Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I don't often write about health issues per se. But a blog post I saw on this service today reminded me of an article that I read in the Seattle Times online edition a few months back. It got me thinking about the confusion created for consumers of natural medicine and the damage done to the integration of CAM into mainstream healthcare by people who use a title but who haven't demonstrated the character and commitment or done the academic and clinical work necessary to earn a degree.
You can read the article here. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004024299_miracle20m0.html
Let me preface an excerpt from that article and my comments about the subject of titles and diplomas with this. I have no problem with people believing whatever they like, including all kinds of dogma and holistic fictions. It's when they foist dogma and fictions on unsuspecting others who believe they are getting credible treatments that I get a bit incensed. And when credible alternatives are relegated to the fringe of medicine because of confusion in the marketplace about what a title actually represents then I feel compelled to say something.
Now, people with diploma mill degrees may try to justify their use of the diploma mill certificate by telling you that lay practitioners have a long history in healthcare. But the inconvenient truth is that this was back in the days when formal education was unavailable to the masses, and those lay practitioners spent years apprenticing to people with experience before setting out on their own. In our modern world, education is available to those who commit to it, and gaining clinical experience is necessary because healthcare decisions can be life/death decisions.
The story in the TImes is titled “Teen’s death hastened by practitioner who had bogus diplomas”
and was written by
Christine Willmsen and Michael J. Berens, both Seattle Times staff reporters.
Of particular interest, this bit:
“The Times found:
At least 104 unaccredited schools dole out alternative-medicine degrees or certifications that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Most operate only through the Internet or by mail order. The largest alternative health-care school in the United States, Clayton College of Natural Health, is an unaccredited home-study program that claims it has issued more than 25,000 degrees.
Some of the largest and seemingly independent health-care credentialing organizations are in fact controlled by one of two businessmen — one in Las Vegas, the other in Texas. Their organizations are mail-order factories that issue professional titles and hand out accreditations to more than 100 schools.
Many buyers of energy devices receive credentials and certificates from manufacturers who operate or sponsor training programs. Device operators use these titles to market themselves as health-care practitioners.
Meanwhile, the alternative-medicine schools that are accredited by the federal government are dismayed by the explosion of untrained and uncertified operators.
“They are using smoke and mirrors to confuse people by not disclosing the truth behind their accrediting agencies and their institutions,” said Dr. Jane Guiltinan, a naturopathic clinical professor at Seattle’s Bastyr University, one of the five schools of naturopathy that are accredited by a federally recognized institution.
Guiltinan is president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), an organization that requires that its members graduate from a four-year accredited college.
“To argue that you don’t have to have any training for diagnosing or treating patients is absurd,” she said."
What’s most interesting to me about this story is that there is nothing new here, except the quality of the article. I was writing about this back in the late 1990s as then-webmaster for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians
. Following the death of another person in Colorado at the hands of one of these diploma mill ‘doctors, I contacted a Denver television station, only to be rebuffed by a newsman who failed to be able to make a meaningful distinction about this.
People who have purchased these degrees after sending in a check and doing a minimal amount of "homework" are apparently not at all abashed about claiming to be what the degree they purchased says they are. I'm sure some of them made this choice innocently. They saw a quick way to get something they coveted, without considering what it really was and why they coveted it. But many more do it as an intentional shortcut, and their choosing to buy a degree is evidence of a lack of mental and emotional discipline. They do it knowing full well that they are taking an easy way, and simply hope never to be found out. They take advantage of the authority vested in titles without bothering to earn their own.
So another person dies. Maybe after a few more of these preventable deaths, the response in unlicensed states won’t be “So what?” but instead, “So what do we do?” And the answer, if you think about it, is obvious. States need to make it illegal for diploma mills to sell doctor degrees. Anyone calling themself a doctor and offering healthcare services ought to have gone to school, learned to accurately differentiate one condition from the next and how to diagnose illness, had their knowledge and treatment skills tested along the way, and be held accountable for their services by a licensing board. State legislatures that continue to neglect their responsibility in the face of an upswing in interest regarding complementary and alternative therapies are negligent and responsible for any further deaths of unsuspecting people who are left to fend for themselves as a result.
Meanwhile, whenever you see an article or blog or practice listing by someone calling themself a 'naturopath' or 'naturopathic doctor,' if you see that they are in an unlicensed state (you'll find a list of licensed states at the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website
), you may want to investigate the source of their credentials before granting them the credibility of a licensed professional. Caveat emptor, buyer beware.
As for anyone interested in buying their degrees without any academic discipline, I say this. Why bother? The diploma mill wins (They're trading their piece of paper for your actual money) but what's in it for you? Since you don't care enough to earn the degree, why not just print one of your own? Just make up a fancy name for your school and print up a degree. At least you can save yourself a few thousand bucks and get to the same result.
I blog three days a week on persuasive communication and life skills, at Dr. K's Blog