By Dr. Jessica Fitzpatrick, DC
My journey to finding my place in the chiropractic profession really begins with what I chose not to study and pursue as a career, as I originally had a very different path in mind. I do believe sometimes life presents you with scenarios and challenges that help guide you to find your true passion and what you are really meant to become. For some, the path is relatively straight forward and linear, while for others it’s a little more complex. As a child, I didn’t dream of becoming a chiropractor, but I am so pleased that I found my way to this profession that I love.
I grew up in a very small community in Western Newfoundland as the daughter of a proud fisherman. My parents were very hard workers and instilled in me the importance of dedication to whatever I set out to do. As a rule, there was not a tremendous amount of emphasis placed on education within the community, however, my father very much saw differently. He pushed me academically and athletically to be the very best I could be, and I truly give him credit for instilling such a strong work ethic in me. We had a remarkably close relationship and he always had a dream that we would one day go into business together somehow involving his beloved fishing industry.
I grew up on the ocean and spent a large amount of my time in a boat. From helping get bait for the next morning to simply checking traps, I have a very healthy love of the ocean and so this seemed like a wonderful dream to work towards. My father did not have easy fishing conditions to work with and this took quite a toll on his young body, so this seemed like a great opportunity for both of us.
In the Spring of Grade 11, when I was 16 years old, a program called Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) was being offered at Memorial University in St. John’s. This program targeted strong female science students in the province and the candidates were able to choose from a variety of science or engineering-based programs and were able to work with professors for the summer. I remember filling out my application and my father was so excited, I think for himself as much as for me. There was an ocean engineering department and that was of course my first choice. I submitted it with him and later found out that I was lucky enough to have been accepted.
That May, tragedy struck my family when both my father and a dear family friend died in a fishing-related accident. My family and the community were left reeling and I took it exceptionally hard. I was the top of my class at the time and having taken that into consideration my teachers felt it wasn’t necessary for me to return to school for the remainder of the year. This of course was very much a turning point in my life – I was either going to give up on my dreams or make the decision to pick up the pieces and move forward.
The start date of the WISE program, a 10-hour drive from home and without my family, was on what would have been my father’s 40th birthday. It was incredibly difficult, but it was without question the best decision and I knew it was what he would have wanted for me. I worked with brilliant engineers in ice tanks, with propellers and simulated labs and it was all fascinating, but I did not love it. I knew then that this was not the career path for me. I will never know if it was the connection of it all to my father or if it was too cold of an environment for me as I am very much a people person, but I knew it wasn’t where I was meant to be.
After graduating the following year, I then went to Dalhousie University to study Kinesiology. I realized I loved working with people and I wanted to go into the medical field. Being from such a small community there were not a lot of extracurricular activities to be involved with and I played every sport available. This all seemed to be coming together for me and I felt I was on the right path forward. Then, in my second year of university, I injured my back and subsequently went to a myriad of practitioners for help. Nothing seemed to help my problem and/or only provided very temporary improvements. I truly knew very little about chiropractic at this point in my life aside from the fact that my father, with his very overworked back and many work-related injuries trusted his chiropractor immensely. This was in my opinion quite progressive thinking on his part at the time, as seeing a chiropractor in rural Newfoundland was certainly not commonplace. I remember him barely being able to stand up straight and then in spite of having to drive an hour each way for his appointment he would be upright when he returned home.
With this little knowledge, I went to see a chiropractor just around the corner from Dalhousie and I was enthralled. Never had I experienced such a thorough patient examination and what felt like a goal to really resolve the root of the problem. After over 6 months of dealing with my injury, I was pain-free in less than 2 weeks.
Several months later, on my walk to apply to write my MCAT exam in preparation for medical school, I had somewhat of an epiphany. I had a realization that this wasn’t the particular path to healthcare I wanted to pursue. I asked myself what I really wanted out of my future career. I knew I very much wanted to help people, but I wanted to do it from a different methodology. I liked the hands-on element, I liked the more conservative approach to addressing underlying issues first, and I liked having a special rapport with people and helping them feel at ease when they are in a situation of pain or injury. I questioned if traditional medical care would allow me to be able to achieve this goal.
I decided that it was time to regroup and this lingering thought about the experience I had had with the chiropractor I saw kept coming to the forefront. I so enjoyed the process and appreciated the time and concern that I experienced. I felt that with my passion for health care and my desire to create trusting relationships with people and make them feel at ease while treating their concerns and getting to the source of an issue, chiropractic made the most absolute sense for me.
Later that month, I applied to the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto and here I am 13 years later and still very much loving what I do and the trusting relationships I’ve created with my patients. I truly feel that our paths may take several twists along the way but if you really listen to what is most important to you, you find your way. I am very grateful I realized how the patients were truly the emphasis for me all those years ago and continue to be so today.