemed stressed out all the time and it was a crazy, crazy life. I wanted to have children and a family and not live like he was living...
I didn't know naturopathic medicine existed until my junior year of undergrad when my best friend (visited a naturopathic doctor and told me), "All I could think about the whole time was you and how perfect this would be for you and how much you would love it. Promise me you'll look into it."
When I did, it tied up together everything I had ever kind of wanted to be or do, including caring for people, using the natural world to care for people, inspiring health rather than just suppressing illness.
Mohan: I did my undergrad in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, small town in the middle of Illinois. Didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, did my undergrad in three years, and then just stayed on for a master's there.
I've always been a people person, just love to engage people... I realized I wouldn't be happy doing engineering, just kind of sitting behind a computer. I had applied to med school, taken my MCAT, done really well, had gotten into a couple of medical schools in Chicago. I had pretty much decided that this is what I wanted to do. I was shadowing with an internist, too, and the same kind of story, he wasn't happy with his life, wasn't happy with his practice. I was going to a yoga studio in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, and somebody told me about naturopathic medicine and I was like, "That's interesting what is that?"
So then I read about it...I flew out to the school in Seattle to check it out, Bastyr University. I knew right away, it was like, "This is what I should be doing."
TBC: How does the training and school compare to what a medical doctor would go through?
Mohan : ...We learn all the basic sciences in our first two or three years. We cover pathology, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, you know, study cadavers. And then we learn how to interpret labs, we learn how to do blood draws, learn how to set up IVs...We learn how to diagnose conditions and pathologies. We have to take board exams in order to get our license and we have a set of exams that you take similar to conventional medical students...
What separates us from conventional medical school is that we're also trained in more holistic therapies such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition and diet, bodywork-type of therapies. We also have a teaching clinic where we get to put all of this into practice under the supervision of licensed naturopathic doctors...(It's a) four- to five-year doctorate program.
TBC: What are the differences a patient might experience going to a naturopathic doctor versus a medical doctor?
Tressel: ... It can be a very similar encounter to that of a regular (doctor). They walk in and you get their blood pressure and you listen to their heart and all of that. Or it can be most of the time they sit in the chair and we really talk about things...A lot I'll hear from patients, "Wow, I've never told this to my doctor before," whether that's the color, shape and consistency of their stool -- which is crucial to their health -- or about something traumatic that happened to them when they were a kid, or about the happiness of their marriage. All of those things really can play into somebody's health and wellbeing.
TBC: What are some of the different treatment options that people could expect to encounter?
Tressel: Almost every patient leaves a first visit with me with certain lifestyle things that they're going to incorporate. So not just the food that they're eating, making sure that they're getting nourishment, but also the way that they're eating it. That's an important treatment change if they're not already sitting down and chewing their food well. Encouraging activity, encouraging this whole slew of lifestyle changes is one area.
Nutrition, both in terms of diet and nutritional therapies, so taking vitamins supplements, botanical medicine and then homeopathy is a huge one...We also do water therapies...teach patients how to do therapies with hot and cold water, with towels and things like that at home.
Mohan: I also do a type of bodywork therapy called craniosacral therapy, it comes from osteopathy. That's great for a lot of headaches, different types of aches and pains that people have.
TBC: How does payment work, does insurance come into play?
Tressel: We don't do any insurance billing from the office at this time, although there are a lot of health insurances that do cover naturopathic care. And if that is a patient's insurance, then we will give them a (bill) that they can submit for direct reimbursement...Typically supplements and remedies, that kind of thing are not covered.
TBC: What are the fees?
Tressel: New patient visits are $185 and follow-up visits are $95. Those are time-based but typically related to a new patient visit being an hour and a followup patient being a half an hour.
TBC: How has the response been since you opened up the practice?
Tressel: It's been great. It's been really, really encouraging. It's been busy enough that not even open a year I had to bring in a second doctor and that during my maternity leave I grew a waiting list of about 40 new patients... I also hear from a lot of people who say, "I've always been looking for someone who does what you do and I didn't know it existed."
TBC: When would you recommend someone consider visiting a naturopathic doctor for care?
Tressel: Yesterday...There's a lot that naturopathic medicine has to offer because of the preventative approach. So when you come to me and you say you're feeling really healthy, chances are that we can see an area where you can improve, if you want. There's a place in primary care medicine where naturopathic doctors really shine.
When you know nothing's wrong with you but you don't feel well. You've had the tests run and they're normal or you've taken the medicines and they aren't helping, those are both places where naturopathic medicine can really step in and offer an alternative approach because it's not symptom-based so much as it's systems-based. It's about your physiology and optimizing the function of your body...
Mohan: We have great treatments for a variety of acute illnesses. Upper respiratory tract things, sinusitis, acute headaches, acute gastroenteritis, acute sprains/strains.
Tressel: ...When it's a life-or-death situation, this is not the place to turn. When that's under control, there's something that we have to offer.
The other place where (naturopathic medicine is) not really indicated is if all you want is symptom management. Naturopathic medicine can do that, there's a lot of symptom management that can come from using herbs and from using homeopathy, but that's not what naturopathic medicine is about.
I talk with all my (first-time) patients about this, like, I have tools that can help that headache go away and that can help your breathing be stronger, but if I just use those to address the symptoms, then I'm not moving you toward health. So I would rather make recommendations that are based around improving your physiology, improving your body function. And as we build that health, then the symptoms fall away.