Dr. Jennah Miller ND is a Naturopath in Toronto who loves to talk about periods. She recently opened her private practice and focuses on supporting the personalized healthcare of wild and badass women. We know…we fell in love with Jennah at first sight, too.
We met Jennah at an event by Herday, an organization that creates safe spaces dedicated to all women to inspire them to embrace femininity. She was looking to meet fellow women creators and entrepreneurs exploring the Toronto business community (as were we!). Shortly thereafter, we reconnected at Quantam Coffee in Toronto’s Fashion District. Over decaf (and deliciously warm) vanilla tea, we sat outside in the cool air as streetcars passed by, discussing what it’s like to start something new in this city’s ever-popular entrepreneurial and creative climate, menstrual issues and miscommunication and the importance of understanding self-care, subjectively.
We also asked Jennah questions about her career in Naturopathic Medicine and its impact on the future of how women are treated in healthcare and how women perceive their own health and wellbeing.
Read our interview below for a deeper look into Jennah’s change-making and ceiling breaking:
- When we met, you talked about how so many people don’t know what Naturopathic Medicine is. What is it, in a nutshell?
Most simply, and perhaps most profoundly, naturopathic medicine is treating people not disease. I could spend paragraphs diving into the finer details of this beautiful method of healthcare, but I think this definition really cuts to the core of what I do. Naturopathic medicine sees the individual as exactly that; a distinctive, weird and wild human being, who deserves a healthcare plan that is just as unique as they are. It’s really about health optimization and disease prevention – because every single person should feel more than just okay about their health.
Practically, this means using diet/lifestyle counselling, acupuncture and nutritional/herbal supplements to get at the root cause of your health concerns. There are no one size fits all approaches in naturopathic medicine, and no two individuals will ever get the same treatment plan because of this.
- Why was Naturopathic Medicine something you wanted to explore?
Being a woman navigating the conventional medical system, I always felt like something was lacking in my own experiences. Even something as simple as talking about birth control with my various family doctors over the years felt very dismissive to me. As if female problems were not “real” problems, and that they were barely worth a discussion. After being introduced to the concept of naturopathic medicine somewhere along the line, a door opened up for me. The fact that you could sit down and talk to your doctor for longer than 10 minutes and about more than one concern seemed life changing! I also appreciated how empowering it was for the patients – finally a method of healthcare in which the patient could be an active contributor to their own health. I was won over almost instantly, and knew this was exactly what I needed to do with my life.
- What was your journey like to completing a postgraduate program in Naturopathic Medicine?
It was certainly a journey, and not a short one at that. I started off my post-secondary education thinking I wanted to become a dietitian. I already had a strong sense that food can be medicine, but something felt like it was missing. Most dietitians (not all, mind you) are stuck recommending out-dated therapeutic diets to patients in hospital settings – I had this deep seated sense that health should be so much more than just the absence of disease, and naturopathic medicine seemed to fill all of those gaps.
After four years of nutrition, I went on to complete another four years of naturopathic medical school. The program is pretty intense, and amidst obtaining an actual doctor of naturopathy degree, there are a few extra hurdles to jump. We have a nation-wide series of licensing examinations called NPLEX, which is divided into two parts, plus a province specific set of exams called the Ontario Clinical Board Exams. I also completed a yearlong clinical internship, and that brings me here today!
- You studied at Ontario’s only school for Naturopathic Medicine. What was your favourite experience from your educational journey? What was your least favourite?
My favourite experience was definitely my clinical internship. As part of the four-year program in naturopathic medicine, all students complete a 12-month internship within the school’s teaching clinic. I saw patients under the supervision of a senior naturopathic doctor and was responsible for the entirety of their care. It was such an amazing learning experience, and exposed me to a tapestry of unique individuals, each undergoing their own health journey. I attracted a lot of women’s health and fertility cases, and this solidified my passion for female centred healthcare. It really gave me a glimpse into what life in private practice would look like.
My least favourite experience is also an easy one. My colleagues and I always joke about how naturopathic medical school is probably the least “naturopathic” experience possible. It’s a gruelling program and during midterm and exam weeks I’d often find myself writing 10+ exams in a short time span. At those times, self-care was at a minimum, sleep was non-existent and I definitely abused my right to drink coffee. I’m just a human, and I like to eat the occasional bagel for breakfast as much as the next person, but that degree of stress and lack of self-care was not cool. It was certainly not very conducive to a well-balanced personal and professional life.
- You just graduated from this program in the spring of 2017. What’s life been like after graduation?
A whirlwind! A scary, exciting, terrifying, rewarding whirlwind. The immediate four months after graduation are actually pretty busy for new grads, myself included. Our entry to practice and licensing examinations are spread throughout July and August and so much of my summer was spent studying for those. After passing, there’s a pretty rigorous registration process, which eventually led to me opening up my practice in October.
It’s been so exciting to finally get to this point. Seeing my own patients and structuring my practice as a female centred and feminist model of healthcare has been my absolute dream. I threw caution to the wind and opened my own practice instead of joining a pre-existing clinic, so I’m honestly learning something new every day. Being able to finally work with the weird, wild, and badass women of Toronto has made every step of this process worth it.
- Originally from Nova Scotia, you’re now in Toronto, as you’ve mentioned. Who has been your biggest support in that city, since you moved?
My partner, Zach, has been the biggest support system for me. Most of the individuals I’ve connected with since moving to Toronto have been linked with naturopathic medicine in some way, except for Zach. It’s been a blessing having someone who isn’t so intertwined with that aspect of my life – it allows for a fresh perspective on things. Someone to remind me that all of my business worries, and the pursuit of “trying to have it all,” are not all that important in the grand scheme of things.
- Do you and other Naturopathic Medicine graduates in Toronto support and work together? How?
Definitely! While I can’t speak for all Naturopathic Doctors, I know the group of colleagues and friends that I graduated with have made it a priority to support each other as we navigate starting practice. I think it’s about focusing on an abundance mindset rather than one of scarcity – we can all succeed, and our chances of doing so are better when we support each other. When we work from the perspective that there isn’t enough business to go around, or that we’re in competition with each other, we’re hurting our profession as a whole.
A few of my colleagues and I share an online space where we talk/rant/ask questions about practice. It’s a judgement free zone, and the mentality is all about helping each other succeed. We also collaborate together whenever possible. For example, my friend and fellow Naturopathic Doctor Madeleine Elton and I are putting on a workshop together about women’s health and periods at Make Lemonade[, a coworking space in Toronto] in December. Real queens fix each other’s crowns, and I think we’re stronger together than divided.
- What is so important about having a safe space like this to decompress and be your truest, most open self?
I think the same goes for all women in business, but the comparison trap is just far too strong of a force. We get stuck in presenting this idealized version of our life and career to everyone on social media, and then hold ourselves up to unrealistic versions of everyone else’s highlight reel. It’s like Photoshop for our lives, and it feels so fake. We absolutely need a space to be real – and while I think the shift is happening on social media towards an honest and authentic narrative, we’re still not quite there yet. Having a group of women to share my highs and lows with has been an important form of self-care for me. It gives me the space to air my shit and to acknowledge that literally everyone else is going through their own battles. It’s not just me. Knowing this and openly talking about it, tends to tune out all of that comparison noise.
- Since graduation, you have been hosting meetings and wellness workshops at corporations in Toronto to talk about what you do and why wellness and stress management is so important at work, with hopes of gaining new clients. How do you set up these talks?
It’s honestly been a lot of me simply putting myself out there – that whole idea of feeling the fear and doing it anyhow. Reaching out to individuals via email (which sometimes looks like the human resources department at offices, and other times looks like a local yoga instructor) and talking about my passion for women’s health has seemed to work thus far. I’d like to think that it’s my excitement and passion for what I do that shines through in these interactions and that’s how all of these things have fallen into place. Maybe it’s just been a situation of trusting the universe and being in the right place at the right time, though.
- Why is talking about wellness and personalized holistic medical treatment so important in the workplace?
I think workplace wellness is particularly important, because people hold so much stress in relation to their jobs. Each individual experiences stress in their own way, and finding a treatment plan that is just as unique as their situation is really important to me. You can’t just tell all Toronto desk workers to start meditating and assume it’s going to fix all of their problems. That approach will work for some people, but I think stress goes much deeper than that – it’s in how we adapt to situations, how our hormones and diet are supporting our emotional and spiritual resilience, etc. That’s why diving deeper and providing a personalized plan unique to the individual is the key to supporting workplace stress – and by extension our overall health status.
- On your social media channels, you talk a lot about periods and your practice’s connections to improving women’s health. Why have you chosen women’s health as a focus?
Can my answer just be that I love women? I’m only partially kidding, but I honestly think women are such an underserved population in the conventional medical framework. Women didn’t even have to be included in medical research up until 1993, which sounds absolutely ridiculous but is sadly very true. As a result, a lot of the research on treatment effectiveness, side effects, etc., has only even been studied in white males. We need a medical framework that understands that women are not simply small men, and I think naturopathic medicine has the ability to meet that demand.
As I’ve mentioned before, being a woman navigating the conventional medical field myself, I’ve often seen female concerns like pain and anything to do with periods quickly dismissed. Women do not feel heard when they speak about their menstruation and I want to be the person who finally listens.
- Are there any limits that women face when seeking advice and treatment? If yes, what are they?
Definitely. I feel that most of the time women talk about their periods, they’re either straight up ignored, or told not to worry about it, as if menstruation is not a true marker of health (it is). There’s an inherent wisdom in knowing our own bodies, and it’s been my experience that when a woman thinks something is up health wise, she’s probably right. Oftentimes, menstrual irregularity can be the first clue.
In general, I think this attitude is pervasive in women’s health – why would a woman want to seek treatment for something her healthcare practitioner is just going to tell her “is nothing to worry about?? Women deserve to have their concerns listened to, adequately worked up and then treated properly. The other limits are just in the medical research itself – when women aren’t included in medical research studies, it leaves a very large and very blatant gender bias. When the research is done on men, how can we be sure that the results also transfer over to women? A shift is happening, but not quite fast enough.
- Talking about periods can sometimes be strange – because people react weirdly when women bring up a monthly cycle (even though, it’s a thing we all experience, 12 times – or more – a year). What do you hope your practice does to change how we communicate about periods?
Above all, I hope that my practice makes people react a little less weirdly when menstruation is brought up. Like you said, it is a NORMAL physiological process that 50 per cent of the population experiences for a good 30 years of their life. Somewhere along the line in history, periods have morphed into this dirty, secretive thing that women can’t talk about, barely even to each other. It’s always been my concern, that if we’re not talking about periods, how can we even begin to understand what a normal one looks like? If we don’t know what’s normal, how can we recognize when something is wrong, and medical help is necessary?
The best example is menstrual cramps. They are common, meaning that many women experience them on a monthly basis, but they are not normal. You should not be out of commission due to period cramps on a monthly basis. No one talks about periods, so we assume that our own experiences (like pain) are just the norm. I hope my practice opens up the discussion and normalizes menstruation to better help women understand their bodies. I believe women can really love their periods, but the first step towards that it talking about menstruation like it matters.
- Understanding your focus is women, do you hope to work with people who identify as other genders? What do you hope your work with all genders might entail?
My practice has always been open to every individual, regardless of assigned gender or gender expression. I have a soft spot in my heart for women and menstruation, so that’s often where I focus my energy, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I do. I’m always honoured to work with every single human being that enters my practice and as long as they feel I’m the best fit for them, I’m happy to co-create an individualized treatment plan just for them.
It’s my hope that working with all genders stays true to what I’ve always stated my core beliefs to be; that your healthcare should be as unique as you are. If your healthcare isn’t taking into account what makes you different, what makes you, YOU, then it’s not truly leading you down the path of highest health. We should appreciate our differences and honour them as part of our health, not ignore them.
- Wellness is a huge part of the job that you do. What type of wellness tips have you learned to practice on yourself, through your experience as a Naturopathic Doctor thus far?
Oh my god. SELF-CARE. It’s honestly the foundation to everything. If I’m not taking the time to give my body and soul what it needs, literally everything else seems to suffer the consequences. There have been periods of my life where self-care was non-existent (ahem, naturopathic medical school), and that’s absolutely no way to live your best life. Prioritizing what I’ve needed to feel good has been a big shift for me.
More practically, it’s all in the simplest of things. Making sure I drink enough water, eat lots of vegetables and get proper sleep. These are often the first things to fly out the window when things get busy/stressful, and yet they’re foundational to overall wellness.
One of the final points that Jennah shared with us was encouragement for our readers to not be afraid to reach out for help when need.
“Your local Naturopathic Doctor is a great bet, but whoever you feel comfortable with is even better,” Jennah says. “I believe deep in my core that your healthcare should be as unique as you are, and that every single person deserves to feel more than just ‘okay’ on a daily basis. One on one appointment with a healthcare professional can seem scary and intimidating, but I’m doing my best to crush that mindset. I want to hold space for women. To make them feel heard and to allow them to play an active role in their own healthcare. The strongest step towards empowerment is in taking care of your own health.”
To follow along with Jennah’s journey, follow her on Instagram via @jennahmiller. For more information about her practice and how to work with Jennah as a patient, visit her website at www.jennahmiller.com.