Last week, I had the privilege of introducing one of my heroes, on stage, in front of hundreds of people. Dr. Neal Barnard was in town for a variety of plant-based, health-related events in Southeast Michigan. One of his events was our monthly Plant Based Nutrition Support Group monthly meeting. Dr. Barnard was our guest speaker, and he discussed his new book "The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy." The following is some of the story I told the audience about my interactions with Dr. Barnard along my journey to medicine:
"I’ve been grinning ear to ear ever since Paul Chatlin, founder of PBNSG, asked me to introduce Dr. Barnard. I’m a new family medicine resident doctor in the St. John Providence Health System. I graduated in May and I’ve been practicing for almost 2 months now. I have a little story to share about why Dr. Barnard is special to me. I left my former 8-year career in architectural marketing to help fulfill the desperate need we have in Metro Detroit for plant based family doctors. I feel I owe Dr. Barnard a debt of gratitude, as he’s been a pretty instrumental part of it.
I started my journey in 2009 - at that time I was eating vegan for the animals and just starting to discover people like Dr. Barnard and the work he was doing. The more I read about him and what was happening at PCRM, I knew I had stumbled upon something pretty huge. The more I learned, it felt like an eye opening truth about humanity, health & longevity, the nation’s chronic disease burden, sustainability, animal welfare, and how one lifestyle change impacts all of those things. People were actually reversing diseases. Getting off medications. Why had I never heard of it before?
This whole realization profoundly changed me, and I started getting more and more involved in it. Over a year or so, I started thinking "what's the best way for me to help others discover this truth for themselves?" I don't know why, but the answer for me was to go back to school for ten years and become a doctor… So that’s what I set out to do in 2009.
In 2010, which is when this picture was taken, Dr. Barnard was filming his Kickstart Your Health DVD at the PBS station in Wixom, Michigan. My mom got tickets for us to be in the audience and when Dr. Barnard finished, we waited until every last person had their book signed and their questions answered. Walking up to him, I was so nervous I was shaking - but I went up and told him what I had set out to do, and asked if he ever allowed pre-med students to volunteer at PCRM. He kindly gave me his card and asked me to follow up in a few days.
I did, and a couple months later I was on my way out to Washington D.C. I spent a week at PCRM helping Dr. Barnard and the PCRM staff with clinical trials at GEICO, as well as nutrition counseling for patients, and the whole experience and seeing how this organization impacts population health just fueled my passion that much more.
Medical school is no picnic. It’s a pretty tough four years and the way things are can cause disillusionment and struggle for many students, unfortunately. But throughout the past nine years I’ve been so focused and filled with inspiration that nothing ever really got to me. I even had to take a year off to work on more efficient study habits, which was pretty tough But in that year off I finished most of a masters degree in public health and went back to med school with my new study skills. Dr. Barnard has been like a north star to me throughout all this, because his work has been so inspiring to me for so long. Every time I started feeling down or disillusioned it seemed like he was always doing something new that inspired me. Now that I’m finally a doctor and on my way to having a plant based family medicine clinic of my own someday, it’s an absolute joy to finally get to say thank you, Dr. Barnard, for everything."