Spend just a few moments with Dr. Jessica Tran and you’ll soon realize that despite her youthful appearance, she brings a wealth of training and experience to enhance the lives of her patients. Understanding that many people are not familiar with naturopathic and environmental medicine, Dr. Tran answers questions about her practice, her background, and her goals.

What is naturopathic medicine?
Basically it’s a branch of medicine that emphasizes achieving wellness through natural means. It pairs age-old wisdom with modern science and focuses on all aspects of health, including prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of acute and chronic conditions.

How does that differ from the conventional medicine we’re used to?
We search for root causes of disease, seeking answers by looking in depth at our patients. You might say we use a wide-angle lens that examines the physical environment, lifestyle, and living conditions in addition to looking at nutrition and activities. We try to reduce or eliminate harmful pollutants from their daily lives and treat them with a variety of natural and non-invasive therapies. The goal is to set them on a path to good health and help them stay on track.

What kind of education is required?
Naturopathic practitioners spend as much time in training as medical doctors. After college, there’s a 4-year program that covers all the things you’d expect (biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, immunology, pathology, pharmacology, and others) plus studies that may not be included in an MD’s education, but which are an integral part of naturopathic medicine, such as nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, massage, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, lifestyle counseling, and more. After that, we serve internships and residencies to gain hands-on experience. The training is quite extensive. NDs must pass rigorous exams and be licensed by the state.

Where did you get your training?
After receiving both a B.S. in Biological Sciences and a B.A. in Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine, I earned my naturopathic medical degree from Bastyr University in Washington and spent additional time studying homeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Post graduate studies included a one-year fully accredited family practice residency and 3-year environmental medicine fellowship. I served as clinical faculty in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and General Medicine at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, Tempe, AZ. I’m licensed to practice in California and Arizona.

Why did you choose naturopathic medicine instead of becoming an MD?
Philosophy and upbringing. I was always interested in homeopathy, nutrition, and had a fascination for botanical medicine, none of which are taught in conventional medical school. During childhood, I watched my parents use traditional herbs in their cooking to increase health benefits, and wanted to learn the scientific basis for what they were doing. My father’s uncle was a well-known doctor in Vietnam. He incorporated homeopathy into his medical practice. My father sought out U.S. doctors who were also trained in homeopathy and even took a few courses in the subject himself. So growing up, I saw the benefits of combining alternative and traditional medicine. Later, in my undergraduate research, part of my training took place in the fast-paced environment of the emergency room. While I loved the dynamic and heroic life-saving measures, I also saw many patients with chronic conditions that could have been prevented with the proper resources and care. Avoiding disease in the first place definitely appeals to me so naturopathic medicine was an ideal fit.

Why might a patient choose you rather than an MD, or is it common for people to see both?
It is common. I am medically trained with additional training in homeopathy and environmental medicine. I’m qualified as a primary care provider, and serve some patients in that capacity, but I urge most of them to maintain a relationship with an MD as well so we can collaborate on the patient’s care. One of the things I can offer my patients is time. I get to know them well and that helps me to treat them effectively.

What kinds of conditions do you treat?
I treat a range of conditions from colds and flu to chronic conditions, especially fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. A significant part of my practice also focuses on providing naturopathic oncology supportive care and infertility. I also treat children with autism and other developmental problems. In general, I treat challenging and complex conditions that often are associated with an environmental influence. I often use treatments that include nutritional changes and botanical products, hydrotherapy, and lifestyle counseling. There are many natural therapies that can bring about improvement.

What can you do that MDs do and what are the limits?
I order the same diagnostic lab work and tests to diagnose their conditions, and I can prescribe many of the same medications prescribed by MDs. I can’t prescribe controlled substances (Schedule II medications). The main difference is in the focus and style of a naturopathic medical practice ― things we talked about earlier.

People today are faced with accepting more responsibility for their own health. Doctors engage their patients in partnership, and it requires education. How do you influence that?
Over the past couple of decades, many Americans have become more aware and taken greater control of their health. But there is still a lot of teaching to be done. That’s part of my role as a doctor ― encouraging people to make good choices. That’s very important to me and I extend that beyond my own patients to the public in general by writing articles and speaking before groups.

How do you stay healthy?
I love my sleep. I believe sleep is very restorative and I don’t skimp on it. This is probably one of the reasons I look younger than I actually am. I also enjoy a good balanced diet that’s mostly nutrient-dense plant based and I keep my exposure to toxic substances to a minimum by choosing organic foods. I make time for exercise in my routine and regularly practice yoga.

What do you see in your future?
I’ll always be a family doctor at heart. But I also see myself in a broader arena, sharing information that results in healthier lives. There are so many things people can do ― even small changes can have a wonderful effect. I plan to increase my activities as a writer and speaker, and eventually I’d like to play a role in influencing public policy. Everybody wants to feel good. I use my training and tools to help them get there.