by Tutti Gould, DC, ND
Eric Udell is a naturopathic academic. Quiet, studious, conscientious and deeply caring and effective at ensuring the survival of homeopathy. A quiet crusader.... This interview is not a flash dance, but a gentle unfolding of a man behind the homeopathic scenes.
Dr. Eric Udell is homeopathy's version of spiderman; a humble superhero, keeping himself busy fixing problems and helping people, but not necessarily taking credit for it. He is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy; someone who focuses on foundations, because if the building is built on a rubbish heap, it will not stand the test of time. He is keeping the building of homeopathy strong, so it can help people for generations to come.
Dr. Udell's foundational work is primarily within homeopathic education. After graduating from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona, he started up a practice with his wife, Danite Haller, and also became a professor at SCNM, alongside his mentor Stephen Messer. Academics remains a passion of his. "I love teaching and feel a strong commitment to the program that I helped create, and don't want to lose that connection," says the young doctor, and father of a one-year-old boy.
Dr. Udell feels that proper education is the key to keeping homeopathy strong. He is one of the few who does not blame the Flexner Report for hurting homeopathy. "Homeopathy was dying before the Flexner Report," he says, adding that Flexner had noted that homeopathic colleges were on the decline in his report. Quoting Daniel Cook, Dr. Udell says that the quality of training a hundred years ago left something to be desired. "Most of the physicians who called themselves homeopaths were actually poorly trained and then they became teachers. So poorly trained homeopaths went on to train poorly trained homeopaths. The Organon was even absent from the curriculum! So, even though most were sincere and genuine, when they went out to practice they weren't successful and moved back to conventional medicine." He says that we have to keep that in mind even today. "Our challenge is still the same now: to have good quality education and to have well-trained homeopaths train future homeopaths."
Being so committed to the proper training of the future generation of homeopathic practitioners, he has helped create minimum standards in homeopathic education, through a project that brings together homeopathic faculty at the six accredited North-American naturopathic medical colleges. His hope is that homeopathy can grow into a unified community. "There is a lot of disagreement in the homeopathic world, but with this council of naturopathic homeopathic educators it is different , we work from our common ground, electing to leave points of contention to the side until later," says Udell, who considers himself a naturopath as well as a homeopath.
Even though he likes academics, Dr. Udell does not mind getting his hands dirty to help people in need. After the Tsunami hit South-East Asia in 2005, he went on a mission to Sri Lanka with the NGO Homeopath's without Boarders "We didn't know what we were going to run into," he says. "We didn't know if we were going to be treating typhoid, cholera, or dysentery, or fractures, and bruises, and aches, and pains, or fears and trauma. So we went in prepared for whatever was needed." (To read his blog, go to: (Dr. Udell's Journal). What struck him the most about his mission, however, was not the desolation of the area, but people's kindness and compassion. "It stopped me in my tracks when I was working out of a village that had received little or no medical care, where few buildings were left standing, and it seemed that people were more concerned about whether I was hungry or needed tea!"
It was interesting for him to be an ambassador of homeopathy. "There are 100 homeopaths on the whole island of around 20 million people in Sri Lanka; it's not very widespread considering it is so close to India where homeopathy is so prevalent," he says. But the locals accepted the treatments willingly, and many of them said that the "little white pills" worked better than the conventional medicine, with fewer side effects. The team had about 150 remedies, and made dry grafts when they ran out.
Dr. Udell has plenty of travel experience and speaks fluent Spanish, which helped him to foster a close relationship with the Eizayagas from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He met the second eldest of the brothers, Francisco Eizyaga, Jr. when the Argentinean came to SCNM while Udell was still a resident. The young resident was asked to be Eizayaga's liaison. They became friendly, and then Dr. Udell got a grant to go to Argentina, where he learned a great deal from the famous brothers. "I sat in their practice every day for two weeks watching patient after patient doing very well," he says. "It was a wonderful experience. Currently, we are lacking that kind of apprenticeship." He says that it opened his mind to different ways of dosing. The Eizayagas use repeated dosing in a particular way that is not harmful to the patients, but that actually gives great results.
In an effort to expose their students to different ways of practising, Dr. Stephen Messer and Dr. Udell have invited Francisco Eizayaga, Jr. to teach an intensive course at SCNM for the last five years. "As a result of that influence, our students get exposed to that style of dosing, in addition to more classical approaches, and they get the message that posolgy is an open book."
Despite the fact that many homeopathic organizations are experiencing a decline in membership and that few graduates from many homeopathic colleges are actually practising, Dr. Udell remains optimistic for the future of homeopathy. "It's hard to be optimistic when you get that data, but the truth is that my daily interaction with patients is completely optimistic," he says. "The patients I see in practice have positive experiences, and they become familiar with homeopathy and they then refer; they are becoming advocates. We are having wonderful success with our graduates from SCNM. We stay in touch and get a sense of how they are doing, and we are astounded - they are getting success in homeopathic practices. If we can train successful homeopaths, I can't imagine homeopathy doing anything but growing." With someone as devoted as Eric Udell helping to train the next generation, how can it be otherwise?
Interviewer and Author of this article, Tutti Gould DC, ND, is a naturopathic physician living and practicing in Sutton, Quebec.
With thanks to copy editor Michelle Decary