The Bloody Work of “Naturopathic Doctors” with Britt Hermes

From The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry:

Susan Gerbic
July 25, 2017

Britt Marie Hermes is a writer, scientist, and former naturopathic doctor who will be speaking at CSICon on Friday, October 27 at 11:30 a.m. Her lecture is titled “The Bloody Work of ‘Naturopathic Doctors.’”

Susan Gerbic: Hello Britt Marie. You seem to be everywhere these days, at least all the podcasts I listen to. I’ve heard your story several times and am looking forward to meeting you in person in Las Vegas at CSICon. Your story is so compelling; there is something about someone so involved in pseudoscience and then educating themselves out of that belief, and in your case becoming so outspoken about your past life. Can you please tell everyone your story?

Britt Marie Hermes: That form of pseudoscience was “naturopathic medicine.” Some people may not have heard of it because it’s been relatively obscure until the last decade or so. Now naturopaths are all over the place with detoxes, homeopathy, and a whole suite of “treatments” ranging from herbal enemas to intravenous injections of herbs and vitamins. They are also claiming that they are “medically trained.”

So, I was one of these “naturopathic doctors.” I went to a school near Seattle named Bastyr University, which told prospective students that its curriculum was “just like” medical school. It was a lot of work at times, but we spent it learning pseudoscience and magical theories that was mixed with just enough real medicine to make it believable. When I graduated in 2007, I fully believed I was a doctor. In Washington state, where I was first licensed, I was even legally allowed to call myself a physician.

In Arizona, where I practiced until 2014, I used the title “naturopathic medical doctor.” I had a Federal DEA number that allowed me to prescribe some controlled substances. In my practice, I commonly prescribed drugs and ordered tests like X-rays, MRIs, and blood work. These signifiers of medical legitimacy reinforced the fantasy that I was a doctor, but none of us have the right training to have any medical responsibility. There is also a political aspect. Naturopaths lobby state and federal lawmakers to have this medical responsibility and to self-regulate, which means self-protection to allow the quackery to go on.

Gerbic: I believe you were beginning to have doubts about your profession as a naturopath, but it was an unethical and, possibly, illegal incident that finally pushed you to leave. Is that correct?

Hermes: It was easy for me to brush off doubts while I was in practice. I had been doing it since my time at Bastyr. I remember finding critical information about naturopathy on websites such as Quackwatch or Science-Based Medicine. My response was to think those critics just didn’t understand. They didn’t know me or my philosophy.

I believed naturopathic therapies were inherently safe since they were “natural.” I thought that all alternative therapies, such as herbs, homeopathic substances, ozone gas, water, and other bizarre treatments you may cringe at, were effective because we were taught them in school. Why would the schools teach us treatments that didn’t work or that were dangerous? I was incredibly naive and, obviously, not a good critical thinker. I suffered from an appeal to nature, confirmation bias, and Texas sharpshooting.

My perspective abruptly changed after I discovered my former boss was importing and administering a non-FDA approved drug to cancer patients. This is a federal crime. Under my boss’s orders, I administered this drug to patients, and I still feel sick about it. I immediately confronted my boss and resigned. I reported my boss to the naturopathic regulatory board in Arizona. Then, I spoke with an investigator at the Attorney General. Afterward, I spoke with a naturopath and mentor who encouraged me to keep working with my former boss. He said this incident wasn’t a big deal; I was a naturo-path after all.

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