Education: Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (2010)
Undergraduate education: BS in biomedical, biological and agricultural engineering; pre-medical program – North Carolina State University (2004)
Wisconsin Naturopathic Physicians Association (WNPA) quarterly meeting: Cardiovascular Conditions
Nutritional Therapy in Medical Practice, Drs. Alan Gaby and Jonathan Wright
WNPA Continuing Education Day Conference: Gastroenterology
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health: Making the Connection: Translating Environmental Health Research into Clinical Practice and Prevention
Intended practice setting: Integrative clinic(s) with other CAM and primary care providers
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Areas of focus/specialties: Nutrition, gastroenterology, endocrinology, research science, mentoring, community involvement and national lobbying
Academics highlights and contributions:
Past president — Naturopathic Medical Student Association
Class representative — SCNM Student Government Association
Teaching assistant — Physiology, SCNM
Previous professional experience:
- Clinical residency — Integrative Family Wellness Center
- Intern at Sicel Technologies (medical device manufacturer)
- Achieving ND licensure in Illinois and throughout the U.S.
- Continued activism to promote naturopathic medicine
Personal passions: Exercise (yoga, hiking, running), world travel, camping and cooking
Favorite quote: "Health is not simply the absence of sickness." — Hannah Green
Alumni Career Spotlight
Kelly A. Simms, ND
Dr. Kelly Simms discovered that her hands-on residency at the Integrative Family Wellness Center in Brookfield, Wis., was quite different from her hectic and intense campus life as a student at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Phoenix, Ariz. And her new life in Chicago, Ill., is proving to be even more eye-opening, as she takes on the role of a practicing ND.
Whereas her life as a student revolved around the campus and left her little personal time, her residency schedule allowed her a bit of spare time to explore a new part of the country, nurture herself more carefully, spend quality time with her husband and enjoy nature at a leisurely pace.
The vast concentration of information, theory and application Dr. Simms was exposed to during graduate school led her to believe that managing caseloads might be overwhelming. Yet observing actual NDs in a practice setting showed her otherwise. Dr. Simms summed up her experience thusly, “The residency was more practical and not as stressful nor as demanding as I’d imagined. I had a chance to put theory into action and concepts into practice.”
Now on the cusp of working as an ND herself, Dr. Simms welcomes the opportunity to balance the demands of her practice with those of her home life, though she intends to remain dedicated to promoting the licensure and awareness of naturopathic medicine.
AANMC: What led you to apply to naturopathic medical school?
KAS: I was already quite familiar with the health care industry, as my husband is a regional sales director for DynaVox speech-generating devices. Both of my grandparents on my dad's side were physicians (they actually met in medical school at Cornell), my mom is a nurse, my sister is a physician's assistant, my aunt is a medical writer, and my uncle works as a scientist for the National Institute of Health (NIH). Although it’s sometimes difficult to make recommendations to family members about their own health or have discussions about differing philosophies, they have all been extremely supportive of my goals.
I have always been a pretty motivated and driven individual. I shadowed conventional doctors (such as an oncologist) during my time as an undergrad. I did some soul searching, began looking into nutritional programs to become a dietician, and was intrigued with the idea of taking on a provider role. I took the MCAT and planned to go to allopathic medical school, but then discovered that naturopathic medicine focused on nutrition as one of the cornerstones of its therapies and decided that was what I really wanted to do!
I realized that with an alternative approach, I could combine my passion for nutrition with my desire to be a healer. There is so much more to offer than just conventional mainstream medicine. I took a year off before applying to grad school to spend more time shadowing and learning. I was accepted to two schools, National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) and SCNM.
AANMC: Please share a little about the lifestyle changes you encountered when first starting ND school.
KAS: Starting ND school was a challenge. I moved from my hometown of Anchorage, Ala., to the Arizona desert with my fiancée. Long classroom hours and homework/studying took some getting used to. I quickly realized the importance of that famous saying “physician heal thyself” and made my own health and well-being a priority.
The time requirements were one of my greatest challenges as a student. Looking back, I am thankful for all of the educational activities, but the most memorable moments were those spent with friends. I miss having so many like-minded peers around me.
AANMC: As an ND student, did you find you were able to balance your personal life with your professional life?
KAS: After my first year of school, I returned to Alaska to get married to my wonderful husband, who has stuck by my side throughout all the pressure and trials of being a full-time student. Having a supportive relationship helped me cope with much of my stress and frustration as a student. Maintaining a successful marriage during school was not easy, but making the conscious decision to keep relationships a priority helped ease the struggles.
AANMC: How have your past experiences – educational, leadership, extracurricular, volunteer and otherwise – made a difference post-graduation?
KAS: Volunteering in the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA), SCNM Student Government Association (SGA) and on campus has made me a better doctor by helping me to hone my communication and leadership skills. And I’ve always had a special interest in metabolic and endocrine disorders as well as therapeutic nutrition, so I interned at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute for Digestive, Diabetes and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and completed specialty rotations in endocrinology, as well as dermatology, as a student.
AANMC: And to maintain that connection to your colleagues, what will you do in the future?
KAS: The DC Federal Legislative Initiative (FLI) was one of the most exciting events I attended as a student, and one that I look forward to each year — I hope I don’t have any schedule conflicts this year! During my residency, I became involved in the Wisconsin Naturopathic Physicians Association (WNPA), and I am currently enrolled in the Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians (ILANP).
These experiences, as well as being involved in the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), have made me feel more connected to and supported by my colleagues.
Having had the opportunity to be a TA, I've realized that teaching is something I would like to continue to do. Learning to network as a student by attending conferences and shadowing doctors at every opportunity has also been extremely valuable, especially now as I begin to set up my own practice. I've realized that the worst someone can say is “no,” so it’s always worth asking.
I've found that being self-motivated and a self-starter helps create more opportunities to achieve success.
AANMC: How did your residency become a reality?
KAS: During my first year of school, I decided to make completing a residency a goal. I began to pay attention to the programs that were being offered. Knowing that residencies are competitive, I began to plan ahead. I became involved in campus organizations and did some part-time work with a practicing ND. These activities helped strengthen my leadership capabilities. I also made an effort to take rotations outside of my clinic to expand the scope of knowledge available to me. I soon realized that my ultimate goal was to practice in an integrative group setting with various other specialists. On campus, I chose a mentor with whom I took many rotations. This allowed the supervising physician (Dr. Timothy Schwaiger) to get to know me well as a student doctor. I was accepted to several residency programs and chose the program that best fit my interests and professional goals.
I think my leadership roles — as well as being involved in student government and admissions, plus traveling to various recruiting events — made me more of a standout candidate. Finding mentors both on and off campus helped provide good recommendations. Believe it or not, it’s not all about the grades — even though I worked hard to earn them — good networking skills are crucial.
Ultimately, I was selected as one of two participants in the country for the Integrative Therapeutics — STAIR Residency program, which emphasizes integrative medical practice.
AANMC: There seems to be more interest than opportunity in terms of residency programs. What do you and your peers think about that?
KAS: More students are interested now than were previously, and so few residencies are available per graduating class that there simply aren’t enough to go around. I don’t think it’s completely because of the current economy (this recession) — although I'm sure that does have an impact on how many physicians are willing to employ and mentor a first-year graduate as a resident. I do believe, however, that more residencies need to be available.
I hear all the time from practicing doctors that we, as new graduates, need more direct training and experience before we’re on our own. I personally think residencies should be required. Funding may be an issue, since paid residencies are necessary. It’s difficult to pay back student loans if you’re not earning a salary.
Schools and clinics offer residencies, but some stipulations have to be met. My residency was handled through Bastyr University by the residency accreditation coordinators who oversaw it on a quarterly basis. Certain competencies and requirements have to be fulfilled by the clinics, and someone has to be accountable. There is also the possibility of a student creating a new residency between their school and a potential residency site. Hopefully, more residencies will become available in the near future.
AANMC: What was the reality of life as a resident (the challenges, setbacks, epiphanies, etc.)?
KAS: Overall, the responsibility as a resident is much greater than as a student, although I wouldn't say there were any significant setbacks.
Initially, at my clinic, I was primarily shadowing the supervising physicians and residency coordinators. I then began to take on more patients and had to make my own treatment decisions. The realization that I was preparing to work with patients on my own made me a more independent thinker and confident decision-maker. As I stumbled through an initial intake totally on my own for the first time, I learned from my mistakes and began to ask for help. I only managed a few patients solo.
When entering a new job, you might feel a bit anxious as you meet the new people around you and become a part of the community. I recommend just jumping in and learning from every patient and physician interaction. Now, no matter where I go to practice in the future, I know I can do that, and I will have many colleagues to support me.
AANMC: Describe a typical day in your life as a resident.
KAS: Life as a resident was very rewarding. I observed or saw up to 20 patients at the clinic on a busy day. My work involved doing initial intakes, handling follow-up visits, ordering and interpreting labs, and assisting with other clerical duties as needed.
I also had the opportunity to participate in off-site rotations. I spent several weeks at a compounding pharmacy, then with a cardiologist, then with a gastroenterologist, and also in a hospital with an OB GYN.
I helped support the business aspect of the private practice by writing the clinic’s monthly newsletter, publishing articles, giving talks in the community, and staying involved in the state association of naturopathic physicians.
Every day was very different and the challenge was to juggle everything, help where I could, and retain as much as possible.
AANMC: How did your schedule and duties differ from when you were a student on campus?
KAS: As a resident, my schedule was a typical 9-to-5 work week with some outside work. I did not have patient “homework”, but I did need to work on presentations, research, and clinic newsletters, forms and articles. In a small, private practice, the volume of patients was greater than on campus, so my days passed very quickly.
Working at a real-life practice was very different from studying in school. As a student, you don’t have the experience piece, so you try to make the patient fit the book. As a resident working in a private practice, things seem less “textbook”. Although some cases were textbook, much of the differentials and treatment decisions were made based more on experience.
The move to Wisconsin was a big shift from Phoenix. I spent a lot of time exploring the area with my husband, and we did simple things, like cooking and taking walks. It was a totally different experience from my time in school, much more relaxed.
I have stayed in touch with school friends and colleagues through social networking. Our graduating class has a chat group on Facebook, and it’s a great resource to ask questions about cases and network. It’s easier to stay connected these days.
AANMC: Please share your most meaningful/educational patient experiences.
KAS: One of the most significant patient experiences I had was with a 48-year-old woman suffering from a chronic cough. Many therapeutic approaches had been tried without success. I decided that doing more work with her diet would be the next step. After three weeks, she came back glowing and without her cough. She told me all about the different foods she had tried instead of the “not so good for you” foods that she thought she would never give up, and how doing the special diet had totally changed her life.
This was a very meaningful patient experience for me, because it highlighted the power of food as medicine and how one treatment can truly have lifelong implications. I was thrilled not only that the cough was better, but that I had educated her about nutrition so she could make the best choices for her health every day moving forward.
AANMC: What are you doing now to prepare for your ND career, post-residency? What intentions have you set for yourself?
KAS: I am in the process of setting up my practice in Chicago. I have been meeting with many local doctors to network and find a practice to join. I've had great success and have narrowed my options down to three potential clinics. I plan to work at two different locations initially, part-time – one in family medicine, and one in integrative medicine.
I intend to be patient and diligent as I embark on my own practice and collaborate with a new community of medical providers.
AANMC: What is your advice for ND students, new residents and budding NDs?
KAS: I think that confidence is a major factor in discovering new opportunities. I created a lot of opportunity by being visible. People don’t know you are out there unless you tell them. Ask for the opportunity and create the work yourself: volunteer to teach, lecture, and get your name out there.
Like most of the ND schools, SCNM offers a business course that actually goes through writing a business plan and working out all the logistics, etc. It helped with some important details, though I think my residency better prepared me. Working in a small practice environment allowed me to see the daily challenges and learn how to be successful. I needed that visceral experience and it motivated me even more.
I believe that pursuing a clinical education is more practical than the classroom environment. Interacting with people is much more useful than simply reading a textbook (though you still have to do that!), and I highly recommend it. Definitely spend some time at a clinic with a practicing ND. Go on rotations and get a glimpse of what it’s really like. Or at least go sit in on a class!
AANMC: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
KAS: I believe that everything happens for a reason. The chain has unfolded as it was supposed to and I’ve had a great experience so far. I try not to have any regrets in life.
I feel truly prepared and well-informed, and I’ve learned to trust my natural instincts. I feel very confident in my decision-making process, although I know I can ask my colleagues for help and support when needed. Taking on challenging situations is important, as there is a continual learning process wherein we learn from each of our patients and from one another.
While I’ve spent a lot of time and energy networking, I realize that every relocation requires renewed effort. Moving to Chicago means I have to start over and get my name out there in a new city. There are people to meet everywhere and it's a high-energy city. I’m excited to be where I am.
AANMC: What would you say your philosophy is?
KAS: I live by example. My friends and family have seen how my life has changed and ultimately improved in the process of becoming an ND. I am a lifelong student and hope to learn as much from my future patients as I can.
As an ND, I also strive to educate my community. I am passionate about activism and working toward licensing in all 50 states and increasing the public's knowledge of naturopathic medicine.
Dr. Kelly Simms has found networking to be the key to her success, and she walks her talk. She’s even listed the AANMC as a related link on her website (a potential resource for new ND students).
Dr. Simms also understands how incredibly valuable a hands-on residency can be for an aspiring ND, and so she is very open to taking on residents herself when that becomes a viable option. Her message to experienced NDs: Do your part to grow the profession, share your expertise and connect with future ND students as often as you can. She plans to do so herself, and to continue promoting naturopathic medical care throughout the U.S. in every possible capacity.
In her future naturopathic medical practice, Dr. Simms hopes to serve as a holistic guide and teacher for her patients, encouraging them to take active roles in their own care in order to make positive, lasting and rewarding changes in their health and well-being.