WholeHealth Chicago is extremely fortunate to welcome Advanced Nurse Practitioner Wendy Ploegstra into our group.
Let’s take a look at her credentials. First, she starts in nursing, receiving her bachelor’s at Calvin College in Grand Rapids before moving to Chicago and enrolling at Rush University, where she receives her master’s as a nurse practitioner (with certification in family practice).
With this degree, her license allows her to practice just like an MD family practitioner. 2019 marks her 11th year practicing primary care family medicine.
But Wendy’s education didn’t stop there. Along the way she realized (as I myself did decades ago) that most chronic illness emerges as a consequence of unhealthful lifestyle choices. I must remember to ask Wendy when her “aha!” moment occurred.
Mine was during hospital rounds one morning when I realized that each of the 20 or so patients I’d visited was seriously ill from one or more totally preventable conditions, like diabetes, emphysema, heart failure, and cirrhosis. All these illnesses could have been prevented had someone sat down with them years earlier and taught them what a healthy lifestyle actually entailed.
Instead, the care these patients had received could be summarized by the words, “Here, take this.” As in “You’re now diabetic. Take this.”
Probably Wendy had a comparable moment
Maybe it occurred when she was writing out a patient’s prescription and she realized this person would be adding still more drugs for the rest of her life. Or maybe it was when she reviewed a patient’s eating habits and knew a lifetime of obesity and diabetes lay ahead.
In some moment she said to herself or her colleagues or her family, “My approach to medicine has to change.”
So Wendy enrolled in the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine post-graduate course, which is based on rethinking health and illness in terms of evidence-based patient management techniques.
Evidence-based means clinically tested and proven. Advice like “Eating more vegetables is good for you” didn’t come from inside a fortune cookie, but rather as a result of analyzing tens of thousands of diet histories and their effect on health. At the institute, physicians and nurses learn how to effectively incorporate into their practices nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and a multitude of other choices that get to the root cause of illness. After extensive training, in 2018 Wendy became a board-certified Diplomate in Lifestyle Medicine.
During this post-graduate education, she was also seeing patients in a primary care setting. Remember, she has 11 years’ experience in family medicine. And then, about five years ago, she realized the importance of integrative medicine, incorporating alternative therapies instead of rushing to the prescription pad or the operating room.
Slowly, steadily, and on her own Wendy learned the basics of the various so-called alternative medicine fields, when to refer a patient for chiropractic, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, or Healing Touch, and how to use nutritional supplements and herbs instead of prescription drugs.
Interesting to me, her sampling of all this “alternative” medicine paralleled my own decades ago when I was setting up WholeHealth Chicago
Wendy’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the medical and nursing profession. Earlier this year she was nominated and recognized as a Five-Star Top Nurse in the World by the International Nurses Association.
From your perspective
Now, a bio like this is undeniably impressive, but what does it actually mean for you, the patient?
Imagine for a moment the qualities you’d like in an ideal primary care provider. You’d like someone who gets to know you as a person, who would actually remember who you were from your previous visit.
You’d like someone who asks not only how you’re feeling, but who also reviews a checklist of healthful behaviors, like your eating habits, level of physical activity, and even if you’re current on dental care and vision testing.
You’d like someone who could perform a good physical exam, including a Pap smear and maybe having your ears flushed out if they’re clogged with wax.
If you have health issues, you’d like someone capable of exploring more options than sending a stack of prescriptions over to your pharmacy. You’d like someone who actually might discuss intelligently–not dismissively—medical information you read on the internet.
But you’d also like someone available if you became suddenly ill and who could refer you to an appropriate specialist, not one limited to a particular health system, but the best specialist in our area for your particular condition. Someone who could even refer you to Mayo Clinic with a phone call.
I admit my own primary care practice is pretty full these days. If you call for a check-up or with a health problem it sometimes takes a while to get an appointment. Wendy works in the examining room right next door to mine and she knows I’m as close as a tap on the door.
Also, if you send me an email through the Portal with a health issue for which I feel you need to be seen and I answer “I think Wendy has an opening,” feel comfortable with that.
I will now give her the best compliment one physician can give another: Wendy knows her stuff.
David Edelberg, MD