For the past six years, Dr. Brigid Crowe’s practice has grown steadily and Wild Fern Natural Health in Ashland has become a household name. Although at times, she can be booked out weeks in advance, spaces are always available because one thing is perfectly clear – her patients get well. As a Naturopathic Primary Care physician, Dr. Crowe treats patients of all ages, from 6 weeks to 96 years! With a holistic, functional medicine approach treating the whole person rather than simply suppressing symptoms, Brigid is passionate about finding the underlying cause of imbalance lurking behind every illness. Her compassion and concern for the long-term health of her patients is matched only by her sense of humor and appreciation for live music.
Originally from a potato farming community in Northern Maine, Dr. Crowe is no stranger to the challenge of hard work. Prior to attending medical school and becoming a mother, Brigid was a chemical engineer for over a decade, lastly at Herb Pharm in Williams, Oregon. She has traveled the world, with a fiddle on her back, and feels most at home exploring the great outdoors. Dr. Crowe lives in Ashland with her husband and seven year old son who attends Willow Wind Community Learning Center.
We caught Dr. Crowe – not at all an easy task – recently by phone between patient appointments to learn more about her thriving practice and how she leads her patients to optimal health.
Dr. Crowe thanks so much for speaking with us today and congratulations on the great work you have been doing here in Ashland.
Thanks so much for the opportunity. It is really gratifying to see my practice grow in a place that means so much to me, in a relatively short period of time. I am so grateful that the Rogue Valley has supported Wild Fern Natural Health so enthusiastically since I returned to the Valley in 2010 and please, make no mistake, I personally benefit from raising the level of true health in my community.
I relocated to Portland from the Rogue Valley when I committed to attend 5 years of medical school in 2005, but I knew without a doubt I wanted to be back in Southern Oregon. With graduation and board exams behind me, my son a newborn, my husband having the ability to continue his work remotely, and our tremendous community of friends already established, all of our hard work to achieve our vision of returning to Ashland paid off. Working alongside Dr. Bonnie Nedrow at Hidden Springs Wellness Center for four years was the perfect launch for Wild Fern Natural Health in Ashland. Once my business outgrew the clinic, I was ready to move into a new space that could accommodate my growing practice.
We’ve been at our A Street location sharing space with acupuncturists Jenn Collins and Jenny Riegg of Ashland Holistic Health for over two years now and I could not be happier with the growth we are experiencing. As a busy mother, I juggle a lot inside and outside of my work life. Now that my son is in first grade, I’ve expanded my hours and have the ability to work five days a week. Even though my schedule is quite full, I always leave room on the books for patients with acute issues, so I encourage readers to call for an appointment whenever something comes up. We always do what we can to accommodate new and established patients. Sometimes, that means securing the next available appointment but being called if an earlier opening arises. Our receptionist, Royce, is a master of making sure everyone gets taken care of.
Over the years you have developed a reputation for being a practitioner who goes above and beyond the call of duty for your clients. Please say more.
It’s true. I will. And I do. But honestly, I don’t go further for my patients than they are willing to go for themselves. I help them find the motivation and willingness to do so. First off, I specifically schedule extended office visits with new patients so that I can do a thorough intake to truly understand their personal challenges, the impacts on their lives and to craft a custom plan that is realistic for that individual. It is vital that I gather as much information as possible about the whole picture when getting to know a new patient. Besides going over the entire intake form that the patient completes prior to the visit, I ask many more questions about sleep, energy, appetite, dietary habits, mood and lifestyle every single time they come in. These markers of vitality are critical pieces of information to me, providing not only context and detail of their current complaints, but also establishing a baseline for wellness parameters. Long-term wellness is only possible when we examine the systems as a whole and work to improve them individually and together.
As I am committed to working hard for patients, I also expect a lot from my patients. I’m not a doctor who is going to prescribe a remedy or supplement to treat your symptoms and then send you on your way. While I certainly make recommendations to provide comfort for my patients while we search out the deeper cause of their dis-ease and make appropriate lifestyle changes, I do not simply provide symptom relief. That is sick care, not healthcare. I partner with my patients and expect a commitment from each of them to do all they can to work toward greater balance and healing. When my patients show up and step up for their health, this is where I see the fastest, greatest and most profound changes in levels of well-being. That is fun and rewarding for everyone.
Initially, I encourage my patients to record a few pertinent daily habits, especially when we are working to resolve chronic issues. This exercise of examining daily rhythms of sleep, nutrition, digestions and symptom patterns is always enlightening to both of us, often leading to surprising realizations and increased awareness.
Through our work together, as their health picture becomes clearer and more information is available to us regarding these rhythms, patterns of their symptoms, labs results, etc., patients are often asked to establish solid routines in their lives and include and/or remove certain foods from their diets. It’s not uncommon for me to ask them to work on adjusting or eliminating some of their everyday habits, or to move their bodies more or differently. Sometimes, I’m asking them to do things as seemingly simple as chewing their food more thoroughly or drinking more water. If they are found to be in need larger or more consistent dosages of nutrients than food can provide, patients may be asked to take nutritional supplements, herbal formulations, etc. I provide individualized medicine, custom for each unique patient, so it depends!
Life can be busy, chaotic and full all the time – so I also encourage my patients to get in touch with the amount of stress that they carry – without realizing it! You’d be shocked at the number of patients who tell me that they don’t have much stress in their lives, only to later realize that the dog dying, the recent car accident and the difficulties their child is having at school are actually incredibly stressful. That being said, I expect patients to be thorough and honest in their self-evaluation when we work together. We’re a team. Patient education is a huge part of my practice. I spend a lot of time explaining my observations to patients and connecting how the recommended treatments are expected to address their issues. We have a lot more success, achieving wellness faster and more sustainably, when my patients are empowered with the information they need to be successful. The deal is, when the team does the footwork, the patient gets better. For real.
Your clients often express great appreciation for your work. Do you have a recent success story you can share with us?
I sure do! The best parts about my job are the daily successes. Helping my patients raise the bar and actually experience wellness is what keeps me working so hard every single day. Recently I had a female patient in her mid-forties come in because she had gained about ten pounds with no real explanation. Her diet hadn’t changed significantly, she was continuing to exercise as she always had and she had no idea why she would have put on so much weight in just a few months. During her initial visit, we discussed her diet, energy, sleep, digestion, family relationships and stress level. She identified as a “hardy” person and reported that things were mostly fine and had no major complaints other than the weight gain. We ordered some routine blood work and discovered that she had Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition which is the leading cause of hypothyroidism.
She was shocked (I wasn’t – as it is very common and most people go undiagnosed) and made a firm commitment to the plan we laid out. She took the lifestyle changes we discussed to heart. She took the recommended supplements and tinctures and followed an individualized anti-inflammatory diet for three months to see if we could make some progress in her overall energy and her bloodwork. In two months, she lost 12 pounds and was feeling more energy that she had in years. In a follow up appointment, she pointed out that it took eliminating certain foods from her diet for her to realize how she had really been feeling. Without the daily doses of caffeine, sugar and alcohol to mask the low energy, depression and anxiety, she was able to tune into her physical health on a whole new level. She is able to avoid medication to support her thyroid so far and she reports that she is feeling fantastic, compared to the “okay” she experienced before treatment. This kind of progress is what keeps me going.
Are we done? No. We still work towards finding the root cause of her challenges? What triggered this autoimmune condition in my patient? Her digestion and absorption? We have done testing to assess the “terrain” of her digestive tract and treat accordingly. Was it a toxic exposure, like heavy metals? An emotional trauma? Is the patient happy with where she is now? Or does she want to work towards optimal health? And prepare for a smooth transition to menopause in the next decade? And prevent dementia? These are the kinds of discussions we can begin having when everyday symptoms are no longer at the forefront.
So there is one story. You can also find several patient testimonials on my website www.WildFernNaturalHealth.com.
For starters, I have the ability to hold the scientific piece as the foundation of what I do, while creating a solid, consistent container of trust for my patients. I listen deeply and strive to understand on every level what each patient is experiencing. I then find ways to match my tools with their needs. I provide individualized medicine within a very methodical and thorough process.
I am a thorough researcher. Digging in and discovering what lies underneath it all really motivates me. I am a fully invested coach. There is nothing more satisfying than laying out a plan of action for a patient and then seeing deep and lasting progress as they follow through. I really love being the catalyst for change and profound healing in my patients’ lives. Creating a plan and then encouraging them to commit to their health and wellbeing with a focus on balance in their lives is what I am all about. I focus on the positive and can connect the dots for patients in a way that hasn’t been done for them before. I’m a deep listener and I do all I can to read between the lines, hear them on many levels and find solutions for my patients.
You don’t seem to be afraid of a little hard work. Where did you learn your work ethic for accomplishing all you have?
Yeah, I was never one to shy away from a challenge. I grew up in a community with a very strong work ethic. But I didn’t know there was a word for it until I left and realized that not everyone operated that way. I grew up in Caribou, Maine, the most North Eastern town in all of the United States, on the Canadian border across from the province of New Brunswick. The weather is harsh and the people are, well……hardy, to say the least. My parents were honest, modest people who expected the three of us kids to do our part. Everyone doing their part was just part of the deal. At a young age, I was outside first thing in the morning, in the dark, delivering newspapers from a sled I pulled, with my brother who had a separate paper route. When we met up back at home, we brushed snow off of and started our parents’ vehicles, scraped ice off their windshields and then hustled to get ready for school. Our entire community worked in the fall potato harvest. We started school while summer was still in swing, and our schools closed in the fall for Harvest Recess, which lasted 4-6 weeks depending on how many potatoes were still in the ground and when the first deep frost came. We worked dusk til dawn, hand picking potatoes for that month to earn money for school clothes and fun activities. I view it as such a rich community building effort now, but back then it was just what we did and it was a great opportunity to be with our friends all day.
I gained a real appreciation for music, a slower rhythm of living and the quiet of wide-open spaces in Maine. In school, it became apparent that I had some aptitude for numbers and the sciences, and when it was time to go to college I was offered a scholarship toward a degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maine. It was an amazing opportunity to move forward, so I took it. Because I was also a (ahem) curious teenager, I knew it was time to get out of dodge and see the world. Which I most definitely did! While I was grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity, after two years at the University of Maine, I transferred to complete my undergrad education at Tulane University in New Orleans. While I enjoyed Maine, I had certainly seen plenty of it, and was drawn to New Orleans for its cultural richness, especially the music.
I lived in and around the Rogue Valley for five years before the light bulb went on and I decided to shift gears and go to medical school in Portland. I had been suffering from a number of health problems for years and wasn’t making much progress until I began seeing a naturopathic doctor in Grants Pass, the brilliant Dr. Deborah Frances. With her guidance and support, I changed my diet and unlocked some chronic issues that I lived with my whole life. My world changed drastically as I got well. I had no idea that I could actually feel this good! As with many people who experience the positive effects of dramatic healing, I took some time to reevaluate my life and knew that I needed a change. I wanted to pursue a career in natural medicine. I had a strong desire to help others achieve the level of health and wellness that I was finally experiencing. With my science background and career as an engineer, the idea and requirements of going to medical school did not feel like a huge stretch. I took the plunge and moved to Portland to begin five intense and rewarding years of training.
What transformations do you enjoy seeing the most in your clients?
Again, there is nothing more satisfying than watching a motivated and inspired patient experience a level of health and vitality that they never dreamed was possible. Many patients have become so accustomed to the aches and pains and discomforts of life as they age, they are completely shocked when they finally experience feeling well. Living in Ashland is especially satisfying, because I often see patients out and about town, at the lake, on the river, in the forest, at plays and live music events living their lives – fully. Knowing that I play a small (and sometimes quite large) part in their ability to enjoy and appreciate this incredible place we call home is what keeps me fulfilled and truly satisfied.
The pleasure is mine. I am so grateful for the support I have received in establishing Wild Fern Natural Health and I am very excited about the future. I look forward to working to improve the health of even more community members in the coming year.
Wild Fern Natural Health
325 A St. Ste #1 Ashland, OR 97520