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Real Life House of Cards: Why I Love Meeting with My Legislators

By Dr. Jenn Bahr, ND: As the Legislative Committee Chair, it may not surprise you that I love going to in-district meetings with my legislators...




As the Legislative Committee Chair, it may not surprise you that I love going to in-district meetings with my legislators. The energy in the offices is great – people who truly want to make a difference in their community create dynamic places to work. I am sure you know about this energy, because it probably happens in your office. When it comes right down to it, we all got into this profession because we want to make a difference in our community by helping improve the health of its members. In reality, we are not all that different in our motivation for what we do from our elected officials or their staff members. In fact, I would like you to keep this similarity in mind as a framework for the rest of this article because ultimately, I think that you would love having meetings with your legislators too.

Like many NDs, I found naturopathic medicine after a circuitous journey, and quite literally by accident (or perhaps serendipity). I wasn&'t satisfied with the existing medical system, I wanted to find a better way, and I had resigned myself to a long course of conventional medical school followed by world traveling to learn the natural therapies I hoped to use as the central component of my treatment plans. It was in studying for my MCATs as part of the application process to conventional medical schools that I happened upon an article written by an ND. I was incredulous, thinking that someone had made up the letters behind their name to gain undeserved credibility. After a quick Google search I found out that the type of medicine that I was seeking—that made sense to me—already existed. This accidental information led me to where I am today: a healthier person because of naturopathic medicine, and a doctor who gets to help others just as I was helped.

I am sure that you have a similar story of serendipitous information. Perhaps you decided to become a naturopathic doctor because of your own health. Maybe you had family members whose lives were turned around because of an ND and that is what inspired you. I highly doubt that many NDs were born and raised in a naturopathic family and all that was ever known was a natural medicine approach, and then were surprised to find out that MDs existed. I ask you to pause, and remind yourself of your own personal discovery of this great medicine. Who or what was it that helped you to understand and pursue this profession?

In meeting with my legislators and their staff, I have the chance to be the factor that brings naturopathic medicine into their lives. Some may know of us well already, but there are always new members to the senate and assembly. This year will be no exception. Some may be fans of ours, and meeting with them is like meeting with an old friend with whom we are catching up and reinforcing our supportive relationship. Some may have preconceived and incorrect ideas about naturopathic medicine. With these people we have the opportunity to demonstrate our expertise and to correct misconceptions or outright untruths.

The new members, or new staff members of legislators I know well, are my absolute favorite to meet with. I remember my last in-district meeting with Senator Bill Monning&'s office here in Santa Cruz. The staff member I spoke with had never heard about naturopathic medicine. It was truly rewarding to see the light bulbs going off in her head left and right about our approach to health. As the meeting went on, the head nods increased and so did the smiles. The materials we had on hand, created by our hard working and dedicated legislative committee and staff, answered the questions she had before she even asked them. We left with the enthusiastic support of the staff member of a senator with strong ties to the California Medical Association. I was able to be that person who brought naturopathic medicine into that staffer&'s worldview.

I will leave you with one final example of how exciting and effective this process can be. We are currently celebrating the passing of the licensing bill in Maryland – our 18th state (if you count DC) to be licensed! At this year&'s DC FLI, we were honored to have the legislators who championed the Maryland bill in attendance. They recounted their experience with learning about and then deciding to take on a very controversial bill. Neither of these legislators had any knowledge of naturopathic medicine before they met with our Maryland colleagues. Our Maryland ND colleagues were those people who introduced naturopathic medicine to the legislators that championed their bill and led to our newest licensed state. The legislators&' story included the excitement and drama that comes with brokering political deals (and a bit of a “bulldog” reputation along with it – like a real life version of House of Cards). The most inspiring part of the story was that these people who knew nothing about our profession told the DC FLI attendees that they took the bill (and the fight that went with it) because this type of medicine “just makes sense.” And they managed to have a bipartisan bill!

Let me finish by going back to the memory of how you first learned about naturopathic medicine. How profoundly has that impacted your life? How profoundly has that allowed you to impact the lives of your patients? How many of those started from just a conversation? The reach of that initial conversation has likely impacted hundreds or even thousands of people. I think about this, and then I think about the impact that even a handful of legislators in California could have on all of us, and those who may not even know about us yet. The possibilities and the chance to be that person who conveys this medicine that just makes sense to our lawmakers is what I love about in-district meetings. The flashes of insight on someone&'s face as they realize that there is a better way, and that they just might be able to be part of the change in our healthcare system to something better is well worth the effort it takes to attend these meetings.

I hope my excitement has rubbed off on you, or at least offered another perspective, and that you will enthusiastically schedule and participate in your in-district meetings this September. If you have not volunteered to lead a meeting as of yet but would like to, please contact Frances at the home office (coordinator@calnd.org). If you are excited to attend but do not want to lead a meeting and you haven&'t been contacted by your district leader with the scheduled dates yet, please contact Frances as well.

These grassroots meetings are vital to the work we are doing with our upcoming scope bill. Thank you for your commitment to our profession and to all Californians who deserve access to their choice of a primary care provider who can practice to the full extent of their training.

 Jennifer Bahr, ND is the CNDA Vice President and Legislative Committee Chair. She is a graduate of SCNM where she focused her studies on homeopathy, nutrition, mental health, and pediatrics. Her practice is located in Santa Cruz, CA where she focuses on treating those with mental health challenges. For more information about her practice, visit www.DrJenniferBahr.com.

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