Dr. Jillian Stansbury to NUNM graduates: The world needs healers 

Longtime botanical medicine educator, researcher, author and now keynote speaker champions versatility, learning through plants. 

With the Commencement 2024 approaching on June 29, the National University of Natural Medicine is proud to highlight our speakers for the ceremony.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Jillian Stansbury has taught coursework on botanical medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). This year, she will address the graduating class as the Keynote Speaker at commencement on June 29.

As a former NUNM graduate, having earned her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine in 1988, Dr. Stansbury has witnessed first-hand the student journey and evolution of a career in natural medicine.

Many awards and accolades later, Dr. Stansbury said she hopes to inspire students with her own story of how she found her calling, opened her own private practice, and later returned to her alma mater as an adjunct faculty member.

“She is highly renowned for her deep expertise and botanical medicine,” said Dr. Melanie Henriksen, president and CEO of NUNM, said. “She has been an esteemed leader in the field for decades and we have been honored to be her academic home.”

Forging a Path to Botanical Medicine

Dr. Stansbury began her journey into academia shortly after graduation. Eventually, she took over the Botanical Medicine course series at NUNM, where she has taught northwestern herbal medicine and advanced botanical therapies for the last 35 years.

Before this, she had also just launched her career into natural medicine.

She had found a medical clinic for rent right on a central stretch of Main Street while living in Battle Ground, Washington, and immediately started running the clinic’s medicinary. She later purchased the property and converted it into practitioner suites, a yoga studio, a loft apartment, teaching kitchen, and apothecary.

This would become the foundation for Battle Ground Healing Arts, a sustainably-powered natural medicine practice, and the first naturopathic clinic of its kind in the area.

Today, Dr. Stansbury’s practice hosts a team of naturopathic physicians, resident nurses and acupuncturists, and offers women’s exams, family health services, IV therapy, mental health services, and more.

Acknowledging the serendipity of her situation, she said she now worries about the burden of the younger generation saddled with student loans, attempting to invest or buy property.

To this, she offered guidance in line with the qualities of plants she has observed over many years.

“Be like flax,” Dr. Stansbury said, noting how the plant and its seeds can convert into everything from food and fuel, to polish and fabric.

“You don’t have to do as many things as flax to be successful, but since it can take a little time to get any new business venture profitable, it may help to be versatile and have more than one income stream.”

From Seed to Roots

Versatility has been a theme for Dr. Stansbury throughout her career. Her journey into the realm of natural medicine wasn’t always a linear one, she said.

Only one thing was ever certain—she always loved plants. Even in her youth, while hiking and camping with the Girl Scouts of the USA, she observed troop leaders as they pointed out flora and fauna along the trail.

“Where some people might be bored by that, I loved it,” she said. “I would learn from them the names of things and ended up checking out my own books from the library.”

Some of those texts were ethnobotanical or involved Native American lore. They unearthed the medicinal uses of plants, including topicals for bug bites or herbs to calm a sore throat, she said.

She had also grown up against a vast backdrop of farmland in Iowa and helped her grandparents care for animals and crops. For dinner, she said she was often instructed to dig up potatoes or retrieve lettuce from the garden.

“I have loved plants – the standing green nation – and they have loved me back,” she said. “I enjoy regarding our plant brethren as the standing green nation because it acknowledges they are living beings, our allies, and not just our resources.”

Years of self-discovery would follow these early roots, making it seem like she was watering her garden for a larger passion to arise.

Finding The Right Fit

During her undergraduate years at Iowa State University, she developed a passion for illustration, creating physiological and botanical schematics, while also studying pre-medicine.

She would later convince the art and biology departments to award her a (then nonexistent) degree in scientific illustration.

Peering into microscopes, she said she later wondered if a job in medical technology was on the horizon, or perhaps an advanced degree in forestry would allow her to work with the National Park Service.

One day, she found herself flipping through a book of allied health careers and came upon a listing for naturopathic medicine at NUNM.

“There in the bookstacks,” she said. “I had a mini epiphany, complete with a rush of adrenaline and flash of enlightenment.”

Within a few weeks of graduating from San Jose State University, where she transferred to finish her undergraduate degree, she moved to Portland to attend NUNM because it allowed her to be in a smaller city among a lush landscape of natural cedar, ferns, and moss.

Dr. Stansbury’s work has flourished over the last 40 years since landing in the Pacific Northwest, as she has continued to write, research, teach, and practice everything learned from plants.

She has also authored and illustrated several books, contributed to various medical journals, and lectured and presented work at hundreds of national conferences.

Life Beyond the Books

In more recent years, Dr. Stansbury has been focused on the herb apothecary she runs at Battle Ground Healing Arts. She has also traveled throughout South America as an ethnobotanist, partnering with communities like the Wachiperi and Matsigenkga to better understand tradition and culture around plant medicine.

She also frequents a second home in Cusco, Peru, and currently leads ethnobotany field courses in the Andes, describing this as one of the “most satisfying aspects” of her professional career.

“This profession is so diverse in how you might choose to practice, and so flexible in how you might structure your business,” she said. “You have a great deal of freedom to craft your life.”

With this in mind, Dr. Stansbury offered this advice to graduating students:

“The world desperately needs healers that work on such a deep and wide level—healers that listen, that heal with food, that heal through supporting clean crops, forests, and waterways,” she said.

Although modern medical care is available, Dr. Stansbury said, there are many people who prefer natural medicine or cannot tolerate pharmaceutical medicine.

“People need your skills,” she said.

When it comes to finding your own path in natural medicine, Dr. Stansbury again relayed something learned from one of her greatest teachers—the plants.

“The Rose family appeals to deep survival instincts, calls in a community of others, and offers up sustenance,” she said. “Be like roses and offer up your gifts for the taking and your community will gratefully emerge to seek you out.”

by Ashley Villarreal, Marketing Content Specialist