Maryland naturopathic doctors received a big win in the 2014 legislative session. After trying for many years, the state finally recognized Maryland naturopathic doctors as a profession and granted them licensure.
State to license naturopathic doctors
By: Alissa Gulin, Daily Record April 14, 2014
Individuals who wish to practice naturopathic medicine in Maryland will soon be able to become licensed to do so, a development cheered by the state’s small but vocal group of naturopaths.
Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill Monday making Maryland the 18th state to establish a licensure process for naturopathic doctors — practitioners who use natural therapies and emphasize disease prevention as part of a holistic approach to medicine.
For advocates of naturopathic medicine, that approval was a long time coming: The state’s medical society, MedChi, has effectively blocked similar legislation for the better part of a decade, and CEO Gene Ransom said the organization is hardly thrilled about the measure’s passage.
“We think people who have illnesses should go to real physicians who practice science-based medicine,” Ransom said, adding MedChi is pleased with several provisions in the bill that limit the scope of naturopaths’ practice, making Maryland one of the most restrictive states of those that offer licensure.
The bill establishes the Naturopathic Medicine Advisory Committee within the Maryland State Board of Physicians. The board, which will have ultimate oversight of the newly recognized profession, has nearly two years to set up the licensing process and create a regulations. Practitioners must become licensed by March 2016.
Once licensed, they will be able to diagnose and treat patients using a variety of natural therapies, such as natural supplements, and order diagnostic lab tests. They will not be able to prescribe prescription drugs, unlike in some other states.
For additional oversight, the bill requires each practitioner to develop a collaborative agreement with a physician — similar to the agreements between doctors and nurse practitioners. The bill also prohibits licensed naturopaths from describing themselves as “physicians.”
“We still have grave concerns about the practice in general,” Ransom said. “But those amendments make [the bill] a little more tolerable.”
But advocates say the state’s move signals an increased acceptance of the profession within the medical community and in the mainstream, and that licensure will help ensure the field’s legitimacy.
To become licensed as a naturopathic doctor, individuals must graduate from a four-year, accredited naturopathic medical school and then pass a licensing exam. Students study the same basic science curriculum taught in traditional medical schools but also learn alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, and focus on healing through the mind, body and spirit.
“[The law] will enable consumers to distinguish between licensed doctors who meet extensive education and training requirements and others who call themselves naturopaths but do not meet the state’s rigorous licensing standards,” said Emily Telfair, president of the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians, which will have to change its name.
Without regulatory oversight, anyone can claim to be a “naturopathic doctor,” even though practicing true naturopathic medicine is illegal in Maryland. For example, naturopaths here cannot prescribe any supplements; they can simply suggest a client go purchase them.
For that reason, only about 25 people practice elements of naturopathy here — “they’re essentially glorified health coaches,” Telfair said, adding she expects that number will double once licensing begins.
“People come to us when they’ve already been diagnosed,” said Telfair, who is a licensed N.D. in other states. We do counseling. We recommend herbs, vitamin therapies. We work to address the underlying cause of disease.”
Ransom, however, said MedChi members are concerned about what a license might convey to the public.
“We are very concerned from a public health point of view,” Ransom said. “Naturopaths don’t have the same education or training as physicians, so we feel that giving them any kind of authority that’s similar to that [of physicians] could be dangerous to the public.”