Unlicensed Practitioners

Unlicensed Practitioners

Unlicensed Practitioners

In the United States only licensed physicians and osteopaths can practice medicine.  All states define the practice of medicine broadly, as any activity involved in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or cure of a disease or medical condition.  Notwithstanding this broad definition, there are thousands of unlicensed health care practitioners treating patients in this country.  Many of them are Naturopaths or Homeopaths.

Homeopaths do not usually get into trouble with state or federal authorities, perhaps because homeopathic remedies are relatively inexpensive, and they are diluted to the point where a true homeopathic remedy has no trace of any active chemical or ingredient.  Not surprisingly, there are few adverse reactions to true homeopathic remedies. Of course, any practitioner, including a homeopathic who sells expensive products guarantying a cure might eventually have a problem.

Naturopathy has been around since the 19th century, originating in Europe.  By the 1930’s Naturopathy was popular enough to make it into the US Department of Labor’s listing of professions. There are now seventeen states (and DC and territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) which have licensed naturopaths.[1]  However, all of these states only license naturopaths who have graduated from a four year residential naturopathic medical college. There are only three such accredited colleges in the United States.

I believe that at this time, most of the naturopaths in business today are not graduates of the few accredited naturopathic medical colleges, but instead have taken a distance learning or correspondence courses from one of the many naturopathic learning centers.  Most of these centers confer or attempt to confer a “naturopathic doctor” or “naturopathic medical doctor” degree.  One of the problems with this type of degree is that some states prohibit an individual from calling him/herself a “doctor” unless they have graduated from a federal or regionally accredited school, and none of these distance learning centers have such accreditation.

It is my view that no graduate of a distance learning center should call himself a “doctor,” “naturopathic doctor” “naturopathic medical doctor” “ND”, “NMD” or anything which connotes or implies that the person is a doctor or physician. My position is not completely based on ethical or moralistic considerations.  It makes investigators and prosecutors see red when they get a complaint about a “Naturopathic Doctor” and they find out that the target has a “mail order degree.”  Calling yourself a “doctor” rather than a naturopath might be the difference between a prosecution and an investigator simply throwing away the complaint.  So my advice to the unlicensed holder of a distance learning naturopathic certificate is to call yourself a “Naturopath.”

There have been numerous state and federal criminal cases against “naturopathic doctors” over the last dozen years.  Usually the practitioners make a variety of unwise decisions, first and foremost calling themselves a “doctor” or an “ND.” For some reason, most of these folks also wear white lab coats with their name stitched on with the “Dr.” moniker and the “ND” or “NMD” at the end.  Makes the prosecutors see red.

The two main operational reasons why these folks get into trouble are that they treat patients with advanced disease, usually cancer. End-stage cancer patients often look for some life saving alternative after they are pronounced terminal and/or are close to death.  Enter the bold unlicensed “Naturopathic Medical Doctor” who oftentimes has received his/her degree from a defunct correspondance school.   If the patient dies while seeing the naturopath, the authorities will try to blame the unlicensed practitioner. Sometimes they may even be right to do so.

The other area which gets naturopaths into trouble is overselling supplements and herbs as a result of interro, electro-dermal, or electro-acupuncture testing devices which supposedly can diagnose “tendencies to”  cancer and other diseases before there is any conventional objective test or clinical evidence of such disease.  All of these devices are considered illegal by the FDA.

The trick that promoters use to sell these devices to practitioners is to point out that the basic machine is just a biofeedback machine, which is approved by the FDA.   However, what turns the machine into an illegal Class III medical device is the software or other instructions which correlate findings to the various conditions, diseases, allergies or any conclusion other than the original pure biofeedback data.   I believe there are only a few people out there making these devices.  Every couple of years the FDA cracks down, closes them down, and then they reopen under another name in a different location.

Among other problems with this diagnostic approach is that “patients hear what they want to hear.”  Regardless of how many times the practitioner explains that it is just a “tendency to cancer”, more often than not, the patient or client hears “You have cancer.”  Many practitioners have gotten into trouble for just this type of thing.

The best way for an unlicensed practitioner to stay out of trouble and remain under the radar screen is not to be the primary practitioner treating a patient or client with an advanced disease.  Better still: an unlicensed naturopath should not provide any care to people who are end stage and close to death. Many of these patients have serious complications and multiple system failures.  In my view, the training available in distance learning centers simply does not provide anywhere near the level of background necessary to provide a benefit to these patients.  The absolute worst thing a naturopath, (or any unlicensed practitioner) can do is to tell a terminal cancer patient that the treatment will or could cure the patient, or make them live longer. Prosecutors hate this, and they will leave no stone unturned until the practitioner is out of business and/or in jail.

[1] Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington