Like that of many naturopathic doctors, Dr. Shawna Darou’s path towards alternative medicine wasn’t direct. With two undergraduate degrees from Queen’s University—one in engineering chemistry and the other in biology—she decided to follow her passion for health, yoga and nutrition by moving to Vancouver and volunteering at local naturopathic clinics. Five years later, she became a student of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Last year, after practicing on her own for 11 years, Dr. Darou started Darou Wellness—her own naturopathic clinic located in the Queen West neighbourhood of downtown Toronto.
“It’s exciting to be at that early stage and it’s nice to be jumping out of the practicing in isolation,” says Dr. Darou. “What helped me overcome all the challenges was really loving to learn.”
The first challenge, notes Dr. Darou, was finding the right space. She needed at least four treatment rooms and a studio area, in which she could hold lectures and classes. The perfect space turned out to be in same building she had been practicing at for nine years.
The 2,700-square-foot Darou Wellness clinic features five treatment rooms, a studio space, a reception area and a kitchen for healthy cooking demos. Darou Wellness also holds a lecture series delivered by the staff and guest speakers. Improving the clinic’s visibility in the neighbourhood, these lectures also create exciting learning opportunities for those who seek knowledge about naturopathic medicine and healthy living. Additionally, to provide extra support for future mothers, Dr. Darou has recently introduced prenatal yoga classes.
“I’ve noticed that many people do their research online and they have so many questions,” says Dr. Darou. “The idea with the studio and the lecture series was to bring in some of the hot topics so that people can come with their questions and learn. They can actually ask an expert rather than feel isolated in their search for information.”
Dr. Darou believes promoting healthy lifestyles depends on the support of the community around you—one of the reasons why she is trying to connect people with common health and wellness goals, women in particular.
“Our mission is to build a community and provide collaborative care,” she says. “We want to be collaborative as a team and, with the patient’s consent, to be able to share expertise and provide a venue for learning.”
Darou Wellness currently has nine practitioners: two naturopaths, a holistic nutritionist, an osteopath, a pelvic health physiotherapist, a massage therapist, and two psychotherapists. Dr. Darou says that having all of practitioners in one place provides her patients with excellent care and a solid basis for support.
“If I am working with a patient on a nutrition plan and I determine that they need to be off gluten, I now have a nutritionist that I can refer them to, who is on site, who I trust and who can really go to the kitchen with the patient and recommend proper meal plans.”
The clinic so far has about 350 patient visits per month, with the busiest season running from October through January. Darou Wellness receives patients from the Queen West Street neighborhood near Trinity Bellwoods Park; most of whom are women, 25 to 40 years old, and are facing hormonal and fertility issues.
“My approach to treating infertility and hormonal imbalance is very much how I work with any other health condition,” says Dr. Darou. “First, I take an excellent case—go through health and family history, especially looking at factors that can affect hormones, such as toxin exposure, weight, symptoms of thyroid imbalance, stress levels, digestive function and antibiotic use. Then, I do lab testing to confirm a diagnosis or imbalance; and finally, I recommend a treatment that corrects the imbalance.”
Dr. Darou points out that there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to alternative medicine in our society.
“I think women are just unaware that there is an alternative way. The conventional treatments are brilliant, but I don’t feel like everyone who hasn’t conceived after a year needs an in-vitro procedure. It would be awesome if we could first optimize their health and support their hormonal balance. Then, often, pregnancy will happen naturally.”
By focusing on women’s health and complete family care, Dr. Darou also sees her patients’ partners and children. A large part of her practice is focused on indigestion and stress-related issues.
The clinic has a big dispensary, which allows Dr. Darou to choose the products that best fit her patients’ needs.
“I would say the top seller is prenatal vitamins,” she says. “The quality of prenatal vitamins that we have access to as naturopathic doctors is so much better than what people buy at a pharmacy.”
Probiotics are the second most frequently prescribed product at the clinic, together with other therapeutics aimed at rebalancing intestinal flora.
Dr. Darou says she is still learning how to promote her new business. The clinic currently has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts as well as its own YouTube channel.
In addition to following a social media schedule, Dr. Darou says the other “big secret” that has been helping the clinic build effective online presence is working with other businesses that have similar clientele by offering them guest blogging and interviews.
The clinic also has a strong Instagram presence.
“People seem to be mostly interested in food,” says Dr. Darou. “No matter what we post, this seems to be the most popular.”
While pictures with recipes and different foods receive the most likes, Darou Wellness followers also appreciate posts that reflect the clinic’s blog and lectures. Frequent blogging is also an effective tool for boosting the business’s SEO, says Dr. Darou.
“For example, I do a lot of work with personal genomics. If somebody is looking up ‘a naturopath who does MTHFR,’ my blog post will pop up.”
Another factor helping Darou Wellness stay connected with its present and future patients is the clinic’s weekly newsletter.
“I write about what I am interested in—health-wise and research-wise,” says Dr. Darou. “The newsletter is more for information sharing and also, to update people on what’s happening at Darou Wellness.”
To establish the clinic’s visibility in the neighbourhood, Dr. Darou is building ties with local businesses.
“It’s just a matter of getting out and meeting people,” she says. “There are a number of healthy restaurants nearby, and we are working on building some bridges there as well.”
Although there are many challenges that a new clinic owner faces, Dr. Darou knows what it takes to run a successful business.
“Excellent multitasking; a great team to delegate some of the day-to-day tasks; a good system for online booking, emails returned and new patient forms,” she says. “And staff and colleagues who work well together and respectfully in a space. Professionalism!”