My Break-up with Naturopathic

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I am no longer a licensed naturopathic doctor. My Arizona license expired on New Year’s Eve of 2014. My Washington license expired this past week, on my 31st birthday.

Both states gave me unreasonably broad scopes of practice. I was allowed to diagnose and treat disease, order labs and imaging, write drug prescriptions, recommend medical marijuana, sign vaccination exemption forms, perform sports physicals, and intravenously inject various substances. Now, I will no longer be able to practice medicine in any capacity–not that I should have ever been allowed to do so in the first place.

I practiced naturopathic for only a few years. During this brief time, I witnessed illegal, and other dangerous, inept, and unethical practices by licensed naturopaths. It was not these observations, though, that led me to leave the profession. It was the reactions of other naturopathic colleagues when I described what I had witnessed. Their poor advice and ambivalence verified I had chosen the wrong career.

But even more unnerving, disappointing, and impossible to understand, was the reaction of a friend, who is a naturopathic elder and mentor of mine, regarding the illegal activity I had discovered and was preparing to report to the authorities. This naturopath suggested that I simply ignore the wrongdoing and try to reconcile with the offending ND, as I was “a NATURO-path, after all.”

This conversation was one of the most disappointing conversations of my life. I knew immediately that I had to leave naturopathy, and I was sad. But, now I am grateful for his abominable advice. First, he gave the most tangible image of the difference between right and wrong, which was so overtly easy to navigate given the gravity of the matter. Second, he unwittingly galvanized me not only to leave naturopathic in the dust but also inspired me to blow the whistle on the profession.

After researching the practices of naturopaths across the United States and the disciplinary actions by naturopathic medical boards, I believe that unethical practices and chronically anemic regulation are endemic to the profession. Patients are at serious risk of being hurt.

I have another guest blog post on ScienceBasedMedicine.org that highlights how naturopaths in Arizona seem to manipulate the state’s regulatory system to protect dubious therapies, which seem to form the very core of their identities, in clinical practice as so-called naturopathic research. I suspect you will be as disgusted I as was when I made this discovery.

To the principles of naturopathic, I have a few contradictions to share:

  • First do no harm, despite naturopaths not being medically educated enough to diagnose and treat disease properly, such as the patient, reported by one of my MD readers, who developed endometrial cancer after naturopathic hormone replacement therapy;
  • Use the healing power of nature, despite paradoxically pushing for the same prescriptive rights as MDs and DOs or injecting chemically purified substances such as high-dose vitamin C, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, or baking soda;
  • Identify and treat the root cause of disease, despite the fact that all doctors strive to and usually do understand very well the underlying cause of disease;
  • Practice doctor as teacher, despite being unable to explain naturopathic education and training without lying;
  • Treat the whole person, even though the practice of real medicine always examines the whole person as it is most clinically relevant according to the best available science;
  • Prevent disease, despite naturopaths playing a role in the anti-vaccination movement which contributes to outbreaks of preventable diseases

Good riddance.

Image credit: Flickr user ro_buk under a CC License.
  • NH Primary Care Doc

    Congrats on your milestone 🙂

    Here’s to moving forward. Keep up your good work. Looking forward to tomorrow’s SBM post.

  • Nanea

    Belated happy birthday!

    Thank you so much for not only publishing on SBM, but also for taking me along on your journey away from naturopathy. While I already knew quite a lot about honesty and ethics or the lack thereof in that business , I am nonetheless always taken aback when I see that people lie to get ahead and how they cheat and mislead for (huge) profits, although they should know they’re way out of their depths.

    Not that everyone who practices medicine is above reproach, sadly.

  • http://www.scienceinmedicine.org/fellows/Rosa.html Linda RosaRN

    Oh, how I wish you were living in the USA! We need someone like you to testify to state legislators when they consider ND licensure and expanding ND privileges. But the next best thing is to send them copies of your essays, and for that we can be very thankful.

  • http://www.theunwholesome.com Bec

    Britt, you need to share all of these stories. The public (especially in Australia, home of the woo-meister wellness bloggers) are so woefully unaware of the lack of regulation, oversight and academic rigour of the discipline.

    Inspired by your work, I looked up the number one provider of naturopathic courses in my city.

    The four year Bachelor of Health Sciences in Naturopathy, on offer from Endeavour College, had no entry requirements in terms of scores, no prerequisite subjects like science or maths, and – most terrifyingly with our huge international student sector – no IELTS or English proficiency requirements.

    It makes me angry to hear naturopaths IRL talk about the evidence basis of their practice or the rigour of their science subjects. It is all lies – and lies that are killing people.

    • Travis

      Absolutely frightening. That seems considerably worse than it is in the US, even.

      • http://www.theunwholesome.com Bec

        If Britt would like, I would be happy to do a full report on the state of play of naturopathy accreditation and education in Australia, obviously with the caveat that I am not (and never have been) a naturopath.

    • BJ

      Bec, there may not be a pre requisite but you still have to sit for exams and the course is quite intense…at the end of the day if you don’t pass you don’t practice….. Doctors sit for up to 6 years and they also don’t get it right…I think its the individual who practices not the education side. I know myself and a lot of my friends would prefer to try something natural then produced in a lab. Doctors are also over prescribing and all these synthetic drugs are playing havoc with there body……..so maybe a Naturopath may not have the complete training as a doctors….but they both can get it wrong in some cases.

      • https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com Britt Hermes

        News flash BJ: supplements, tinctures, homeopathic products are all produced in a lab. The manufacturing of botanical constituents into supplements requires chemistry, just like real medicine!

  • Dean Hughson

    Here in Az we have NDs who claim to be cardiologists and soon we’ll have ND psychiatrists. They are forming their own ‘boards’.

  • Ripple Earthdevil

    Sorry to be picky but shouldn’t the title be “My Break-up with Naturopathy?” Naturopathic is an adjective and reading “My Break-up with Naturopathic” makes my brain hurt.

    • https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com Britt Hermes

      • Ken Phelps

        I’m afraid Ripple is right. Copying an entrenched grammatical error isn’t necessarily the best way to enhance your own language.

        Unfair though it might be, the same impulse that causes people to be sticklers for scientific accuracy can cause them to equate sloppy language with sloppy thinking. I don’t see any advantage to you in using language that will grate on the ears (or eyes) of a significant number of your readers.

        Can you see any disadvantage in using the phrase “My breakup with naturopathy” instead? I fail to see your point.

        • Taylor Hermes

          I am grated too. Perhaps the grammatical attention can translate to critical emphasis on the profession, which to many is so grating.

          • Ken Phelps

            I think most of us are here precisely because we do share a concern about quackery, and have expended a great deal of time and energy on the subject. That is unrelated to the reality that when one attempts to claim the academic high ground, proper use of language can have a direct impact on credibility. No one claims it’s fair or reasonable, it’s just true.

        • Jay

          THIS is a life-or-death issue? Seems like a stylistic choice for s specific reason. Seems like everyone wants to “correct” everyone else on the internet…

          BTW, I use ellipses often for apparently no reason. Don’t assume it means my mind is trailing off…

          • Beth

            Seems like a stylistic choice for s specific reason

            Yes, it’s a neologism.
            Let Britt use neologisms if she wishes. Those who think less of her message for it have a screw or two loose.

      • nut

        It is great you are going to drop the tail off “naturopathic medicine” as medicine necessarily entails science and it is clear that naturopathy fails the science. Naturopaths only use the language of medical science without actually engaging in the process. It disturbs me every time I see naturopath and medicine put together. They shouldn’t call themselves Doctors either but that is possibly my bias?

        I am no word smith but on the other front regarding naturopathic and chiropractic one is a noun, the other an adjective.

        As shocking it sounds to me: chiropractic is a noun. It comes from CHIRO + -practic, from the Greek practikos effective, Practical. Now, perhaps it is because I lack word smithing abilities but, there is no doubt that chiropractic is a noun.

        On the other hand and as contradictory as it sounds naturopathic is an adjective. It comes from nature + -pathic. -pathic in combining form creates adjectives (just like telepathic or psychopathic). -pathy in combining form creates nouns and is from the Greek patheia, suffering (patheia comes from pathos). There is no doubt naturopathic is an adjective.

        So there you have it: nouns and adjectives in their own right. For myself I hardly think a few misplaced nouns or adjectives are going to detract from your informative high quality posts. Some will say it is the very important and as an aspect of our writing they would be correct but as a judgement on the embodiment of what we have written they would be very wrong.

        I’m looking forward to your continued blog posting, in fact I am off to read another one now. 🙂

        Ref: Collin English Dictionary but Google will confirm.

  • Dean Hughson

    Yesterday Az tightened up pot permits that NDs were giving freely in Az

    http://kjzz.org/content/126425/arizona-naturopathic-doctors-face-new-rules-medical-marijuana-certificates

  • Heather Wade

    I am finding your blog so fascinating. I appreciate your insight, your honesty. I’m learning SO much. Thanks for your dedication to this cause!

    • https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com Britt Hermes

      Thanks Heather!

  • WL

    Keep it going!

    I’m neither doc nor naturoquack, but as a simple scientist I am very concerned about the anti-science attitudes that are on the increase in the US, along with the charlatans who capitalize on it. You are in a unique position here–when I speak out against quackery, I’m seen as “evil scientist,” whereas you can speak from personal experience.

    Thanks for your courage and effort. It isn’t easy to admit error of that magnitude, and you are certain to be attacked viciously by the true believers. Know that there are a LOT of us who will have your back as best we can.

    • Beth

      anti-science attitudes that are on the increase in the US

      That’s interesting. And it seems to be true, at least for some kinds of antiscience.
      The article in the link gives some reasons why, but one reason it didn’t mention is the internet, where pseudoscience flourishes and the opinions of nonexperts reach many more people than in the past.

      • WL

        Beth, I’ve actually looked into the US anti-science issue in some detail over the past few years, and I agree completely that the internet exacerbates the problem–people too often think that Google U is the equivalent of years of hard study and training. On the other hand, that raises the question of why so many people are so ignorant and gullible, and that is a much harder question. It does seem particularly severe in the US, and I wonder if our peculiarly American notion of “I have a RIGHT to my opinion” is especially contributory. (My attitude is along the lines of “Like hell you do, unless you’ve undertaken some serious study.”) I hasten to add that I’m not talking about “opinions” along the lines of thinking that green olives taste better than black ones, and I’m not talking about legal rights but rather about moral rights.

        • Beth

          why so many people are so ignorant and gullible, and that is a much harder question. It does seem particularly severe in the US

          Compared to where? There are a lot of illogical beliefs pretty much everywhere, so far as I can tell. Error and delusion are part of the human condition, although the particular errors change.

          • Ken Hamer

            Pretty much everywhere else in the industrialized world. Belief in counter-scientific concepts such as young earth creationism (for example) is much, much greater in the US than it is anywhere else in the modern world.

  • Michelle

    Britt, thank you for sharing your story and speaking your truth. You have come so far since yours days at Bastyr and it sounds like you are whole-heartedly grounded in your values. Your honesty, courage, and integrity are inspiring, and I appreciate your willingness to share. Keep going!!

  • Michelle

    By the way, I don’t agree with everything you’re saying, but appreciate your perspective on things.

    • BJ

      I agree with you, Britt may not have had the best experience as a Naturopath, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t very good Naturopaths around

      • JGC

        You’re right–it’s the fact that naturopathy embraces treatment modalities for which there’s either no evidence they’re safe or effective or for which there is a body of evidence they are not safe nor effective that means there’s no very good naturopaths out there.

  • Douglas

    Thank you for your candid discourse Britt. I was just accepted to SCNM after earning a degree in dietetics and a cutting edge masters degree in the science of health care delivery. I am drawn to the philosophy of TCM but have never been able to accept homeopathy as anything other than a fiction. And after my intensive science background I have doubts about TCM as well. I was within a day of paying my deposit at SCNM when I read your blog (I was searching for “why I regret getting a ND”) and undertook a detailed decision analysis. I am instead going to obtain a MPH as a terminal degree (I am already accepted) and take my talents into population health where I can make an evidence based, scientifically sound, difference. And I won’t regret getting the ND.

    • WL

      Good on ya, Douglas. It’s a mark of intelligence to be able to change one’s mind in the face of evidence.

    • Beberman

      That is great news! Good luck in your chosen field!

  • http://rosemary-jacobs.blogspot.com Rosemary Jacobs

    First, I assume that when you enrolled in Bastyr that you believed that the philosophy they taught and the things you would learn to do there as a licensed “naturopathic physician” would enable you to help people with their health and wellbeing. I also assume that during the time you practiced naturopathy that you used the naturopathic techniques you had learned in school because you still believed that they would enable you to help people with their health and wellbeing. Is that correct? If so, what specifically made you believe that the philosophy and practice of naturopathy that you had been taught at Bastyr, helped people?

    Second, somewhere along the way you decided that the things you had learned were not helpful at all and that many were dangerous and some even illegal. Obviously, many other NDs with the same education disagree with you, at least about the uselessness and danger of the practices they routinely use. What exactly has convinced you that they are wrong and that you are correct in your new belief?

  • WL

    While anecdotes aren’t useful as data, they can be amusing and instructive. Some time ago, I spoke with a physician friend (a real one, with an MD) who told me about a patient for whom my friend had prescribed a course of medicine for a moderately serious cardiac issue. (Because my friend is intensely ethical, I note that I have absolutely no clue as to the patient’s identity, age, sex, or anything else.)

    The patient had for some obscure reason later gone to an ND, then returned to my friend for a follow-up exam and said that s/he had quit taking the meds because the ND had told him/her that the meds were completely unnecessary, and that he would be “cured” by tapping on his/her thymus gland in rhythm to The Blue Danube! (Apparently the vast education given to NDs doesn’t include the fact that the thymus doesn’t actually exist in adults.)

    I haven’t heard whether the ND has managed to kill that patient yet. Might take a bit more time!

    • BJ

      Ha! MD’s get it wrong too you know and they’ve study for six years. Times are changing and hospitals are now recruiting ND which Physicians have been working closely with…its not all about synthetic drugs anymore, “Health and Wellbeing is huge now and many people like the contrast of both. I do understand that you get some quacks as Physicians, surgeons etc just the same as in naturopath……..your physician friedn I presume is a cardiologist who prescribed a course of medicine…..they also can get it wrong….a man died last year from being given the wrong treatment, he fell over and bled to death because of the synthetic medicine he was prescribed…..

      • JGC

        Noting “they also can get it wrong” with respect to science based medical interventions doesn’t argue that naturopathic treatment modalities work, anymore than the fact that airplanes sometimes crash argues magic carpets actually can fly.

  • Dana Griffith

    Love what you’re doing, Britt!

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  • Salinda

    Hi Britt,
    I am an undergrad biology major, and up until reading your posts, was dead set on attending Bastyr university to become a doctor who “practices natural medicine” after graduating next year. My reasoning for chosing this path had to do with my mother’s lukemia and the side effects she had to suffer from her intense bouts of chemotherapy. At the beginning of my research I did in fact notice several holes in the teachings and ethics of the practice. I chose to stay with this course, however, because I saw myself filling in the gaps with research and science based facts. My question to you is, do you see any hope for naturopathy in the future? Or is it corrupt beyond repair? Every area of expertise has had its own faux pas in one form or another. Even current western medicine was once scrutinized by the rest of the world. With time, couldn’t naturopathy become a trusted form of alternative medicine?

    Ps. My back up plan to naturopathy is extensive research into the molecular structure of plants and herbs and their true effects on the human body

    • mikerbiker

      Best wishes to you and on your studies in pharmacognosy- There’s a former chiropractor who writes for Science Based Medicine who has been trying to reform that profession for decades- only to be met with disappointment as chiropractors are worse than ever- With sane people like Britt leaving, I don’t think it’s possible that naturopathy will ever reform. Alternative medicine by definition will always be outside of science.

  • marilynwann

    I don’t intend to defend naturopathic approaches with this comment, just want to point out that medical doctors cover up for each other’s wrongdoing all the time, too. The scientific method is great, but profit-motivated manipulation of data happens all the time. Researchers do it for personal/career gain. Big Pharma does it for profit. In evaluating providers and treatment options, it’s difficult to know who and what to trust. And even if research that turns out to be wrong and falsified research findings are discredited, many many providers will continue to follow them, due to resistance to admitting any fallibility or because they just believe in whatever it is. I hope you bring the same critical zeal to biosciences that you apply to naturopathy.