Growing a legacy: Dr. Ange Phillips on putting down roots in her hometown around naturopathic care

The famous quote by Greek physician Hippocrates that said ‘Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food’ is something that rings true for Dr. Angela Phillips, ND. It’s also an ideal that brought her back home to start her practice of naturopathic medicine.

The path that led her to become a doctor is one that started young.

“Growing up in the country, I was close to farmers and very early on, I developed an interest and understanding about knowing where my food came from,” says Dr. Phillips. “Because of that, I was cooking with local food starting at a young age, of course with some trial and error,” she says with a laugh.

Phillips in her office in Midland. (PC: Adam Kostus)

“So, with that upbringing, it was a natural segue to understanding the connection between diet and health, and that food should be your medicine, your first line of defense and also your end goal.”

Between her upbringing and her own experience seeing a naturopathic doctor, Phillips knew it was a move she wanted to make, but there were just a few things holding her back – namely the desire to spend time with her grandfather, with whom she was very close, in the time he had left.

Six years ago, a conversation with her cousin Reed at a family reunion was the final push she needed. Reed’s own grandfather and Phillips’s were brothers, and he relayed a similar experience on his own path to physical therapy school and being torn knowing he would have to leave home, as well as his grandfather, and commit time elsewhere.

Dr. Palka's skeleton in Phillips office now in Midland.

“By that time, my grandfather was slipping into dementia, and he couldn’t recall many things,” says Phillips. “Reed had gone through something very similar when he left for PT school in New York while his grandpa was having memory issues. He asked me if I thought my grandfather would want me to put this dream on hold, and I realized he wouldn’t.”

“I’m very thankful for that conversation with Reed now, because just days after the family reunion where we talked about the hard decisions in that trade off, he was killed in a plane crash,” she says. “So, I feel like I had that conversation with him for a reason. I had as strong knowing that I had a higher purpose to fulfill, and that made me act on it.”

With that, Phillips went all in, leaving her career in the chemical industry and attending the National University of Health Sciences, one of eight nationally-accredited schools, near Chicago. Phillips also had the support of her own naturopathic doctor, since turned mentor and friend, the late Dr. Kim Palka, who previously owned and ran WellSpring Naturopathic on Ashman St. in Midland.

Palka had previously been diagnosed with cancer, and Phillips describes a day the two shared prior to leaving for medical school when she and Palka picked tomatoes at Middleton Farm.

Dr. Kim Palka on trip in Ecuador with other naturopaths doing clowning, which she learned through The Gesundheit Institute, founded by Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams.

“It was just the perfect day. It was summer and we spent the day talking, catching up and picking tomatoes,” says Phillips. “That was the last time I saw her because I left for medical school after that and she passed later that year. I never took a picture of us that day, even though I meant to, but it’s still one of my fondest memories.”

While Phillips lost both Dr. Palka to cancer and her cousin Reed, she counts the both of them as part of the inspiration and drive behind her new journey as a doctor. She inherited all of Dr. Palka’s medical texts for naturopathy – at more than 140 titles – from Kim’s husband, as well as her office skeleton, which fittingly sits in the corner of her new office wearing Phillips’s lab coat from her internship and sports a “Live Like Reed” bracelet, from the Live Like Reed annual golf outing, organized by the Reed Phillips Family Fund.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and encouragement they gave me to pursue this dream,” says Phillips. “And I am so thankful to have Kim’s materials as references, because some of the different schools use different materials, and some of hers were never a part of my clinical programs in school.”

Phillips inherited more than 140 of Palka's medical texts and uses them in her practice.

“Many of them are some of my favorite, go-to resources and I use them all the time,” says Phillips. “Kim is still such an inspiration to me, because while I thought I started medical school late, she didn’t even start her naturopathy schooling until she was in her 40s.”

While family and friends inspired her to be where she is today, Phillips also practices what she preaches to patients.

So much so, that when Phillips ruptured her Achilles tendon last year, she prepared for surgery with an extensive pre-and-post surgical protocol that included nutrition and homeopathy.

“After surgery, I didn’t have to take any of the anti-nausea medication and hardly any medication to deal with pain, managing otherwise with rest, elevation and homeopathy,” she says. “The doctors were really surprised that I didn’t need or take a majority of it.”

The skeleton also sports a Live Like Reed bracelet in honor of her cousin Reed Phillips.

That attention and care is something that translates over to her patients. Each of which she says are unique.

“The body is absolutely an interconnected system, so naturopathic medicine looks at the body as a whole and each person individually,” Phillips says. “So, I walk through a patient’s health history knowing the body is inextricably connected, your brain is connected to your heart, and even your big toe. And so, with patients, that translates to really individualized care, no two treatment plans are ever the same. We focus on healing, and I don’t prescribe patients to do or take anything I wouldn’t also do myself.”

Phillips returned to Midland to practice to carry on Dr. Palka legacy. (PC: Adam Kostus)

That care translates to just about anything you’d see a medical doctor for, and most of the time the two work together.

“We are considered complementary healthcare providers, especially in states where licenses are in the process of being recognized, like Michigan,” she says. “So, in the situation where a patient is on a prescription medication and under the care of their primary care physician, we provide care that does not overstep the directives they have from their primary care doctor, and work in cooperation with that care, making sure there are no reactions or interferences between vitamins, supplements and any of their medications.”

So, what made Phillips choose to return to Midland to practice medicine and what’s next for her as she builds her practice?

Phillips came back to Midland to open her naturopathic medicine practice.

“A big part of it is continuing Kim’s legacy and standard of care,” says Phillips. “And another part is that this is just home. It’s really great to be home and be near friends and family.”

“And as for what’s next, during my internship in medical school, I worked with the Salvation Army in downtown Chicago helping to treat residents with past drug addictions, and some veterans who suffered from PTSD,” says Phillips. “I’d like to get back into focusing some segment of my practice on that.”

You can catch up with Dr. Ange Phillips on her website at https://www.angephillipsnd.com/ and you can also find her on Facebook and find out more about her practice in our Q&A.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. As the Managing Editor of Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner. 
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