Tara Kranz
Former nurse practitioner Lisa Watkins has brought integrative medicine to the Bismarck-Mandan community. Her practice can be reached at 701-471-7066. (Tara Kranz)

For many of us, finding our passion in life can be a pretty daunting task. Some work until retirement and never truly discover it. Lisa Watkins was enjoying her work as a nurse practitioner in Bismarck until the day, roughly three years ago, she discovered a different approach to healthcare. Integrative medicine is focused on finding what is causing the symptoms and addressing that directly. "An illness is a combination of the symptoms... My training in integrative medicine taught me to not just treat the symptoms, but figure out what is causing them. And for most people, it starts with diet," says Watkins.

Watkins has found a passion with integrative medicine that she never had with conventional healthcare. She is consumed with any book, webinar, or convention that deals with this approach to medicine. "I have found what fits my heart," Watkins explains.

She now practices integrative medicine in her private practice as a mental health nurse practitioner. She helps people with depression and anxiety, as well as other mental health issues, by educating them on lifestyle changes, mainly diet, exercise, vitamins and other supplements and various forms of meditation. She always begins a patient's treatment by focusing on diet first, which often addresses any deficiencies going on in the body.

Because this is a relatively unknown approach to psychiatry, Watkins has faced her share of challenges. She feels as though she is "stuck in two worlds", juggling her conventional training as a nurse practitioner with her passion for a more natural approach. "People don't know this. I didn't know this. I spent a lot of money to go to graduate school and no one taught me anything about a safer, more natural approach to treating psychiatric illnesses." Watkins says pharmaceutical advertising leads patients to believe taking an antidepressant is the only way to treat depression, and once on it, it is nearly impossible to stop without symptoms recurring. However, she has seen success in depressed patients by simply changing their diet, adding natural supplements, therapy and meditation techniques. According to Watkins, "If patients follow the plan designed for them in the appointment, when they come back to me, it is like night and day."

"I'm the food freak. I'm the lady that talks about food and vitamins all the time. Some people don't want to hear it." Occasionally, Watkins has had trouble getting her patients to follow a diet regimen. "It's not like the diet is hard, it's just really different than what they are used to." She learned quickly that many patients just want the easy answer, which usually involves taking a pill.

Despite the difficulties, Watkins is able to take comfort in the fact that she is decreasing possible harm to her patients with potentially dangerous side effects related to prescription medication. She has become more and more conscious of the Hippocratic Oath, involving a promise to do no harm to her patients. When Watkins prescribes a combination of Vitamin C and Niacin to a patient with schizophrenia, she says, "I literally can tell them, I know that this will not harm you and I love being able to say that, and I can't say that when I give someone [a prescription medication]."

However resistant some of her patients are, Watkins talks about the shift that has begun from traditional medicine to natural remedies. "You can almost kind of feel it." More gluten free food in the grocery stores and an increase in discussions on GMOs are some examples she provides for the change that is coming. "It's just about bringing my patients along and meeting them where they are."

Watkins is working to educate the public by offering various classes that focus on eating right. "How do you decide if this is a food that you pick up and put in the cart or that you put back on the shelf?" Watkins is passionate and committed to the education of not only her patients, but also the Bismarck community. "The gut is connected to the brain and that's how we're making changes in how people heal."

Tara Kranz is an English teacher turned stay-at-home mom from Bismarck. She is an aspiring freelance writer who enjoys blogging, crafting, getting involved at church, movie nights with her husband and whatever will make her son smile.