Journey to VA

Welcome, and happy Friday! 

As many know, I have a burning passion to work with veterans, particularly through the VHA and the DoD. This goal requires an Office of Personnel (OPM) code, which recognizes standardized physicians, across all 50 states, currently MDs & DOs.

After much careful consideration, I have withdrawn from naturopathic medical school with working plans to pursue conventional medical school.

I withdrew in time begin 2 last fall semester courses needed for my application, and begin Princeton Review MCAT boot camp prep for May test date.  I am where I need to be for the coming application cycle; I have a well-rounded, competitive application.  I am excited!

While it may seem sudden to some, I have considered this since the end of my first year, when I was first denied the opportunity to complete field observations at the local VA hospital.

My Backstory: Where it all started

My field observation request was approved and supported by SCNM administration and the locally by the Phoenix VA Chief of Staff of Medical Education.  Ultimately, the affiliation agreement request was ultimately denied by the VHA’s Office of Academic Affiliations in Washington, DC, as I was deemed unemployable by the VA.

Medical Mentorship 

Months later, the same Chief of Staff extended an invitation to me to host a Grand Rounds talk at the VA hospital.  Being so early in my medical education at the time of time of his invitation, I extended the invite to a physician at SCNM. 9 months later, an ND provided a VA Hospital Grand Rounds presentation, titled, Integrative Treatments for Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy.  Based on my research, this was the first time a naturopathic physician hosted a VA Grand Rounds presentation. It was very exciting for me to witness!

I will be receiving supplemental recommendation letters from two Chief of Staff mentors for my centralized applications for conventional programs. Their feedback and support has been deeply validating and encouraging on my unique path.

Action and Advocacy: My Pearls of Wisdom

I have spent endless hours interacting with congressmen and congresswomen, locally in AZ & nationally in DC. I have gone up on microphone to ask Senator McCain about ND inclusion in the VA Choice Program. I’ve met with VA leadership and wore a unique hat of intention to help bridge the gap between naturopathic medicine and veterans.

Medicare and the VHA work intimately together, but typically, Medicare takes the lead. As federal agencies, both have clear definitions on occupations with an OPM (Office of Personnel Management) aka federal employment code.

That being said, I realized that while I was incurring the same debt as a conventional program — the federal opportunities that have been deeply and profoundly important to me — would not be available to me during my education, post graduation and beyond.

Throughout my time as a student, I ignored my gut feelings and decided I would pursue a master’s to receive an OPM code at the VA. Whenever I was asked what I wanted to do when I graduated, I would always answer WHO I wanted to work with, that became the most important thing for me, driving my energies to create and build our SVA and the PRC veterans study.

The reality of this has literally led to tears and a sense that my spirit was being drained. I have wanted this so badly, for so long. Reality was a hard pill for me to swallow.

And ultimately, those opportunities mean the most to me. 

Challenges that pose with this specific goal of federal inclusion

In Arizona, a true ND can prescribe something as strong as Schedule II Morphine, while in NJ, an ND cannot even touch the patient. The inconsistency amongst all 50 states makes it a challenge for Medicare to define NDs as a national profession, as our scope of practice isn’t defined on a national level, but rather a state level. As well, the online ND programs don’t help in the definition obstacles.

Arizona has the most practicing NDs in the country (not simply holding the degree) – at a # of 200 – not enough to address the staggering numbers of primary care physician shortages. As shared by the Medical Director, in 2017 alone, Phoenix VA Hospital had 7,000 new veteran patients…

Futuristic Solutions

The long term solutions for federal inclusion include ALL 50 states being licensed and some commonality on provider definition and scope of practice.  When this is in place, federal agencies will be more willing to welcome inclusion with clearly defined roles and scope of practice.

There is a myth going around (I believed it myself – until I sat with the AANP Federal and State Affairs Committee at this past AANP convention), that when 25 states are licensed, Medicare will automatically provide inclusion — this is a myth. Medicare will not NOT automatically provide inclusion, at 25, nor 50 states.

All 50 US states can be licensed and it is at Medicare’s discretion as to whether they would like to federally include the naturopathic profession. However, 50 states licensure makes it more realistic for inclusion.

That being said, I realized that while I was incurring the same debt as a conventional program — the federal opportunities that have been deeply and profoundly important to me — would not be available to me during my education, post graduation and beyond.

Onward, Forward

This brings me full circle to today, sharing my decision with you all. I am withdrawing in time to begin 2 last fall semester courses needed for my application, and begin MCAT boot camp prep for May test date. This coming week, I will be signed off from FB for the remainder of the year to grind and focus for the road ahead.

Reflections of health and happiness 

Pursuing naturopathic medicine has been a deeply rewarding experience – it has brought health and vitality to me, my husband, and more. Through my experiences, I’ve been empowered with lifelong skills and a deep appreciation for diversification of modalities and health philosophies. This is a PRICELESS gift.  I am forever grateful!

I’m truly excited for the road ahead: opportunities to be able to experience VA rotations as a medical student and seize veteran-specific opportunities that are near and dear to my heart. I look forward to the opportunity to engaging in collaborative change –

My core values continues on my journey with me.  The healing continues.   My message continues.  The best is yet to come! 🙂 

With love and gratitude,

❤ Gigi

Extra Resources 

If you’re interested to explore plant-based medical doctors (and some NDs):

My two favorite plant-based, vegan medical doctors

  •  Dr. Garth Davis, MD
  • Dr. John A. McDougall, MD

Plant-based on a budget is possible! 




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