by Elyse Wild | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus
“What we do is support the body to heal.”
When Kelly Peterson, ND., CEO and founder of Grand Rapids Natural Health (638 Fulton St W) is asked what a naturopathic doctor, or ND, does, this was her reply.
Peterson is a dynamo in the burgeoning wellness, holistic and integrative health movement in West Michigan. Since opening her practice in 2012, she has grown from a one-woman operation working out of a chiropractic office to overseeing a staff of 19, offering clients integrative and holistic healthcare and a vast range of services. These include: integrative naturopathic medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, cleanse programs and more. She is the former president of the Michigan Association of Naturopathic Physicians; and she is a co-founder of Inspired Life GR, an annual two-day conference that brings together the latest developments and industry leaders in health and wellness.
She is part of a booming industry: According to the American Association of Naturopathic Doctors, sales of natural products have more than doubled in the past decade. Additionally, 33 percent of adults use complementary health approaches and the rate of new jobs in naturopathic medicine is expected to increase 10 percent per year. There are approximately 30 naturopathic doctors working in the state of Michigan.
“I went into this to help people get well. I wanted to be able to bring what I learned back here — this is where my family is and my roots are.”
—Kelly Peterson, ND
Peterson credits this precipitous growth in alternative medicine to the public’s demand for more personalized and natural care.
“We are seeing what we are doing not only to the planet, but to ourselves,” she expressed. “We are sitting up and saying, ‘Something has to change.’”
Peterson graduated from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Tempe, Arizona, with a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine in 2011. She went on to complete a one year residency at the college’s medical clinic.
SCNM was founded in 1993 and is one of seven accredited naturopathic schools in the United States. Students study basic science, nutrition, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, pharmacology, environmental medicine, injection therapy and more. After four years of study, they are required to take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam in order to practice. Peterson describes the culture of SCNM as nurturing, one in which students are encouraged to connect with their inner-selves.
“School was a transformative time for me,” Peterson said of her time at SCNM. “The programs supported us in learning about who we were.”
Peterson’s interest in naturopathy was born from growing up in a household that valued natural health solutions; her mother worked as a personal trainer and a massage therapist, and later opened a center for natural medicine.
“If we had a cold, my mom was pulling out the essential oils before most people knew what they were,” Peterson recalled. “It was a common thread in my household and as I grew up I really started believing in it.”
Upon completing her residency, Peterson briefly contemplated starting her practice in Arizona. It would be a simple transition, after all: NDs have been licensed in the state since 1935 and a longstanding culture of alternative medicine has allowed thousands of practitioners to thrive. Michigan is one of 30 states without licensure for NDs. (The naturopathic physicians licensing bill, Senate Bill 0826, passed the Michigan State Senate in May, 2018 and is pending in the House of Representatives.)
Peterson was drawn back to Michigan by the desire to share her knowledge and reach a population that had few places to turn to in their search for alternative care.
“I went into this to help people get well,” she expressed. “I wanted to be able to bring what I learned back here — this is where my family is and my roots are.”
When she first opened Grand Rapids Natural Health, Peterson operated out of a chiropractic office and played multiple roles: She saw clients, did administrative tasks, made marketing materials, ordered supplies and balanced the books. Her practice quickly developed as more and more clients sought her services and other natural practitioners approached her to collaborate. Soon, she moved into a bigger space, and while she managed the growth of the practice, Peterson became more and more fond of the business operations.
“I loved it,” she expressed “I felt like by focusing on the business side of things, I could help more than one person at a time.”
With a vision to create a dynamic integrated care network, she assigned her clients to another ND and dove head first into developing what today is a comprehensive alternative and holistic healthcare center.
“I always kind of knew that I would want to open a center,” she expressed. “I wanted to create network of people to whom we could refer within, not only to have those resources available, but when you have an integrated team of health professionals, they give better care. They can communicate with one another and create a team approach.”
It was during this time of pivotal growth that Peterson met her future husband, Charlie, and the road before her widened; Charlie was in the midst of pursuing his dream to open a business in Puerto Rico. In 2015, after being in her new clinic space for just six months, she made the bold decision to share her time between their homes in both Puerto Rico and Grand Rapids.
“I just decided that I wanted to do it,” she laughed. “I thought, ‘I want to see where this is going.’”
Peterson helped Charlie establish Degree 18 Juice Bar in Palmer, Puerto Rico, 40 minutes outside of San Juan at the base of the island’s lush rain forest. She flew back and forth to Grand Rapids while Charlie worked on the juice bar, which quickly took off, attracting a loyal customer base of locals and tourists alike. Meanwhile, Peterson was hiring additional practitioners and expanding the services of Grand Rapids Natural Health to meet the demand of her flourishing client base.
In September of 2017, while Peterson was in Grand Rapids, Hurricane Maria hit the island. The result was the worst natural disaster on record to affect Puerto Rico. Peterson lost contact with Charlie for five days. Peterson ran a drive for supplies—diapers, tarps, flash flights, phone chargers, baby food, tools, water filters, and more. She joined Charlie on the island a few weeks after the storm to distribute items, going places FEMA had not yet been. She describes being stunned by the devastation.
“It was just shocking,” she said. “The trees were completely bare. It was really difficult to see all the destruction.”
Incredibly, the juice bar stood through the storm. Peterson stayed for month and pitched in as Puerto Rico rebuilt itself. The island was without electricity, let alone cell phone reception or Internet; for the first time in a very long time, she was unplugged and totally cut off from the clinic she worked so hard to cultivate.
“It was such an eye opening experience that everything went well while I was gone,” she said. “It was a great experience because of that.”
For Peterson, this affirmed that she was succeeding in what she had set out to do: build a supportive and sustainable network of practitioners.
Today, Grand Rapids Natural Health offers nearly a dozen services, staffs four NDs, an integrative medical doctor, a health coach, a certified light therapist, a licensed massage therapist, four estheticians and holistic skin care specialists, an acupuncturist, a brow and wax specialist, a craniosacral therapist and two energy practitioners.
As the practice continues to expand, Peterson stays focused on why she started down her path: to help people heal.
“I don’t want it to grow so big that we lose touch with what we started this for in the first place,” she reflected. “I want our clients to have access to their providers—for them to call us and we can get back to them. For me, it is just about letting it unfold as it is supposed to, and in doing that, standing strong in what we are about.”