Bastyr Alumni Focuses on Oncology Care
Laying the groundwork to become an ND
Following in her great grandmother’s footsteps, Heather Wright, ND, FABNO started her career as a midwife. While completing a pre-medical program with her head set on obstetrics and gynecology, she soon learned that her heart was elsewhere. Her medical education “seemed to leave a huge gap for working with people to build health rather than just address pathology” – that gap was filled by naturopathic medicine.
“I chose to pursue naturopathic medicine out of a deep sense of knowing that nature is the best medicine and that food, plants and our environment are integral to human health. I saw a direct relationship between how people lived and how they experienced health.”
Bastyr as a springboard
“I explored each of the school options but decided I would go to Seattle first, and truthfully, that was that! I saw the food and medicine gardens, the St. Edwards parkland that the school is set on, the lake, the trails – it was all so beautiful. I knew it was the right place for me!”
“Through the great experience of the Bastyr naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine programs, I learned that people have their own wisdom about their bodies and tend to know more about themselves than their doctor. If they share that knowledge with a respectful provider, we can do our work.” This patient doctor relationship is “the heart of naturopathic medicine.”
Furthermore, “I learned my own strength and independence as a person and doctor, and to trust that I was strong, smart and intuitive.”
Naturopathic medicine with a focus on oncology
After graduation Dr. Wright’s friend invited her to learn more about her Seattle-based naturopathic oncology team. Her friend taught her about mindfulness meditation, relaxation practices, and oncology patient care.
Not long after, Dr. Wright began networking in her hometown hospital in upstate New York. The hospital was hoping to build an integrative program and invited her to give a presentation to the board on what naturopathic medicine could offer.
“I pulled out all the stops to put together resources for how they could hire me and what I could do for the community.”
Dr. Wright’s first cancer patient was a member of her community – a young man with stage IV lung cancer and a father of two young children. She incorporated natural therapies along with conventional treatment which provided relief from treatment side effects and improved his quality of life. Dr. Wright learned about his desire to stop treatment and live out his life during their guided breathing meditations. He was continuing treatment because he was worried about his children’s future should he pass away. Dr. Wright worked with the patient and his social worker to prepare a plan. In doing so, he reconnected with his sister and asked that she become his children’s caretaker. This experience opened Dr. Wright’s eyes to the whole-person approach to cancer care – not only did his physical health need to be addressed; it was just as important to provide support for his emotional and spiritual well-being.
After two years in the New York hospital, Dr. Wright learned about plans to develop an integrative team in the Philadelphia Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital. She joined the team and began deepening her knowledge of oncology specific care.
“I believed our profession could integrate into health care and wanted to work in hospital setting as well as in private practice. I saw that the successful physicians in the naturopathic profession were contributing from academic and clinical posts and leading initiatives that help bring clinical integrative medicine forward. My skills in research and writing were part of what helped me navigate beyond clinical care to enrich my career. As physicians we have a responsibility to continue learning – not just for our CE’s and to maintain licensure but because there may be new therapies and approaches (or old ones) that we can apply in clinical care to benefit our patients.”
Today, Dr. Wright is a board certified in naturopathic oncologist and President of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP). She is also the co-research director for the KNOW project – a searchable database of integrative oncology clinical trials. Throughout her career, Dr. Wright has become an expert in the co-management of pancreatic cancer and on intravenous vitamin C for people with advanced cancer. As a specialist in naturopathic oncology, Dr. Wright has worked diligently with countless families to improve quality of life and longevity.
Dr. Wright is a volunteer and clinical board member for Gilda’s club and Cancer Support Community and is a lecturer, writer, and consultant for research and publication project in integrative oncology. She has published articles on intravenous vitamin C as supportive care in Current Oncology, on the power of the placebo effect in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and on tools for integrating natural approaches into conventional care for pancreatic cancer in Natural Medicine Journal. Dr. Wright also consults with organizations to incorporate integrative providers and approaches into clinical settings.
Additionally, Dr. Wright is taking business courses and creating a business plan for an integrative oncology clinic with her pharmacist business partner. Their intention is to establish an infusion center that offers multidisciplinary integrative care.
Finding fulfillment as an ND
“I am passionate about helping folks find balance, teaching nutrition, and teaching patients about their organs of digestion. I’m also passionate about growing naturopathic medicine through residency training.”
Dr. Wright’s Philadelphia-based private practice Good Apple Wellness offers integrative care through in person and tele-consultations with specialized expertise on families affected by cancer. She has a large referral network including nutritionists, counselors, acupuncturists and has built relationships with several oncology providers. She balances her family life as the mother of two while seeing patients four days per week.
In her spare time Dr. Wright enjoys gardening vegetables and herbs. Every summer she looks forward to spending time with her family in upstate New York on the St. Lawrence River.
Advice for aspiring NDs
“Naturopathic medicine is a rewarding profession that enriches the mind, body and spirit of providers and patients. Through your education you will have the opportunity to experience healing in your own life and to build a solid foundation in the medical art. Explore the different facets of naturopathic medicine as well as traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture to determine if those meet your interest and long-term goals to use as tools as a provider. Be prepared to trust your intuition and that of the patient as well as the clinical data and traditional knowledge about conditions and therapeutics. Work hard to keep life in balance. This may need to be revisited several times throughout your career as you fine tune a good life.”
Originally published on AANMC.org