Interview with an Integrative Health Nurse Practitioner

Have you ever thought about working in natural or integrative medicine?  The field fits the nurse practitioner role perfectly and offers NPs the opportunity to really focus on helping patients by teaching them to build a healthy lifestyle.  Today, Wendy, a nurse practitioner practicing at the Midway Center for Integrative Medicine has generously offered to give us a sneak peek into her life as an integrative health nurse practitioner.

I’ve asked Wendy (a former TV star!) a few questions about her life as an NP, here’s what she had to say.

Your career began in TV.  What made you want to transition to becoming a nurse practitioner?

I started college as a pre-med student in southern California majoring in biology.  At that time, I can honestly say I was a bit immature and lacked the focus needed to excel in such a demanding program.  I was also a bit rebellious and felt a career in the medical field was something my parents wanted more for me than I did.  I switched my focus to broadcast journalism and earned a minor in biology.

My first television job sent me to Medford, Oregon.  Our station utilized a physician for weekly medical segments, and I was often called to produce these segments.  She and I developed a great rapport and I found myself increasingly attracted back to the health sciences.  Ultimately, after working in television for a few years, I found that I was not fully gratified intellectually.  I also felt that I was not doing work that was as impactful on the greater good as I would like.

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When I decided I wanted to go back to school, this particular physician and her husband (also a physician) took me out to dinner and had a heart-to-heart with me about my future.  They were the ones who encouraged me to pursue the nurse practitioner path instead of the physician path.  I think they were aware of the changing face of healthcare, and the important role nurse practitioners would have in the future.  At this point in my life, I had one child and was gearing up to have another.  The rigors of medical school and subsequent residency were not conducive to my life at the time.

Tell us about the path you took to becoming a nurse practitioner once you had made the decision to become an NP.

Once I opted to pursue nursing, I enrolled in some pre-requisite courses in Oregon.  I can tell you that nursing school is no cake walk when you’re trying to work and raise a family.  The economy in Oregon was troubled, so my husband at the time and I planned to move to an area that was a little more economically stable.  We chose Kentucky.

I went through the 2nd Degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the University of Kentucky (UK).  I actually worked part-time at a TV station in Lexington, KY while I was in nursing school.  Upon graduation, I landed my first job in an intensive care unit at UK.  It was a stressful environment, but I cannot begin to tell you how much more gratifying it was to work as a nurse than it was to work in television.  I was actually providing nursing care to the individuals who were sometimes the topics of the evening news.

These were people who might have been involved in a car accident or were a victim of violence.  In my television life, I would be actively trying to land an interview with a loved one, and had to approach them with a camera and microphone.  Those encounters were typically uncomfortable, and often resulted in the loved one being very angry.  I felt like I was a bit of a cold, impersonal person whose only goal was to get a sound byte for my live shot at 6.  I realize that this is not the same for every person in the field of journalism, and I certainly do not want to sound critical of the industry.  For me, it was simply where I wanted my legacy to be.

I quickly moved on to a masters degree program at Vanderbilt University after earning my BSN.  I am now a nurse practitioner at a clinic in Midway, KY and working on my doctorate at Vanderbilt.

As a new nurse practitioner, what challenges did you face?  Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for new NPs?

Being a new nurse practitioner is frightening.  I have always been someone who is humble in my abilities, so I think I was especially scared when I started working independently.  I landed a job right away in the same office where I did my first clinical rotation.

I am fortunate that this is a very unique practice focused on integrative medicine.  The environment is very nurturing.  I am not having to see 30 patients a day, and for that I am grateful.  I still come to work with underlying anxiety, but I think that is a good thing.  It keeps you sharp.

My advice for a new NP is to ask for help when you don’t know the answer.  You won’t know everything.  Physicians don’t know everything.  That’s normal.  Also, be a positive presence in your workplace.  You colleagues from the provider level to the clerical staff will appreciate it.  You might even find that they are more positive as your energy is contagious.

Don’t be afraid to jump in and help out in areas that might not necessarily be part of your scope as an advanced practice provider.  It might not be politically correct for you to room your own patient.  However, if the nurse is busy and there is a stack of charts, bring your patient back.  You know how to get vital signs.  Your patient will appreciate you making the effort to expedite their wait.  This same concept is true with running a urinalysis, giving an injection etc.  Your basic registered nurse (RN) training taught you how to do all of those things.  You’re still a nurse, and still have those skills.  Sometimes the phlebotomist at my office has me stick someone if she is having trouble.  You will gain great favor amongst your colleagues if you show that you are not afraid to help any way you can.

How did you get interested in integrative medicine?  

I honestly did not know a lot about integrative medicine until I started working in the practice I am in.  The physician I worked with at the television station in Oregon was allopathically-trained but had opened an integrative practice in the area.  I remember asking her what it meant to be integrative.  She explained to me the use of alternative treatment modalities, disease prevention, good nutrition, and spiritual well-being.  In addition to the “traditional” things you’d find in a doctor’s office, her office also employed an acupuncturist and a massage therapist.

I sort of put my interest in integrative medicine aside in nursing school.  However, I revisited it upon a move to Midway, Kentucky following my divorce.  I notice a building in town with a sign readingThe Midway Center for Integrative Medicine.

Perhaps it was serendipitous.  Once I enrolled in my master’s program, I emailed the physician at the practice in hopes of obtaining a clinical rotation,  I suppose the rest is history.

What does your everyday work life look like working in an integrative medicine practice?

Integrative medicine is especially intriguing to me following my ICU experiences.  Any nurses who have worked in ICU or acute care are well aware of the disease processes that are brought on simply by personal choices.  Examples of these include type II diabetes, obesity, COPD, cirrhosis, stroke (in smokers), endocarditis (in IV drug use), and some cancers.  Of course, some people are dealt a bad hand in terms of genetic predisposition, but many are simply making poor lifestyle choices. Good nutrition and the avoidance of processed foods can do wonders for a person’s health.  Avoiding excess alcohol consumption and not smoking will also prevent illness.

A normal work day for me can often involve seeing both “traditional” patients and those who want to only utilize integrative approaches.  Some have no interest in integrative medicine.  They might only want their prescriptions re-filled, or are interested in getting more medications to treat their ailments.  Most, however, have come to our office through dissatisfaction with the allopathic medical realm.  We can help them identify food sensitivities, micronutrient deficiencies, and advise them on overall lifestyle choices that will promote a long, healthy life.

I take care of a lot of women in the practice as my focus in my NP program was women’s and adult health.  Support for hormone imbalances is a large part of my practice.  I think it’s important for people to realize that we don’t completely disregard conventional approaches in the practice.  If you come in with a bacterial infection, you’re going to get an antibiotic.  If you are hypothyroid, we support that with thyroid hormone replacement.  We work hard to look at the patient holistically, and not immediately jump to conventional pharmacological treatments if there are other things to consider.

You are going back to school to get your DNP!  What made you want to further your education?  

Yes, I am back at Vanderbilt working on my DNP which I hope to complete this August.  My drive to continue had to do with really wanting to reach the pinnacle of this new career path.  I made a lot of sacrifices to have a career in nursing, and I thought I might as well put my head down and go ahead and finish what I started.  I think the DNP will allow me to look at the larger healthcare picture.

Coursework in the doctoral program exposes you to healthcare finance, leadership, research, and policy.  These are areas that we are not always acutely in tune with when we are providing direct patient care.  However, they are critically important.

How do you anticipate having a DNP will change your career?

DNP nurses are expected to be leaders and to advocate for the nursing profession as a whole, not just advanced practice nurses.  The DNP will give me the ability to perhaps take on a teaching role someday.  I am thoroughly enjoying my clinical practice though.

Finally, the DNP gives me the ability to understand how to translate nursing research into practice with the goal of optimizing the health of all my patients.  I think I will bring a unique approach to the body of doctorally-prepared nurses considering the area I am working in.

I knew nursing was a perfect career choice the first day I sat in class at UK.  This profession has infinite opportunities, and I like to think that I have merely scratched the surface of a successful nursing career.

Wow! A big “Thank You” to Wendy for the insights into her education and practice.

5 thoughts on “Interview with an Integrative Health Nurse Practitioner”

  1. Hi Erin,
    I enjoyed your article. You didn’t cover salary for an intergrative nurse practitioner, do you happen to know that information?


    Hi Nikki,

    Great question.  While I don’t have specific information for integrative health salaries, it should be similar to the average salary for a family nurse practitioner which is between 90,000 and 96,000 depending on who you ask. 

  3. Very happy to see this interview. I’m in a direct entry master’s program right now (at Boston College), and I’ve been personally interested in the choices we make that affect our health. I’ve been trying to do better by myself and hope that will translate to my pts as well once I’m practicing. Thanks for spotlighting this area of NP practice!

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