Much of it was over my head, but I was hooked. I’d discovered my fascination with the body and what affects its health. In high school, I fixed myself egg and wheat germ ‘pancakes’ for breakfast and drank brewer’s yeast in orange juice as an afternoon energy drink. Though I didn’t know it yet, I was off and running toward my career.
My career launches
After high school, I worked for 2 years as a medical unit secretary at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland. I saw that the medical professionals around me had little training in nutrition, and I realized how badly certain patients needed better nutrition. I knew I already had a body of knowledge I could use to help others. When I learned that Oregon State offered a degree in nutrition, it took me just 2 weeks to quit my job at the hospital and move to Corvallis. I spent my freshman year at Linn-Benton Community College and took the next year off to co-found Corvallis’ first natural foods restaurant, the West Bank Cafe. Then, anxious to get on with my education, I left the restaurant and enrolled at OSU.
Thanks to my mother, I was already holistically oriented before I arrived at OSU. There was a single moment early in my sophomore year when I realized just how different my paradigm was from mainstream thinking. My professor for Nutrition 101, a great professor in many respects, told us there was no difference between white bread and whole wheat bread except for some fiber and a few vitamins. This was technically true, but she said it as though this didn’t matter! I realized then that even people who knew the importance of nutrition to our health didn’t necessarily understand the importance of whole foods.
After graduation, I did a year-long dietetic internship at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. It was 1977, and I was invited to sit in on the first nutrition class offered to OHSU medical students. It was interesting to learn more about the biochemical pathways of nutrients, but there was no mention of the foods or supplements a doctor might recommend to a patient to provide those nutrients. I wondered if nutrition would ever be a meaningful part of mainstream medicine.
Opening and closing doors
After college, I worked for a food-for-the-elderly program, three hospitals and Saga Corporation, the largest contract foodservice company in the U.S. at that time. Then, I was hired by a prestigious 80-physician clinic in Seattle as the first dietitian ever on their staff. I was fired within 3 months because I told a patient I thought she had an overgrowth of Candida yeast in her bowel.
Candida Overgrowth was still considered a quack diagnosis by most doctors. Even as I was being told I wouldn’t be allowed to appeal to the Board of Directors, I knew it was the hand of fate. I didn’t belong in such a conservative setting. That afternoon, I put a handwritten sign on the bulletin board of a natural foods grocery, announcing my private practice. Within three weeks, I was counseling my first client.
As my commitment to natural foods and holistic medicine deepened, my private practice became my central place of learning, teaching me things I could never learn in a classroom. Through my observations of patients and clients over 35 years, I’ve been able to identify many patterns of dietary imbalance. This helped me look beyond conventional approaches and create eating and treatment plans designed to meet an individual’s unique needs.
Finding my own path
During these years, I held part time jobs in several, more open-minded medical and public health settings. I was lucky enough to spend 13 years working for Will Corell, MD, the Medical Director of Integrative Medicine Associates in Spokane, WA. He is Eastern Washington’s preeminent integrative physician, and I owe him so much for his patience and willingness to share his knowledge. It was a privilege to work with him, along with naturopathic physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners as close colleagues for such a long time. These great practitioners shared my philosophy, welcomed my knowledge and furthered my education in nutrition and medicine.
Since the beginning of my journey in nutrition, alternative practices have become increasingly integrated into mainstream medicine. More medical practitioners are now open to many of the more holistic recommendations I give their patients. Though we have a long way to go to make our food supply as healthy and safe as it once way, I’m grateful that our culture increasingly recognizes the central role of nutrition in health. I’ve always been glad I chose nutrition as my career.
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