Introducing Dr. Michael Hummel, the newest naturopathic physician at Mederi Center’s holistic health clinic here in Ashland, Oregon. In today’s interview I spoke with Dr. Hummel about his life and work in integrative medicine. We discuss keeping the big picture in focus while staying realistic and pragmatic in the day-to-day life as a practitioner. We also discuss the challenge of working with difficult cases while still maintaining the tenacity to find solutions and maintain a positive orientation.
Thanks so much Shields! I’m excited to be able to share a bit more about myself and am just ecstatic to be in Ashland. It’s such a beautiful place and everyone I’ve met thus far has been so warm, welcoming, and authentic. I can’t say enough about how happy my family and I are to be here.
To begin with, congratulations on joining Donnie Yance and his team at the Mederi Center here in Ashland.
Thank you! Yes, to have the chance to work alongside Donnie and the Mederi team really is an honor. There’s a comfort in knowing the people you work with are people you can rely on and look up to.
Dr. Hummel, please tell us a little bit about your background and approach to medicine.
That’s a big question. I was born and raised in Cottonwood, AZ, which had a population in those days of about 4500 people but has since grown to about 12,000 people. Point being it was and still is a very small community. My dad was a nurse and my mom worked for my grandparents managing rentals. We lived right next to my grandparents and other family members. I recall in my early childhood seeing my dad being called over to take a family member’s blood pressure and answering family medical questions. That definitely influenced me, as I could see the need at a young age for people who had medical knowledge. My approach to medicine stemmed from those times as well. My mom loved using herbal medicine and plants. She was friends with a local woman who could name all the local flora and how to use it for medicine and for food. Personally, I was a bit of an explorer as a child. I would spend most of my childhood days playing in nature and investigating different plants, bugs, birds, and fish. I guess it was a combination of my mother’s love of herbal home remedies, my dad’s medical knowledge, and my explorative, nature-focused childhood that ultimately led to my becoming a naturopathic physician working with complex cases.
Of course, I had never heard of a naturopathic doctor during those days, and my journey towards that calling took different twists and turns. This included getting trained in both modern allopathic medicine and chiropractic medicine, and then eventually getting my medical degree from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.
In your experience of working with highly complex cases like cancer, how do you stay focused on the big picture and not go negative?
Although we need to have some level of judgment and assumption in anything we do, I’ve learned that keeping an open mind is the best way to remain happy and hopeful. An open mind also allows for a greater awareness which helps one see a bigger picture. This lesson really supplanted itself years ago as I sat with a spouse whose husband had colon cancer and was gradually getting weaker and sicker to the point where they went into the local emergency room. I had just started in my residency working with oncology patients in Scottsdale, AZ. All the other physicians at the clinic had gotten stuck in traffic and I was the only one who lived close enough to be in the clinic when it opened. Thus, I found myself working through that patient’s case to try and help. First, I spoke to a surgeon at the hospital who communicated with me that the patient was requesting to get their nutrition intravenously because he had been unable to eat due to multiple factors. The surgeon stated that he was willing to provide the nutrition intravenously but only if the patient went through a surgery that he had a very low chance of surviving. The surgeon explained that it was very unlikely the patient would survive long even with nutrition and especially without the surgery. I then sat down with the patient’s wife and explained the situation. She was adamant that the patient only needed the intravenous nutrition, and she was sure he would recover. She explained that she didn’t want to have such a risky surgery performed. It was a difficult moment and I explained, based on my conversation with the surgeon, that it was unlikely that her husband would survive without the surgery.
There were a lot of tears involved in our conversation and it was an overall truly heartbreaking situation. We ended with her wanting to pray about things and decide what to do. I found out later that she decided to take her husband home where a local physician was willing to provide the intravenous nutrition. Come to find out that he made an incredible recovery and ended up coming back and treating with us for another 2 years. I learned the importance of keeping an open mind and a positive outlook even when things seem dire. As well, I gained a deeper insight into how important nutrition really is even if other factors make it seem like nutrition wouldn’t make a difference.
Dr. Hummel, you have a unique ability to deal with difficult situations and pressure. Please say more.
There really is no substitute for experience. I’ve been working with complex cases in very busy high patient load centers for 7 years and there’s been a lot of learning along the way. I don’t mean to say I don’t have more to learn, as I most definitely do and I think it’s important to always remember that. However, one aspect that I have been able to deepen my understanding of is recognizing that difficulty and pressure are all about individual perspective. The same 30lb weight that one person lifts with ease can be extremely difficult for others. Time and effort ultimately determine the level of pressure and difficulty one can handle. I think some of the most difficult situations in oncology come from our tendency as a society and as individuals to forget we are mortal. That is, we are not going to live forever in this form. There’s a perspective-shifting beauty that comes from reminding ourselves that we are not going to live forever. Recognizing this moment may be our last makes us more tolerable to difficulties and more appreciative of every moment we do get to experience. This doesn’t mean we should just give up and accept whatever diagnosis or prognosis we receive. It’s important to be both the oak and the willow. In other words, to be tenacious but also bend when appropriate.
Tell me about the gift of tenacity and how you utilize this in the work you do to go above and beyond.
When I picture tenacity, I picture someone hanging on tight when difficulties arise. I think it requires a lot of wisdom to know when to hang on tight, when to hang on lightly, and when to let go. Sometimes this means going through something very difficult to end up in a better place. This is a seeming law of nature that adversity is what strengthens us, or that we are made better through difficulty. Recently, I was involved in the case of a young woman with severe breast cancer. It was one of the more advanced cases I had seen. This level of cancer, or any cancer for that matter, really doesn’t just happen overnight. It had metastasized to her liver, lungs, and bone. She had tried so many different naturally-minded cancer treatments and the disease had just gotten worse and worse. She had 3 young children and her husband was very supportive of her. When I met with her it was obvious to me that she needed more standard treatments such as chemotherapy, but provided in the right way with the right timing and with natural support that would allow her to tolerate the chemotherapy and also enhance its benefits. Although she held on tightly to her understandable desire to avoid chemotherapy we were able to co-create an approach that included both the data-driven appropriate dosage of chemotherapy but also many supportive natural therapies. It was such a beautiful moment to see her burden of disease after 4 months was negligible. I think the above and beyond aspect comes from using a model of medicine such as the Mederi Care approach of comprehending these complexities and applying it to an individual in a way that they can fully commit themselves to.
Cancer doesn’t just happen overnight. Please say more.
Cancer is not a simple disease. In most cases it takes a lot of things going wrong for cancer to take root and grow into a disease. Our body has multiple mechanisms to combat cancerous cells or cells that can potentially become cancer. It’s only when these mechanisms fail that a cancerous cell can take root. The issue nowadays is that we want to assign the cause of cancer to things that cause DNA damage or damage to cells making them grow out of control. For example, you were exposed to too much sunlight so that “caused” the cancer. However, there are so many aspects that come into play outside of chalking it up to one cause.
Your immune system doesn’t destroy the cell… why did it not do that? The regular mechanisms that the cell uses to regulate itself didn’t work… why is that?
This is where the Mederi Care approach is so powerful. We need to consider the body, mind, and spirit of the individual. We need to look at the microenvironment and macroenvironment, while also giving recommendations of therapies that work without a bias towards any one therapy.
Dr. Hummel, please tell us about your sense of timing and planning that goes into the work that you do.
A friend of mine would often say, “timing is everything.” The longer we wait to care for our health the harder it is to achieve optimal health. Therefore, creating good habits now and addressing symptoms as soon as they arise is typically the wisest route. When a patient comes to see me, my goal is always to use what’s known in the naturopathic profession as the therapeutic order. That is, to use the least invasive therapies to establish good health before considering highly invasive therapies. This is where timing comes in again, because sometimes the invasive therapy needs to be first so that we can take time to establish health with the least invasive therapies. I spend a tremendous amount of time creating treatment plans for my patients that fit their individual needs.
You mentioned the topic of co-creation with your patients. Please talk about this.
I learned this the hard way early on in my practice of medicine. I would come up with these elaborate treatment plans… plans on top of plans addressing every aspect I could think of. The problem was my patients would only do a small portion of what my plans entailed. Eventually, I figured out that people need to be a part of the creation process to fully understand a treatment plan and then really commit to following it. The Latin root for the word “doctor” is docere, which means to teach or instruct. I spend time helping my patients understand the reasons behind my recommendations and we then work together to decide the best steps forward. The reality is that we are all human beings with different experiences. I learn a lot from my patients and like to think they do from me as well.
Dr. Hummel, creating strong relationships with your clients has always been a top priority. Please talk about your approach to offering your best attention and care to your clients.
I think strong relationships are built on empathy and love. People can tell when a doctor is only there for a paycheck versus when a doctor is there because medicine is a calling to them. I recall a patient of mine who had a really hard time with her weight. It deeply affected her self-esteem and we began a weight loss program, with which she was doing really well. However, she felt like she wasn’t losing weight fast enough and would use a lot of self-demeaning language during our follow-ups. During one of the follow-up appointments, I let her know that I was going to write her a prescription for an antidepressant. She was adamantly against taking any medications, so I think she was surprised by my telling her that I was writing her a prescription. Before she could protest, I handed her a hand-written prescription that said, “1. Meditate for 20 mins daily, 2. Remind yourself that you are beautiful just the way you are. 3. Repeat these words 3x per day: ‘Who you were is not who you are and who you are is not who you will be.” She thought that was one of the funniest things and she posted a picture of the prescription on her Facebook page. That seemed to be a big turning point for her, and she ended up losing a tremendous amount of weight. Her husband came to see me and lost a lot of weight as well. I think it’s an incredible thing to see someone’s life change completely for the better, and to be an instrumental part in that healing process.
In an earlier phone conversation you mentioned to me that the worst thing a practitioner can do for their patient is to talk too much.
An old Chinese proverb says, “He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak.” This is not to say people shouldn’t speak, but the point is it’s hard to listen if you’re thinking of things to say or simply talking the whole time. I love to listen and listening allows me to constantly reshape and mold the many underlying causative components together into a cohesive network to create an individualized comprehensive health-promoting plan.
Sometimes you are working with very challenging situations both emotionally and physically with clients. How do you work with this to stay realistic, supportive, and positive?
It takes constant personal work to stay supportive and positive. This doesn’t mean I’m perfect at this as I have down times as well. However, I work hard to maintain a balanced professional and family life. I read and listen to books a lot. On average, I read 2-3 uplifting books per month, which helps keep me grounded and connected. Essentially, though, it’s really about diving deeper than the typical disease-based approach to medicine. People often get categorized and labeled by their diseases. They even label and identify with the diseases themselves. I had a patient I worked with who got a personalized license plate that said, “lymedz.” This is why I like taking a systems approach to medicine. It’s not just about whether you have Lyme disease; it’s about how your body is able to handle the bacterial infection, and what obstacles to cure may be in place. This approach is much more realistic and helps to remain positive. Even if a disease process is in place because it’s not just about the disease but rather it’s about the external and internal terrain allowing a disease process to continue.
Dr. Hummel, you are joined in your move here to Ashland by your wife and your three children. What is everyone looking forward to in getting to be a part of this new community?
We are really looking forward to being closer to nature. We’re all excited to explore hiking, bike riding, and mushroom hunting in the area. As well, having grown up in a smaller community, I’m looking forward to my children feeling a deeper connection to the people and environment around them.
Please talk about your life and your favorite things to do.
I work a lot, but outside of my passion in work I love to spend time with my family. Lately, I’ve been exploring yoga and learning a lot about Indian culture and philosophies.
I’ve always had a strong pull towards philosophy and exploring the why’s behind human experience and existence.
Dr. Hummel, who has been some of the greatest inspiration in your life to you?
There are many people who have inspired me greatly. I’ve enjoyed the works of Alan Watts and Lao Tzu, but I would have to say the person who most inspired me was Dr. Wayne Dyer. I watched a PBS special with him years ago on the power of intention. Not long after, a friend loaned me the CDs. The way he entwined storytelling into metaphor and life lessons had a profound effect on the way I looked at the world. I ended up reading all his books and have listened to countless hours of his talks. I also really appreciated the way he communicated with people in a very realistic but uplifting way. One of my favorite examples he gives is when he asks, “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?” The answer is simple: orange juice. When you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. He goes on to explain that you can tell the kind of person someone is when life and difficulties “squeeze them.” What comes out says a lot. Are they angry when they get squeezed… sad, frustrated? Are they loving, peaceful, kind, joyful?
Saying YES to joining the Mederi Clinic here in Ashland is a huge change for both you and your family. What are you most excited about in embarking on this new adventure?
I’m most excited to be able to learn directly from Donnie Yance at the Mederi Center and to bring the best of what I’ve learned over the years to the local community while continuing to personally grow alongside a great mentor.
Are you now taking new patients at Mederi?
Yes, I’ll be seeing patients starting in November. Feel free to call the clinic to schedule an appointment. Our number there is 541-488-3133. I’ll also be able to accept medical insurance in the new year. My focus is naturopathic family medicine with a strong emphasis in botanical medicine and nutritional support. My practice includes specialization in integrative cancer care, women’s and men’s health, hormone imbalances, weight loss, healthy aging, and integrative chronic disease management, including Lyme disease.
Finally, do you have any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, don’t hesitate to say “hi” if you see me out and about town. My wife and I are very excited to meet people and to create lasting friendships. All that I am, or ever will be, are the many cherished pieces I have gained, from friends and from family.