Education: Bastyr University (1998)
In practice since: 1999 (3 1/2 days a week)
Location: Concord and Berkeley, California (newly licensed state)
Practice setting: Sole-proprietorship, multi-practitioner clinic, Mt. Diablo Natural Health Center.
Areas of focus/specialties:
- Women's health
- Pediatrics and pregnancy
- Cancer support
Career highlights and contributions:
- Former chair of the California Naturopathic Doctors Association (CNDA) public affairs committee, overseeing the organization’s effort to achieve state licensure.
- Current president of the CNDA, leading the organization to define and clarify its role post-licensure.
- Continuing education medical lecturer.
Current professional endeavors:
- Expanding her practice to bring in two part-time NDs and establishing a full-time practice in Berkeley.
Personal passions: Number 1 is parenting, followed by music, hiking, swimming, yoga.
Favorite quote: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Alumni Career Spotlight
Tara Levy, ND
Although she planned to attend traditional medical school, Tara Levy felt drawn to first spend a year working in the real world of medicine. She found herself in a busy, sometimes frenetic women’s doctor’s office. After a year there, she again felt directed to delay entering medical school; and instead to travel to Mexico, Central and South America. During that trip she met a naturopathic doctor whose grounded, open presence seemed markedly different from the doctors with whom she had previously worked. Something clicked, and by the time Levy returned to the States, she had decided to attend Bastyr University and become a naturopathic physician.
She began her career with a family, and ended up forging a new family in a totally unexpected way. Read some excerpts from a recent interview …
Balancing family and medicine
Joining the family of naturopathic doctors
The balancing act comes full circle
Balancing family and medicine
AANMC: How did your career in naturopathic medicine begin?
TL: I had a baby right after I graduated from Bastyr. So I had to get busy. Initially looking for an associate opportunity, I found out who was practicing in California by researching the websites of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) along with the various naturopathic schools. Instead, I found an ND who was looking to sell her practice in order to focus on her children. All the pieces fell into place. She worked out a reasonable financing arrangement and I took over her practice in October 1999.
AANMC: It is ironic that she was leaving medicine to spend time with her kids, just as you were starting the same career, with a new baby of your own. How did you manage to find time for both?
TL: I only worked two weekdays and on Saturday. My husband worked, so my son came to work with me until he was 16 months old, and I scheduled enough time between patients to attend to his needs. I practiced “attachment parenting,” including breast-feeding on demand. Once my child started crawling a lot, I converted a room at the office into a daycare room and hired a community-college student to watch him while I saw patients. Once he started walking, he began a nanny-share for two days a week. When my son started morning pre-school, a friend and his grandmother picked him up. Yes, the logistics would get challenging, but it has worked. For my parenting style, it has been important for me not to have him in a full-time daycare situation, and to be able to be a participant in his world. As he has gotten older and begun attending school, I've continued to work part-time (3 1/2 days a week) so that I spend some of my weekday hours parenting and being involved with his school. Some might call it selfish, but I think of it as balance. Naturopathic medicine is a philosophy that promotes balance in life. It’s important to me to be congruent with the message I give to my patients.
Joining the family of naturopathic doctors (NDs)
AANMC: It must have been nice not to have to establish a practice from the ground up.
TL: Yes, it helped that I had a phone number and a physical location that was already known. The previous ND and I had similar personality traits that also made the transition easier for some patients. But it was still a lot of work to get people into the office. People are very attached to their providers. Especially with an ND, it’s a very personal relationship because we get to know people on so many levels. So some patients were upset to see her go. Also, the previous ND was a licensed acupuncturist, which allowed for more insurance reimbursement and allowed her to order lab work. As NDs were not licensed here at that time, this inspired me to become involved with the state association and to help obtain licensure for naturopathic doctors in California.
AANMC: Yes, please talk about that endeavor.
TL: I remember my first meeting of the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians (CANP), sitting in the back of the room with my son as he was crawling around on the floor. I soon joined the newly formed public affairs committee, responsible for spreading the word about naturopathic medicine to create public support for the licensure bill. As a new doctor it was the perfect place for me to be, because it would allow me to promote naturopathic medicine and promote my practice at the same time. A year later, I became the chair of that committee, and the governor signed the bill in September 2003. My son became the committee-meeting kid – playing with his toys on the floor while I was working with colleagues. It was nice to be able to incorporate this activity into my life without sacrificing my time with him. A lot of my association work, and even writing patient treatment plans, has been done late at night at home after my son is asleep.
The balancing act comes full circle
AANMC: How did your political work help promote your practice?
TL: I did a lot of public speaking about individual conditions at health fairs, health food stores and support groups. Once people know who we are and what we do and how we approach people and illness, they are very accepting and even enthusiastic. I would speak under the auspice of the association and inevitably people would come up to me and ask, “Do you have openings in your practice?” It’s a very personal form of medicine, so when they are able to make a personal connection with someone who practices it, that’s who they want to make an appointment with.
AANMC: Was that how you became successful so quickly?
TL: It also helped that my dad and my uncle run a third-generation family business. While I don’t call upon my dad for daily advice, growing up with a business model helped. I relied on selling some stock market investments to pay bills for the first few months, and deferred my loan payments for a year. That allowed me to really make an effort to do outreach and to keep my face in front of people. I focused on lecturing a minimum of once a month. Even if only three people attend a lecture, the publicity and the buzz around it carries further than that. People who don’t even attend the lecture will repeatedly see my name posted at the health food store. Then when they are looking for an ND, they’ll think of my name because it’s familiar. In addition to this, I joined the AANP and got referrals from the association’s website physician directory. One or two referrals pay for the membership. I also wrote a column for an “attachment parenting” newsletter.
AANMC: You practice in the San Francisco area. Is there anything you want to say about practicing in an urban environment?
TL: People in San Francisco lose a lot of connection to the natural rhythm and nature in general. It’s very easy to be sucked into the fast-paced living of the urban environment. People spend hours and hours a day in their cars commuting. There are a lot of environmental issues in the Bay area that people are not even aware of. That’s a big part of my job, in this particular practice, to help people find that connection to nature and to find life balance again.
Family, children, and birthing are underlying themes in the life – and practice – of this talented and driven physician. Because Dr. Levy intentionally built her practice around spending time with her son, she is able to participate extensively in his private school activities. It seems fitting that her practice has a strong focus on pediatrics and pregnancy, and she also served as a metaphorical midwife during the nine-month gestation period of the California licensure law, bringing multiple benefits to the California family of naturopathic doctors and their patients with the success of her efforts.
Her commitment to balancing work and family recently led Dr. Levy to hire two new part-time NDs so that she can respond to all the patients seeking her services and give each patient she sees the time s/he requires while carefully guarding time for herself and her son. She and her son travel all over the US and have also been to Bali and Costa Rica. And she says she’s less financially burdened than ever. “There are still ups and downs in patient flow,” she says. “But when things are slow, I now understand it’s for a reason, and the universe is making room for me to focus on other things in my life.”
Author Patty Bates-Ballard is a mother and freelance writer-advocate of inclusion and wholeness. Patty's articles have appeared on the Environmental News Network and in Environmental Design + Construction Magazine. She has guest lectured at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, Sherman's Austin College and El Centro College in Dallas. She works from her home in Dallas, Texas, where she raises her son, Kory.