We had the good fortune of connecting with Mona Morstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mona, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I received my Summa Cum Laude degree in Foods and Nutrition from Arizona State University in 1984 and convinced my parents to let me go to naturopathic medical school. There were only two schools available back then, one in Portland, OR and one in Seattle, WA. I choose the one in Portland. It was an amazing experience for me and I matured a great deal in those four years.
I graduated from naturopathic medical school in 1988 and did a year residency in Family Practice. At the end, I had been in Portland, OR for 5 years and was ready to leave; the weather did not agree with me. I looked at my options, which included joining a naturopathic practice in Arizona, or buying a medical practice for sale. After investigating a few clinics, I really resonated with a naturopathic practice in Great Falls, MT, as the physician wanted to move to Portland to teach at the medical school I had just graduated from. Montana looked good to me. The practice price was reasonable. I bought that practice, moved to Montana, and set up my own medical career.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Naturopathic physicians (NDs/NMDs only in Arizona) have unique philosophical principles that are our foundation for clinical analysis and practice: The healing powder of nature; Identify the causes of ill health; Do no harm; Physician as teacher; Treat the whole patient; Prevention is important. In practice, NDs can either specialize on patient population (such as only seeing children, or women), or on a specific condition (cancer, mold toxemia) or like me have a broad general practice, seeing anyone– children, men, woman and seniors–for many different types of concerns.
Unlike MDs/DOs, when graduating from a naturopathic medical school, there usually aren’t opportunities to join an established clinic/hospital on a good salary. We are typically forced to start our own practices and grow it up from scratch. When I graduated I bought a practice in Montana, and without any business experience, set up my own clinic. I made $19,000 my first year out. My first two years in Montana naturopathic medicine was not even licensed in Montana, and when the licensed passed, I was license #2.
Over the years as my practice developed, I think the main problems have always been with employees. I’ve had employees steal from me, skip work due to hangovers, and so forth. This is the endless problem for all small business owners, I think, but there are many good employees out there, too, that enhance the clinic. Right now, my clinic has good people, so patients get fantastic customer service and the office is run very efficiently and professionally.
In Montana I began specializing in gastroenterology and diabetes/hormones, as I started seeing many patients with those conditions. With my practice doing well, I bought a medical condo space, hoping to develop a real integrative clinic, but that never panned out. I was left with a big space and just me and another ND in it.
The president of a naturopathic medical school in Tempe, AZ kept calling me asking me to join his school as faculty and after a couple of years I decided a change would be good. I sold my practice, and moved to Tempe, AZ. The first 7 years at the medical school were awesome. I was Chair of Nutrition, gastroenterology professor and clinical supervisor for students in our out patient clinic. However, the last four years were unpleasant and I parted ways with the school and went back into private practice 7 years ago. That was a little stressful, with buying a practice, losing salaried income, building up my second full time medical practice and dealing with employees again.
Perseverance has played out well, though! I now have a busy practice with great patients. I see a lot of patients with all types of gastrointestinal conditions (IBS, SIBO, GERD, gallbladder conditions, IBD), all types of hormonal conditions (diabetes, thyroid, post-menopausal, menstrual problems, adrenals), and most other conditions as well. I have three other excellent, newer physicians in my clinic who we need to build up their practices. We all get along great and it’s very important to me to have a diverse, respectful workplace where everyone feels valuable and heard.
We all spend a lot of time with patients. My first office visit is 1.5 hours one on one with patients, so they have enough time to really share their health story and we can get background on their health and really focus on all the concerns they have. My second treatment visit is another one hour with patients and follow-ups are at least thirty minutes. So, patients are not rushed in and out, but are listened to and get comprehensive, safe and effective care. Naturopathic physicians do the same basic blood work and indicated imaging, such as x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, but also use specialty testing through specialty labs. Common ones include: food sensitivity test, stool analysis, SIBO breath tests, hormonal analyses, and testing for environmental toxicity from chemicals, heavy metals and mycotoxins.
Our clinic does many different treatment modalities, from nutrition/supplements (nutraceuticals and botanicals), homeopathy, hormonal dosing for men and women, acupuncture, PRP/Prolotherapy, IV therapy, and a new innovative therapy using peptides. We can prescribe most medications but our focus is to help patients heal naturally, avoid having to go on medications, or to heal enough to be able to safely and responsible remove certain drugs. We are not anti-drug, but pro-healing.
I do a lot of speaking at online Summits/webinar and formal medical conferences, which is always an honor. My main goal is to continue with my busy practice and really help the other docs in my clinic develop their own active practices.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am a hiker and almost always hike every Sunday morning. Usually I hike alone, so stay in the Valley. I would take a friend out on National Trail at South Mountain, or to the McDowell/Sonoran Bell loop trail, or do Pass Mountain at Usery Park, some of my favorite in Valley hikes. If it was safe, not summer, we could go into the Superstitions. If we left town, I’d go to Kendrick Trail in Flagstaff for that awe inspiring magnificent 360 degree view nature.
I think one of the coolest things in the Valley is the third floor of the Phoenix Art Museum, the Yayoi Kusama fireflies exhibit in the far corner. I don’t see it as fireflies, but as stars in the universe. The first time I went in with a friend, we literally got lost, and had to be directed out by the art museum employee luckily hanging out at the start of the exhibit. Every time I go, it’s just so cool; you can lose yourself in the dark like you are a head without a body and just a consciousness in deep space.
I love my local Indian food restaurant, Chutneys, in Tempe. I’d definitely take her there for a meal. Also, Kitchen 18 has an amazing chicken tortilla soup and I love their pastrami burger. Next, the Botanical Gardens, of course! Perhaps a play or musical at Gammage or Phoenix Theatre Company or if we had a taste for the classical, the SW Shakespeare Company. If we could stay up later, some excellent live music at Kazimierz Wine Bar in Scottsdale.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are definitely people I want to credit. My parents and grandparents helped me out financially to allow me to attend undergraduate and medical school without me winding up with extensive student loans. That was awesome of them! Another person was my naturopathic mentor, Dr. Jared Zeff. He taught philosophy when I was a student in naturopathic medical school so he introduced me to the depth and beauty of historical and clinical naturopathic medicine. It was his classes that solidified the tenets and methodology of how to best practice my field.
Dr. Richard Bernstein is another one. He is an MD who has Type 1 Diabetes, and he wrote a book called “Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution.” When I wanted to become an expert in diabetes, I was able to preceptor with Dr. Bernstein in his clinic and thus I established a solid foundation of how to work with diabetic patients. That was the core of me, nearly 25 years later being able to publish my own book on diabetes “Master Your Diabetes.”
The last person is Shivan Sarna. When I went back into private practice, Shivan Sarna began doing these excellent webinars on SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). She including me in them from the start, and my practice really took off from the audience calling to become my patient. I am very grateful for her for rejuvenating my second medical practice.