Profile with Allison Bachlet

Dr. Allison Bachlet (Ontario & St. Catherine’s 2000) is a practitioner of Clinical Nutrition, Acupuncture and Naturopathic Medicine at her private practice in the Hawaii Kai Chiropractic Clinic in Oahu, Hawaii and the he Pre-Health Professions Specialist at Hawaii Pacific University. Her areas of interest include neurological dysfunction, mental/emotional wellness, gastrointestinal illness and chronic illness. Allison holds an ND (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) from the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver, Canada, a MOM (Master’s in Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture) from the World Medicine Institute in Hawaii, a DPhil in Pediatric Nutrition from the University of Oxford and a BSc (Honours) in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Guelph in Canada.  

Rhodes Project: What’s your favorite thing to do in Honolulu?

Allison Bachlet: Enjoying the sunshine! Hiking is one of my favorite things to do; we have beautiful hiking trails here. I also love spending time close to or in the water.  I am a big swimmer and also love to walk on the beach, surf, stand up paddle-board, or kayak.  I was thinking about my time at Oxford this morning and one of the things I learned while there was that I can’t live in grey weather! I moved to Vancouver for medical school and then I decided “No!  I cannot live like this anymore!”  And so I moved to Hawaii.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell us about a vacation you took recently?

Allison Bachlet: There were two parts to my August holiday.  First was to visit some friends and family and second, I timed it to take part in a ceremony that was actually a dedication to my father. He was a metallurgical engineer in the Canadian Air Force.  He passed away many years ago but he has been remembered and his name was suggested for a new military project in Trenton, Ontario (the largest Air Force Base in Canada.)  The Air Force recently built a brand new state-of-the-art non destructive testing facility that they have decided to name in honor of my father. I couldn’t go for the actual naming ceremony but I did get to meet the people involved and take a tour of the facility.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about health and alternative medicine?

Allison Bachlet: When I was in high school, I realized that I loved science and human health was a part of it.  I was having my own set of gastrointestinal issues as a teenager and was really frustrated that I was getting conflicting advice from a nutritionist, a dietician and a doctor. No one was on the same page. I thought to myself - “You know what? I am going to study nutrition and then I am going to go to medical school.  I want to learn it all!” Obviously there is a big gap in the knowledge bases between these different professions and I realized early on that I wanted to work as a bridge between few different fields. I see nutrition as being the basis, the foundation, of health.  If you give your body what it needs - give it the proper building blocks to repair cells and tissues - it is going to heal itself. There is no magic pill. At that time I wasn’t aware of the field of natural medicine as a specialty; my plan was to study nutrition and then go to medical school.  But when I won a Rhodes Scholarship I thought, “What can I do with this?”  I did my DPhil in the Faculty of Clinical Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and my specialty was Gastroenterology. It was very emotionally challenging. I was working with very sick children and doing research that I had never planned to do.  But what that opportunity showed me was just how dissatisfied I was with the traditional medical system!   Just the actual concepts of western medicine frustrated me.  I had a little bit of a “crisis of faith” in my career path because I had planned to go back to North America for medical school and I didn’t want to then. It was a friend of mine who said, “What about naturopathic medicine?”  I hadn’t been aware of that as a possibility, but as soon as I looked into it, I knew it was the best field for me - it was exactly what I wanted. Naturopathic Medicine combines the science of medicine with natural and alternative therapies. I am very lucky that in the state of Hawaii, I am considered a primary care physician.  I have prescription rights but I also have this additional knowledge base that will allow me to really look at the root cause of a disease or illness. The main principles of naturopathic medicine include treating people as individuals as opposed to diseases, looking for the cause of an illness at all times, and natural, non invasive means to treat them.

Rhodes Project: What do you find the most rewarding part of your job?

Allison Bachlet: One of the other principles in naturopathic medicine is “Doctor as Teacher.”  Often, I’m dealing with someone who has been frustrated and let down by the traditional medical system.  It is very rewarding to see their eyes ‘get it’ when I educate them and explain the reasons why the situation exists and what needs to be addressed. When I see someone start to feel better, and they are so happy it is a wonderful feeling!  I continually feel amazed at what the human body can do, the power of the human spirit, and I feel honored to be a part of that.   In my role as an advisor and mentor to Pre-Health students, it is similar.  When I know I have really reached a group of students, or one student, it feels nice.  I’m helping to shape a whole new generation of health care providers!

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Allison Bachlet:  Dealing with the US healthcare system. Without doubt, it is the most frustrating aspect of my job. As someone who grew up in Canada, with its healthcare system, and then having experienced the National Health Service in England, I had no idea how bad healthcare really was in the United States and how very anti – preventive medicine it is.  With the current insurance system, most people do not have coverage for naturopathic medicines so that means they will have to pay for it out of their pockets. Unfortunately, that means that the medicine is limited to only those who can pay for it and that is the most frustrating part - that the people who most need the medicine do not have access to it.  It also means that naturopathic physicians have to be business people at the same time as doctors - you have to promote yourself and your services.  You can’t just go and practice in a hospital because those types of jobs don’t exist for NDs. You have to create your own business and practice and you need to convince people that they need to invest in their health.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give young female professionals today about balancing health needs and career needs?

Allison Bachlet:  I went straight from my DPhil at Oxford to medical school in Vancouver, starting classes four days after submitting my thesis.  By the time I finished medical school, I certainly wasn’t very healthy, and definitely not the role model I wanted to be in terms of health!  I tell this story this to my patients and the students that I mentor at Hawaii Pacific University.  Absolutely, career is important, but I see that health is the foundation; it is the bottom of the pyramid. I don’t care what your status is, what your title is, or how much you make - if you don’t take care of your health, nothing else matters because you won’t be able to enjoy even a single moment of it.  It’s hard!  Unfortunately, we humans need to learn the same lessons over and over again. People often need to burn out and hit bottom (health wise) before they can learn. And society works against us in this way – we are taught that taking time off work is ‘bad’.   I consider myself a feminist, and I think this is extremely applicable.  Feminism doesn’t necessarily mean that we (as women) can do every single thing; it just means that we have CHOICE. You can’t be a full-time mom and a full-time career woman.  There is a limit to how much one person can do.  It doesn’t matter who you are – we all have 168 hours in a week.  That’s it!  168 hours. 

How I approach this topic depends on where my patients or students are at…  I often tell them stories about myself or my colleagues and I will tackle the financial argument.  Because most people try to make it about money - they tell me – “But I need to work, I need to make money!”  Especially here in America, with both the bad economy and the healthcare system, it is difficult.  But I tell them:  “If you can’t afford to buy good food or take a vacation or get a massage or therapy or whatever it is that you need, and then you can’t afford to fall sick. If you don’t take care of your health, then one day you are bound to crash and you won’t be able to work at all.” People get that.

Rhodes Project: Do you think your idea of “healing” has changed over the years?

Allison Bachlet: Yes, definitely, perhaps even my definition of “health”. I used to think that healing was all about the physical body.   As long as the body was working in this mechanistic way, everything was fine.  Now, I’m realizing more and more that health and wellness is so much more about a mental / emotional level than a physical one. I really feel that health is individualized freedom. When you’re in a state of health, it means that you’re free to live the life that you want to - physically and mentally and emotionally. You can be healthy even if you’re ninety if you can wake up and play with your grandchildren even if your body doesn’t work like a 20 year old’s. You can be healthy even if you’re missing limbs or organs if there is a balance. I do a lot of work in the area of mental illness and I realize that it is one of the most insidious, invisible kinds of illnesses.  And possibly the worst, because this type of illness prevents you from interacting socially and connecting with others – something truly necessary for health and wellness.

Rhodes Project: Do you have a favorite memory of Oxford?

Allison Bachlet: What I miss the most about Oxford is the community of amazing people and the constant intellectual stimulation.  There were always fantastic shows to go to or groups to join.  In terms of specific memories, there were two really memorable ones.   I was part of an a cappella group that sang for Nelson Mandela at the formation of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. There was a small group of us who got to interact with this amazing man who has done so much in his life.  To have him thank us for singing a couple of songs to him in Swahili - that was an amazing experience.  On a purely fun level, one year one of the Rhodes alumni decided he wanted to give back to the Rhodes Community. He organized a trip for about 20 of us, where he flew us in his private jet to his chalet in Southern France and had arranged a ski weekend for us. We had private ski lessons, amazing meals, etc.  The funniest thing I remember was that – he’s Canadian - he had a set of Toronto Maple Leaf  jerseys and a set of Montreal Canadien jerseys in his garage!   The guys all played floor hockey – it was hilarious!  That is the type of experience you just don’t get every day.  When I think about the Rhodes Experience in general I feel so honored.  At the time I would think to myself – “I think someone might have made a mistake somewhere….How did I get here?”  Part of the greater experience of Oxford was realizing that everybody has something to offer and that we are all doing amazing things all over the world.

Rhodes Project: What does an ideal day look like, for you?

Allison Bachlet: It would be a morning where I get to really take time for myself; probably go for a swim and do some yoga. I would relax and enjoy the time spent in conversations with people, whether that be at work or with friends; connecting with people really matters to me.  At a later point in the day, it would be spending some time with nature – connecting to and appreciating the world around me. A lot of the time we get so busy that we fail to recognize the basics around us. It would include being thankful for what I have and remembering what my role in the world is.

Rhodes Project: Is there something that you are looking forward to?

Allison Bachlet: On a career level, over the last few months I have been very involved in redesigning and implementing a new Pre-Health program at Hawaii Pacific University.  Next week is Orientation Week and I’m excited about seeing my project, my baby, come to life. I like to work, I like being creative and I like making things happen. On a personal level, I am looking forward to seeing what the next phase in my life brings. I definitely feel that I have been very career focused in the last few years and I am in a place right now where I think yes, that was great and I am proud of the things that I have done, but now I’m excited to see what my future will bring outside of work.  I realize at this stage that there is a lot more to life than just work and I have been practicing more balance in my own life.  It is exciting to think about what might come my way! 

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