— Dr. Linda Sparks
they’re changing the way they practice, but the problem is, our philosophy of health is a lot different than the standard way of looking at health right now so being a resident just wouldn’t work for me,” Sparks said. Naturopathic medicine involves taking a long-range holistic approach to health and that involves a much deeper look at a patient’s life than the standard 30-minute physical exam once a year. It involves getting to the root of a person’s medical issue and using natural remedies that will help a patient heal themselves. It also involves working with a patient to change their unhealthy behaviors.
Dr. Linda Sparks sells homemade salves and teas at her booth at the Historic Farmers Market in Waynesville. Donated photo in a real way kept nagging at her. She now knows her hesitancy to go back to school was because she never believed in herself — never thought she was smart enough to succeed academically. Maybe she had more to prove when she went back to massage school. Still working full-time on “Alias,” her employers sponsored her tuition and she aced the program. However, taking pre-med courses was going to be her greatest challenge yet. While working on “Brothers & Sisters” during the day, she attended classes at night. She aced physics and her first-ever chemistry classes. “That was the first time I thought I may be smart after all,” she said. “Brothers & Sisters” was unexpectedly canceled, which allowed Sparks to go to school full time to finish her pre-med classes. Then she had to decide what path she would take next — stay in Hollywood or pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. “My soul felt so squashed in L.A. with
the whole keeping up with Jones mentality — even though I worked with great people,” Sparks said. “The idea of becoming an MD was so worthy, but the system is so broken and I didn’t think I could handle it.”
NATUROPATH PATH Then she thought back to her mother’s medical issues when she was younger and how an alternative doctor saved her quality of life. Sparks was admitted to Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix and completed four years of graduate school with clinical training. With a 4.0 grade average after her first year, she set her sights on becoming a naturopathic resident, but residencies are few and far between in that field. She also realized that being a resident would once again box her into the mainstream thinking that failed her mother and so many others. “There’s a split in our profession — one side wants to be treated like an MD so
Being from Massachusetts, Sparks was always drawn to more warm and sunny locations — Miami, Los Angeles, Phoenix — but a visit to see a friend in Waynesville would soon bring her back to a place with four seasons and a much slower pace. At first she thought opening her own naturopathic practice in Asheville would be the best plan, but she kept being drawn back to Waynesville. “I met doctors in Asheville but I quickly realized I wanted to be in Waynesville — a smaller community where people know each other and look out for each other,” she said. “There’s a lot of history and beautiful hills — I wanted a higher tree-to-person ratio.” Sparks moved to Waynesville in 2015 and started Blue Ridge Natural Health inside of Waynesville Wellness, but being a naturopathic doctor in North Carolina has its disadvantages. There is currently no certification process for naturopathic doctors in North Carolina, which means they are limited in how they can operate a practice and what services they can perform. “If I still lived in Phoenix, I would be considered a primary care physician and could have a full scope practice — chiropractic, minor surgery, gynecological issues, IV therapy, phlebotomy, men’s health and physical exams,” Sparks said. “But in this state I have to work as more of a health coach helping people with lifestyle choices and natural remedies.” Besides not being able to practice all the skills she acquired during four years of medical school, the state laws also keep her from being able to accept insurance
payments from her patients. However, patients with a Health Savings Account plan can choose to use HSA savings toward naturopathic visits and treatments. Sparks also offers special annual memberships that allow patients to pay a reasonable monthly fee. “I can hands down tell you the people who join the membership program see better results,” she said. “They’re paying a monthly fee so they’re more likely to come to their follow-up visits and do the therapies at home.” Another challenge is trying to educate patients on the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a traditional naturopath. “I’m having to compete with people who call themselves naturopath doctors but weren’t trained the same way I was,” Sparks said. “Traditional naturopaths can do online correspondence classes to earn a degree but they don’t have the same clinical supervised training — that’s the biggest thing — and they’re not as trained in the basic sciences, clinical diagnosis and pathology.” There has been legislation before the General Assembly to change the laws, but for now Sparks is focused on operating within the current system by working in consultation with her patients and their primary physicians. She can offer patients lifestyle and nutrition counseling, which she says is the foundation for everything. Sparks can also offer homeopathic remedies, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy and cleansing programs. Sparks also makes organic teas that can be used for many common ailments. She’s helped her patients with thyroid issues, digestion problems, hot flashes, respiratory and allergy issues, hypertension and anxiety. Sparks has gone back to school once again to earn a master’s degree in acupuncture, another service she’ll be able to add to her practice when her degree is complete in 2019. Right now she is performing acupuncture clinics in Asheville as part of her training. For more information about Dr. Sparks and Blue Ridge Natural Health, visit www.blueridgenaturalhealth.com or call 828.539.0440. Sparks can also be found each Saturday morning at Waynesville’s Historic Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon in the HART Theatre parking lot offering salves and teas.
WOMEN IN BUSINESS 2017
“I met doctors in Asheville but I quickly realized I wanted to be in Waynesville — a smaller community where people know each other and look out for each other. There’s a lot of history and beautiful hills — I wanted a higher tree-to-person ratio.”