I went to naturopathic school at Bastyr University where my proclivity to think that natural medicine could greatly improve upon conventional medicine developed into a fully fledged naturalistic way of life. It is not unfair to say that my fellow classmates and I were brainwashed. We believed that we were being trained just like medical doctors but with the added bonus of learning the secret knowledge of harnessing the healing power of nature, which could somehow supersede science. I am already having flashbacks to my homeopathy classes.
By many societal measures, I was a doctor. I held a DEA number, so when I called in prescriptions to pharmacies I seemed just like other authorized practitioners. In some cases, I could bill my services to insurance companies and state health care programs. To many, the “ND” after my name appeared as a legitimate medical degree. My patients, family, and friends called me “Doctor Britt.”
I got to that point, it seems, because naturopaths aggressively lobby for laws to issue them medical licenses. I would characterize this political effort as a perverted redefinition of the words “physician,” “doctor,” “medical school,” and “residency” in order to mask the inadequacy of the training provided in naturopathic programs. ND students do not realize that they are taking educational shortcuts and therefore do not possess any demonstrable competencies found in modern medicine. Instead, NDs go on to make money by fooling themselves that they are legitimate doctors, while not taking a moment to question the validity of their methods, even in the face of criticism levied by the scientific community. I didn’t realize that this sort of parochialism is a defining feature of my former profession until I unexpectedly found myself in a nerve-rattling situation.
While in practice in Tucson, Arizona, I discovered that my former boss, a licensed naturopathic doctor, had been importing and administering a non-FDA approved drug to cancer patients, many of whom were terminally ill. I had been helping him give various intravenous injections and drips to many of his patients because his schedule was busy. It turned out that under his orders I had unwittingly administered this drug to several patients.
The same day I resigned from my practice, I received a call from a close mentor, who happened to be a former president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. This friend tried to convince me I should ignore the advice I had received from my newly hired lawyer to report my boss’s criminal activity to the regulatory board and state attorney general. His words suggested that ethical and legal transgressions, like the one before me, were prevalent in the naturopathic community and tolerated due to the special kind of medicine we were practicing.
Indeed, his assessment was correct. When I started to look at licensed naturopaths across North America, I found appalling examples of professional misconduct and unethical treatments advertised online or discussed favorably on social media communities. I eventually learned that the drug my former boss was importing, named ukrain, had a sordid history at the hands of charlatan chemist in Austria, who is now facing criminal charges of commercial fraud. My boss ended up with a token punishment of a warning letter. His errant behavior was not egregious enough for the authorities to revoke or suspend his license, levy a fine, or require him to return the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars he billed patients. I had to extradite myself from naturopathy. I had to speak out against this profession.
It is true, I am a bit bitter about being duped into thinking I was a real doctor. I borrowed over $250,000 in federal loans for a fake medical education, which, by the way, is how much one can borrow to pay for real medical school.
Now that I am largely past the heartache of losing friends, a livelihood, and a quarter of a million dollars, I am trying to be grateful for my scientific rehabilitation. My accidental involvement in my former boss's reprehensible activity and being urged to turn a blind eye led me to re-evaluate my belief system. Prior to this seminal moment, I was skilled at ignoring information that I did not agree with. Today, I can no longer disregard the inconvenient fact that I was a quack.
I am currently completing a Master of Science program in biomedicine, while trying to understand my journey into, and out of, magical ways of thinking. Along the way, I am exploring why I have a (surprisingly persistent) bias toward naturalistic philosophies, how to think critically, and what can be done to educate the public to prevent mistakes resembling mine or those of my former patients who only wanted to be treated by a doctor like me.
Science 2.0 offers a great platform to raise awareness of the corruption of the scientific enterprise and epidemic of deluding social currents towards magical ways of thinking. For example, I often wonder how the authors of research studies feel about their work being used by alternative medical practitioners to sell patients on dubious diagnoses and treatments. I plan to find out and write about it here, among other issues relating to the interface of quackery with scientific institutions. Having been one of these practitioners myself, I have a unique perspective to help unravel these pseudoscientific transactions.
Starting over is hard but not impossible. I’ll take the challenging work of a science-based career any day over a life acting as a fake doctor. I hope you will join me as I continue to engage with the world of science now that I am out of the rabbit hole.