Education: Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (January 2009)
In practice since: June 2009
Clinics: Synergy of Health / The River Source
Practice setting: Sole-practitioner clinic, seeing 5–30 patients per week. / Holistic drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
Locations: Tempe, Ariz. / Mesa, Ariz.
Areas of focus/specialties:
- Family medicine
- Physical adjustments
- Pain management
- Clinical research
- Curriculum development
- Addiction recovery
Career highlights and contributions:
- Created the Board Saturation and Preparation (BSP) program for ND students
- Launched the Supplemental Instruction Tutoring Program for Prairie View A&M University
- Co-founded the Prairie View A&M Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) chapter
- Coordinated Prairie View A&M University’s first annual Health Professions Career Fair
Current professional endeavors:
Collaborating with SCNM’s Dr. Waters, PhD, biochemistry and research professor, at the Arizona State University clinic to develop natural treatments for HIV and other viral diseases
Working as a clinical teaching assistant at SCNM
Personal passions: Medical missions, public speaking, baking, singing, poetry, photography, genealogical research and spending quality time with friends and family.
Favorite quote: "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed." – Booker T. Washington
Alumni Career Spotlight
DeJarra Kamil Sims, ND
Dr. DeJarra Sims struggled as a student in conventional medical school, until she chose a different path and decided to become a naturopathic doctor. While studying at SCNM, she helped her fellow students pass classes, prepare for board exams and develop networking skills, all of which led her to create her innovative board-preparation program for naturopathic studies. Now, as an ND, she also mentors students on the business side of medicine while embodying the principle of docère – doctor as teacher – for her patients and her community.
As a former doctor of osteopathy (DO) student, Dr. Sims brings some rather unique insights to the naturopathic medical school experience; she believes that while ND school is just as challenging as MD school, the former is a more joyous endeavor that takes place in a more supportive and less competitive environment. She has found that future naturopathic doctors are taught more than simply how to match a prescription to a symptom; they’re taught to find the reasons behind the manifestation of a disease, discover what can be done to reverse it, and how to maintain the body in a state of healing.
AANMC: What pointed you in the direction of the field of medicine?
DKS: I was always very interested in medicine and becoming a doctor. As the oldest of seven siblings, I’m a natural caregiver. My grandparents often used herbs for healing. My dad’s a travel CRNA – a certified registered nurse anesthetist, and my mom is an RN. They’ve been great role models. My dad often read up on natural methods and said, “Maybe you should look into this.” It was a long, winding road until his words took hold, though.
AANMC: How did your undergrad work motivate you towards a career as a doctor?
DKS: When I was a senior in high school, I was really into learning, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher, a lawyer or a doctor. One night I prayed to know my true calling. The very next day I got a letter from Prairie View A&M University in Texas offering me a full scholarship toward a bachelor’s in biology in their stellar premed program. Apparently the head of the biology department had chosen 30 students from an SAT database, and I was among those selected. We were offered a summer intensive as a preview of medical school; I did well and decided to continue my premed education.
AANMC: What factors helped you choose your graduate medical education program?
DKS: Since I was really into the physical aspects of medicine, my premed advisor encouraged me to become an osteopath. So I enrolled in a conventional medical school that’s on the cutting edge of osteopathy.
AANMC: What did you find inspiring about the curriculum and the learning environment at that school?
DKS: I liked how the curriculum was systems-based and tied into clinical presentation. For example, during a 10-week block on respiratory medicine, the curriculum did not just cover basic lung anatomy: we listened to physicians speak about how the pathology related to the anatomy and how that connection could be seen in a patient. We didn’t just read about microbiology or physiology: a doctor showed us how to do lung-function testing and showed us why certain diseases alter laboratory test values.
During my time in osteopathy school, I also had the opportunity to take an alternative medicine summer elective. Naturopaths, acupuncturists and nutritionists talked about natural medicine and how the body heals itself. Some osteopathic students thought of it as quackery. I was in awe.
AANMC: After your initial exposure to naturopathy in that elective, what else influenced your decision to matriculate at a naturopathic med school?
DKS: Even though my father works in conventional medicine, he’d always urge me to go into naturopathy: “It’s right up your alley,” he’d say. So he re-introduced it to me. I’d always thought, “They’re not really doctors.” But then I read up about naturopathic medicine and realized, “This is the kind of doctor I always wanted to be!” I searched online and found the SCNM website, which seemed professional, yet warm and inviting. I’ll admit that the nice weather in Arizona was a big factor in my decision.
AANMC: What was it about osteopathic medical school that just didn’t work for you?
DKS: Other than that one elective, it wasn’t what I’d expected: not a holistic approach at all. And there was a lack of guidance, at least for me. I’ve always been very involved in school, so I joined lots of committees and became the president of the Student National Medical Association. I ended up overextending myself and began doing poorly. I had a very hard time with boards. I requested a tutor to help me hone my study skills, but my academic advisor insinuated that I wasn’t capable of doing the work. I felt a lack of multicultural awareness at my particular school, which added to the difficulty of my situation. I also saw indicators that made me suspect an institutional interest in the use of pharmaceuticals among the students in order to cope with any learning difficulties (or disabilities) they might have. I had been there for just over three years when I decided to leave. It was a really difficult time, but I had a good support network and turned to my faith to see me through.
AANMC: What were some of the most notable similarities and differences between your osteopathic and naturopathic medical training?
DKS: At SCNM, they teach first and then apply the knowledge later on in clinics. For example, you learn microbiology first and then cardiovascular later. I say, let’s apply it now. I want to learn how it works. How does the science fit into medicine? What lab should be run? I believe it’s better to learn the sciences of the body, diseases and treatments simultaneously. That’s a major shift I would like to see in the world of naturopathic medical education. It makes much more sense to learn the sciences that way. One of my board prep courses taught me that students retain information better when it is presented holistically, and that maxim has made me very effective at tutoring other students for their boards, too.
At my osteopathy school, the curriculum was set up in 6- or 10-week intensive blocks for each system. This teaching method would work perfectly for the accredited naturopathic schools, because their boards were just changed last year to be systems-based. I was on the curriculum committee in SCNM where, at the time, students didn’t get any significant clinical training until the third year; but there was a push to make a change, and now SCNM has expanded its clinical training
to include first- and second-year students.
AANMC: What do you believe are the benefits of the naturopathic medical curriculum?
DKS: In ND school, we learn how the body works and how to treat patients in order to encourage the body’s ability to heal. We learn anatomy, biochemistry, and also why this or that vitamin, treatment or therapy is needed for the body to work optimally. We learn the mechanics and the practical applications. It’s like becoming a doctor and then some.
In conventional medical school, you absorb info just to know which drugs treat which diseases and to ensure you can pass boards. In ND school, once we get into clinics and practice, we spend a lot more time with our patients and develop relationships with them. We look at every aspect of their lifestyles: nutrition, exercise, relationships, etc. We truly treat the whole person; it’s so much more than a quick 15-minute diagnosis and script.
AANMC: Did you experience any differences in culture or lifestyle at the two schools?
DKS: The environments are very different. SCNM fosters one that’s supportive and brings together all kinds of people from all age groups. Contrarily, my experience in conventional med school tended toward a more competitive atmosphere. As future DOs, we were told that we were some of the most intelligent people in the world, nearly invincible, and we were treated as physicians right off the bat. Naturopathic students, on the other hand, almost seem to have inferiority complexes: we’re taught to be more humble. However, I don’t agree with that attitude. Naturopathic students need that confidence early on. I believe I know way more than the average physician because I better understand how the body works.
AANMC: Did you ever have doubts about your decision to transfer from a conventional to a naturopathic medical program?
DKS: Having attended an osteopathic medical school for three years prior to transitioning into naturopathic medicine, I am convinced of the positive impact NDs can make on the world. I have no reservations about my decision to become a naturopath, and I feel that my training at SCNM is comparable, if not superior, to that of any conventional medical school.
As soon as I made the decision, doors opened up for me. Osteopathic school was an uphill battle every day. I did not belong in that world: I had a different view of life and health. I was in a hospital setting, watching patients die every day, and I began to become numb to it. Practicing medicine that way is very methodical, structured and emotionless. Once I decided to attend SCNM, everything started to fall into place. It wasn’t “easier,” but it was a more…joyous challenge. I willingly spent 12 hours a day in class or clinics. I‘m an awesome test-taker now, too.
Student becoming teacher
AANMC: What has been the benefit of having both osteopathic and naturopathic medicine under your belt?
DKS: I have a unique perspective – and perhaps a bit more insight – from working at hospitals and writing prescriptions for patients who could barely understand why they were taking medication. With conventional medicine, it’s just “Here’s the drug for the symptom. Take an antibiotic. Suppress the fever.” There’s no curiosity about the role of the symptom, or the benefit of the fever. They don’t look for the cause, they just palliate the disease. Many of my former DO cohorts feel there is no such thing as a cure! MDs and DOs are traditionally taught only drugs and surgery. We NDs have more tools in our toolbox. I can utilize naturopathic treatment protocols to get to the source of the problem, eliminate the cause and let the body heal itself.
AANMC: What would you say is your most important contribution to naturopathic medicine so far?
DKS: I developed the Board Saturation Preparation (BSP) program, a two-week prep course/study session designed specifically for naturopathic medical students who have failed boards or have had trouble passing basic science courses. When I was in osteopathic med school, I had trouble with boards and went to a three-month prep program that cost me 10 grand! My program teaches students crucial study skills, as well as calculated tactics for passing the exams. I hope to expand this program and offer it to all naturopathic schools soon.
AANMC: What do you hope to achieve through your BPS program?
I know that certain students are going to be incredible physicians – they’re great in the clinic, but they can’t get past boards. Some students become overwhelmed or bored, while others get involved in lots of activities to take their minds off study and test issues (that’s what I did). I teach these students that if you believe and have faith and discipline, you can accomplish anything. But if you don’t pass your classes or your exams, you won’t be a doctor! I want students to focus on this number one priority.
Putting it into practice
AANMC: You recently set up your practice. How is that shaping up?
DKS: Making health care available to people is important to me. I like to personalize and individualize care, so in addition to seeing patients in my office, I also make home visits. I offer a concierge service in which patients pay a yearly fee for unlimited access to my practice. I offer acupuncture, hydrotherapy, IV nutrition, biopuncture, adjustments, herbal medicine, homeopathy and lifestyle counseling. I really enjoy helping my patients. My goal is to build a large, integrated medical center – a cohesive team. I’m working to get that started.
AANMC: What role does integrated medicine play in your practice?
DKS: My patients are well cared for and know that I respect the need for medication and surgery, when it exists. I also know my limits. I recently diagnosed a patient as having a bilateral peritonsillar abscess. It’s a condition that can be treated in-office, but it can quickly become serious if the inflammation in the throat compromises the airway. I don’t routinely send patients to the ER, but in this particular case I felt it was the best decision. Everything worked out well for him and I was pleased with the outcome.
AANMC: What would you like to relay to future ND students that would help them succeed in their studies?
DKS: In medical school, no one talks to you about failing; it’s all about success. Most of the students coming in were top of their class, super smart. It seems impossible that they could fail a test, a course or the boards. But it can happen, and that can feel like the end of the world. I want to say: “Hey – I’m a doctor. Failure happens, but this is doable! Let it out, kick and fuss, but don’t beat up on yourself. Then dust yourself off and try again. Do the work. Get back in the game!”
Dr. Sims is excited to continue being an evangelist for naturopathic treatments and integrative medicine as she further establishes her practice. As she says, “I love what I do and couldn't imagine doing anything more rewarding!” Her goal is to create a center of naturopathy where different specialists can work together to bring about healing for their patients. She is committed to shifting the paradigm and enlightening those around her about the values and benefits of naturopathic modalities by assisting students as a TA, helping her patients and being involved in the community. Dr. Sims believes that there is still a lot to learn but knows that the best is yet to come…
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