The Cathy Ochs Story
Life lessons you can learn and profit from
After 35 years as a practicing physician assistant, people ask why aren’t you retiring? Because growing frustration and anger about our healthcare system has deteriorated, many health care providers are retiring early. I decided to be part of the solution rather than leave the “sinking ship.” At 60 I have the experience and ability to make a difference. I will stay in the game as long as I can help fix this broken system and make a difference in people’s lives.
For the past 18 years I noticed definite changes in the medical world. My supervising physicians struggled to get insurance payments. We spent time listening to malpractice insurers teaching defensive medicine. Focused on proper documentation and coding, and spent less time with patients.
Thirteen years ago I was reprimanded for spending too much time with a complicated diabetic patient. It was time to change jobs and possibly leave medicine completely. That day spurred me into action to find a better way. This journey led me down the path of advocate for integrative medicine practitioners. Here’s my story, how this journey unfolded.
Growing Up – Love of Outdoors and Animals
My early years helped form my love of the outdoors and compassion for animals. My desire to help animals translated into helping people when I grew up. Becoming a PA did not require thought or planning, it was the natural progression of life for me.
I grew up in Colorado with after-school skiing, hiking, biking and backpacking. An array of pets graced our household. My first was to be a chick hatched from a home incubator. I faithfully turned the eggs twice daily waiting expectantly for little chicks to hatch. I learned my first lessons in patience, persistence, and failure when chicks never hatched (and later learned my parents crossed their fingers that no chicks would peck out of their little shells!).
Lessons of love and loss began early for me. When my gold fishes went belly up, my father gave them a “burial at sea” flushing them down the toilet. My guinea pig “Aaron” was more of a success. I took care in making sure he got regular exercise down the hallway, nurturing him with food and love. My first understanding of death occurred when our Dalmatian, Baron, ate Aaron.
A hard lesson for an 11 year-old. I had turned my back just for a moment while letting Aaron run down the hallway. These early animal lessons taught me respect, responsibility, and accepting the harsh consequence of my actions.
In high school I planned to attend the Colorado State University School of Forestry and go into wildlife biology. A perfect blending of my love of animals and the outdoors. I envisioned hiking tall mountains counting big horned sheep. But my college placement tests always came up “nursing” as my number one field of interest. Since wearing a white cap was far from the caps I envisioned wearing walking in the woods, I ignored my test results and started college in forestry.
From Mountains to PA School
Second year forestry students were discouraged from continuing due to shortage of jobs. I changed my major to biology. I met my first PA who was working at the student health center. She told me what she did, what type of training she took, and how she helped people working right along with the physician.
I followed her advice in getting the required classes and work experience as an EMT. Two years later I was accepted to the University of Nebraska Medical Center PA Program. I graduated as a family medicine PA, but took my first job in psychiatry in the small northern California town of Red Bluff.
Lessons From a Psychiatrist and Family Physician
Duties of my job were history and physicals of new patients coming into the inpatient psychiatric unit. My supervising physician was a wise psychiatrist who taught many treatments consisted of non-drug therapies. The value of daily exercise and a diet free of preservatives and sugars were more valuable than most drugs. I learned early in my career, lifestyle changes made a bigger difference than drug therapy.
My psychiatrist suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. I returned to family medicine working for a general medicine office. My supervising physician wanted me to spend time educating patients while he spent time with the more complicated patients. I spent 20 to 30 minutes with patients reviewing their daily habits and demonstrating how changes could improve their health. Prescription drugs took a back seat to spending time educating patients to help them make lifestyle changes.
Standard of Care Alone Can Be Dangerous
I was offered a position to run a two room rural health clinic in a small town 25 miles east of Redding in northern California. I was the only on-site practitioner with my supervising physician available by phone. He drove to the clinic two half days weekly to review charts and see patients. I was the administrator responsible to a board of directors.
I quickly learned the value of knowing the patients, their family, and how they interact in our small community. Relying on the standard of care and algorithms were not enough, and sometimes dangerous. More than once I had a patient come in with the vague complaint of “feeling badly.” Despite a normal exam, testing, and without any other physical symptoms, I had a gut feeling they were in the early stages of a heart attack. Sending them to the ER confirmed my suspicions.
Getting to know my patients, taking the time to listen to them, and listening to my inner voice has done more for the care of my patients than any standard of care algorithm.
Big Pharma Takes Center Stage
After running the rural clinic successfully, I became the clinic manager of a much larger federally qualified clinic in Redding. I coordinated schedules for 15 physicians and midlevel practitioners as well as seeing my own patient load part time.
The pharmaceutical industry went into full press marketing while I was at this clinic. We had so many drug reps coming in that we had to organize weekly “drug rep days.” Twenty reps set up shop for the morning at their assigned table sharing, pens, notebooks and of course we all signed up for free drug samples. It became a carbohydrate orgy with donuts, bagels, and specialty coffees.
While at this clinic in the early 1990s, I witnessed the beginning of the slow but insidious descent from patient centered care to drug and symptom centered care.
A Pill for Every Ill Mentally Hits Home
I was required to see more patients with less time to spend educating about diet and lifestyle. It seemed the outcome of every appointment was to find the right drug for the patient’s symptoms and make a return appointment to monitor their response.
I co-founded a weight management clinic in Redding to continue the patient centered care I knew was better. We focused on exercise and regular support visits. My conviction that diet and lifestyle changes were a key to health was reinforced here when I saw many patients reverse their diabetes and get off their blood pressure medicines.
The Placebo Affect
I always found it fascinating drug reps would tout their drug was “x” amount better than placebo. This means that a “sugar pill” could also bring down a person’s blood pressure or pain level. I asked them, “Why not harness the placebo affect rather than take a drug that may have side-affects?” I looked in earnest to learn more about drug-free ways to improve health.
I learned through a friend about the internationally known mind-body expert and author, Jack Schwarz. He offered year-long internships to mentor with him in his office in Mendocino, California. For two years I joined his group of interns learning how to harness the healing abilities of our thoughts and mind. I learned simple tools such as doing eye rolls in a certain direction to help people fall asleep.
Finding a New Way to Support Cardiovascular Health
Using my new found training, I started seeing patients using advanced techniques to help them stop smoking and reduce stress. At the same time I returned back to the small clinic in the mountains. This rural health clinic allowed 30 minutes per patient and was much more accepting of natural therapies and lifestyle counseling.
I noticed a common thread with patients over age 50. Many were on a trio of medications: a blood pressure medication, thyroid prescription, and a statin to lower cholesterol. I began to accept the idea that as one got older, there was a good chance we would have to take these medications, until it happened to me. After I turned 50, I noticed my blood pressure started to run in the 140+ systolic range. It had always been under 120.
I thought I was fit — a runner, hiker, triathlete, and having completed two marathons. I vowed to avoid taking a blood pressure medication and tighten up my diet. My cholesterol also began to climb so I started red rice yeast to avoid taking a statin.
This wasn’t working. Simultaneously, my father, who had a heart attack and heart bypass surgery years prior, was experiencing declining heart health. His cardiologist told him to be sure his affairs were in order. I sought out a superior solution to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve my father’s cardiac situation.
I read about an endocrinologist/internist in the San Francisco Bay area who had a remarkable track record: not one patient with a heart attack or stroke in 16 years. I found this hard to believe. I talked with him to find out if this was true and what he was doing. He invited me to his office.
Over the next couple of years I trained and collaborated with Dr. Joseph Prendergast. His “secret” wasn’t a wild idea, but based on information that won a Nobel Prize in 1996. I learned the deficiency of nitric oxide (NO) is a primary underlying cause of most cardiovascular problems. NO can be restored taking an amino acid and other natural supplements. I also learned about the pulsewave device that can measure endothelial dysfunction (hardening of the arteries) as well as monitor progress in the nitric oxide treatment.
8 Years Later & Still Here
My father and I began the NO supplement that Dr. Joe had formulated (both my father and I still take this and a newer NO supporting supplement). After six weeks I had improvement in my blood pressure and ability to exercise.
Eight years later, my father at the age of 88 has improved cardiac function (rather than decline as one gets older) and my blood pressure is below 120 and often below 110 systolic.
With this new discovery, I started using the pulsewave device with my patients and implementing the NO therapy. My patients experience the same positive benefits of reducing or eliminating their blood pressure medications. I was thrilled to be able to get to an underling cause and not just treat the symptom. It was time to step out of the traditional medical model and open my own office, Cardiocare Naturally, with a local cardiologist as my supervising physician.
From Cardiocare Naturally to Integrative Medicine
My patients had high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. I read more about the role of other nutrients in heart health, especially magnesium. I explored natural ways to control inflammation in the vessels, since this is a widely accepted underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes. After learning that inflammation in the body stems from three main areas – mouth, gut, and chemical toxins – I began focusing on what these “chemical toxins” were. Reading my first book on toxins convinced me these chemicals are a major factor that adversely affect all aspects of our health.
Shortly after reading about toxins, I met Shanhong Lu M.D. PhD, an integrative medicine physician from Mt. Shasta, California. She gave a local talk about stress and toxins which addressed my questions about how to reduce inflammation and toxins in our bodies.
We began collaborating as she was extremely knowledgeable in the field of integrative medicine. I realized I could not just focus on cardiovascular health since hormones (thyroid and growth hormone especially) played a role in heart health along with inflammation and toxins. This lead to expanding my office into an integrative medicine office focusing on treating root causes to all health problems, not just cardiovascular problems.
I changed the office name to Redding Integrative Medicine to reflect this whole body approach and now work with Dr. Lu as my supervising physician.
I have had three defining moments that altered my ideas about the use of prescriptions, vaccinations, and the adherence to the standard of care…
1) My first defining moment was the nitric oxide that dramatically improved my father’s declining cardiovascular health. His improvement and finding a natural solution to my own blood pressure problem taught me that “modern medicine” does not have some of the most important and simple answers. And in fact, may delay important therapies reaching people who need them the most.
2) My next defining moment came when my 80-year-old mother fell on the ice and developed a mild anemia while being hospitalized for a rib fracture and concussion. After encouraging her to work with her primary care physician to get a full workup including an EGD and colonoscopy, numerous polyps were found in her stomach, some were oozing blood causing the slow insidious anemia.
She had been on the proton pump inhibitor Nexium for several years. A Pub-Med search revealed that proton pump inhibitor-related “fundic polyps” are not rare and often seen by gastroenterologists. Once Nexium is stopped, polyps are said to disappear.
My mother immediately stopped the Nexium and recovered. This taught me two valuable lessons – be persistent in finding answers and treat symptoms only as long as necessary while determining the root causes. Continuing to treat a symptom in the long run can be dangerous. She now takes probiotics and other GI support supplements that have significantly reduced her symptoms.
3) The third major defining moment occurred in 2011 after I gave my partner of 35 years a simple flu shot. Within 48 hours she was unable to walk or speak. She was transferred by ambulance to the hospital with the initial diagnosis of a stroke.
Three days in the hospital and $40,000 dollars later, the neurologist told us she had an encephalopathy from the flu shot, to go home, drink plenty of water, and avoid future flu shots. Thankfully she made a full recovery. I realized that the standard of care, giving everyone a flu shot, is not without risk. The package insert on flu shots lists in post-marketing side-affects (after the vaccine is released) that encephalopathy can be one of the serious side-affects (along with death). I set out in earnest to find a better way to support the immune system rather than force one’s body to deal with foreign proteins from a vaccine unnecessarily.
These defining moments, over the past eight years, have given me the reason, passion, and motivation to practice medicine in a new way. Integrative medicine embodies this new way. It embraces the whole body, focused on uncovering and treating the root cause of problems while using the most natural treatments.
Prescription drugs and surgery have their place when no other gentler alternative is available and when necessary for the comfort or safety of the person. I learned it is wise and necessary to question the status quo, and use standard of care as a place to start treatment, but not allow it to dictate treatment when seeing evidence to the contrary.
“Grass Roots Movement” to Teach Other Healthcare Providers
As I began to practice integrative medicine, I realized this was the type of medicine that was practiced when I first went into medicine 35 years ago. We didn’t have Big Pharma and health insurance centered care. It was patient centered care helping patients address diet and lifestyle, using the few drugs that were necessary (most of them are still available today as inexpensive generic drugs).
The PDR then was no more than an inch thick and wasn’t necessary since most of what we needed could be remembered. We spent very little time coding and billing, with most of our time spent in the room with patients. No long hours after the office closed doing computer work or re-coding for payment denials. If we did anything after work hours, it would be to call the patients we were concerned about and see how they were doing.
I attempted to reconstruct the best of this personalized patient-centered medicine in my Redding Integrative Medicine office. There are different needs that have to be addressed, especially reducing the effects of chemical toxins on our health.
Before I retire, I have committed to do the best I can in helping change this broken health care system by showing other physician assistants and healthcare providers that there is a better way.
What I learned over the past five years led me to write The Integrative Medicine Solution book introducing this concept to providers. Our nation’s health and future is in peril. We can and must start changing now.
I believe healthcare providers and patients are leading the way to this change. I founded the Integrative Medicine Physician Assistant Association and training program as a grass roots organization to get this information out to PAs and other providers. I invite you to join me if you want to return the practice of medicine back to the patient and their provider.
"You have done an excellent job. Your book will help shed light on what patients need to know about the tyrannical nature of our health care system. The truth about health care should stir our country into action to change the status quo, which is causing our citizens great distress and suffering."
Mark Starr, MD, author of 'Hypothyroidism Type 2: The Epidemic' and 'Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, and Diabetes: Prevention and Treatment'
"Frankly, this book scared me. Insider information that should be mandatory reading for every medical student at every university."
author 'Invisible Weight Loss'
president, Rose Hill Publishing
"In 'The Integrative Medicine Solution', Cathy Ochs outlines the precise ways that we can achieve ultimate health and wellness with our patients and within our practices. This book is the ultimate health care providers' guide back to sanity from the presently insane health care system. This timely resource restores faith and hope in our practices proposing alternative revenue streams to keep our practices thriving."
Diana Hoppe, MD, FACOG, author of 'Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You' and Creator of the 'Amazing Over 40' Health Coaching Certification Program
"Cathy Ochs has made starting your own integrative medical practice amazingly simple with her step by step guide."
Jana Pratt, PA-C, Women's Integrative Health Specialist
"When I opened your document first thing this morning and started reading I could not leave my computer. This is an awesome read and a great education piece for all health care providers to read. I think it is a must read."
Nathan Bryan, PhD, author of 'The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution'
"Cathy Ochs has presented a unique and insightful perspective on our nation's health care system's shortcomings and oversights. In this book she has presented real life and personal situations in which mistakes and perfunctory decisions were made due to time constraints and medical desires to fit 'cases' (not people) into diagnosis 'boxes' to meet the new franchise-like standards. She offers a new perspective on a more patient friendly, form-fitting health care option for a better team style approach to wellness which can offer a richer health provider/ patient relationship to a healthier life style."
Debra Hartig, RN, FNP