Plan B Opens the Door to Holistic Urgent Care

Talk about best laid plans. Dr. Sara Gillham (’11) did all the right things to secure employment as she finished her naturopathic medicine degree. She visited Dr. Marnie Loomis (’00), director of NCNM’s Professional Formation and Career Services, a year before graduation to formulate a plan to get hired, following her residency at Center for Natural Medicine. She landed a position, but then a scant two weeks before she was to begin, the job went up in smoke.

So Gillham beat a quick path back to Loomis, who went into high gear to help the new doctor sharpen up her CV, her query letters, and to brainstorm other employment matches. One strategy was to do everything short of sky writing to let people know what she was qualified to do and that she was on the market again. Gillham posted on Facebook, told all her friends and relatives, did a flurry of informational interviews and sent out a blizzard of letters.

The pair also cooked up an audacious strategy to go where few NDs have gone before: into urgent care medicine. Loomis helped Gillham craft a proposal to ZoomCare, the Northwest-based urgent care company with a growing presence in Portland and Seattle. As it turns out, the ZoomCare founders, both MDs, had become increasingly interested in natural medicine for themselves and their patients. In December 2012, with an offer from another company also on the table, Gillham was hired as Clinical Manager–Wellness to help lead the company into a new era of integrated medicine.

After she accepted the offer, Gillham posted triumphantly, “Papers signed, dream job secured!”

Importantly, the company wasn’t looking just to add an ND or two as a sideline to tap into the natural foods/ natural medicine movement. Instead Gillham is charged with implementing a pilot project she designed to fully integrate natural medicine techniques into all ZoomCare patient care, starting in Portland.

“They (ZoomCare) are creating the world’s first neighborhood and smartphone-based healthcare system,” said Gillham—complete with specialists and integration of holistic services throughout the system. If successful, it could open the door for acupuncturists, Chinese medicine specialists and other natural medicine doctors to work with ZoomCare.

Gillham, who grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, has long had a passion for science, puzzles and mysteries. Her mother is a physical therapist who employed botanical medicines and homeopathy at home. So, it was probably no surprise to those who know her, when Gillham declared in middle school that she was going to be a doctor. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology magna cum laude from Willamette University, she searched unsuccessfully for a conventional medical school that also included instruction in natural medicine. About that same time, her parents introduced her to a couple who had a strong interest in natural medicine. The husband was an ND and the wife was an MD, but was considering earning a naturopathic doctorate.

“They showed me that naturopathic medical school is medical school, that I would get all the science background, but also get the things I was interested in,” recalled Gillham. “So I switched gears and went down the path of naturopathy.”

Did she ever. She first enrolled at Bastyr University, where she did alternative medicine research related to diabetes and earned a T-32 predoctoral grant from National Institutes of Health. Discovering that she had a growing interest in research, she enrolled at NCNM, where she felt there was much stronger support for student research. Along the way, she has also done research on endocrinology of reproductive systems at University of California, San Francisco. At NCNM, she researched meditation and neurofeedback. In addition, she’s developed a strong interest in wellness and nutrition. All of which will be very handy as she pursues her ZoomCare career.

Gillham calls Loomis’ help “absolutely foundational to the entire process…I didn’t have a clear idea of how people could use my skills. I was interested in wellness and developing programs, but I was not sure where I fit in.”

She also credits staff and faculty at Helfgott Research Institute and faculty members Drs. Martin Milner, Melanie Henriksen, Deborah Frances and Pamela Jeanne for assistance with her ZoomCare proposal and being available for ongoing advice.

“This is a massive opportunity,” said Gillham. “ZoomCare is really aggressively interested in looking to integrate the holistic approach…they are really behind responsible, true naturopathic medicine. It’s pretty ridiculous how perfectly it fits my goals.”