Naturopathic Medicine: Moving to Center Court in Health Care:Interview with Joseph Pizzorno, Jr., N. D.

Mr. Joe Pizzorno, N.D. is a friendly, energetic man, fit for the rigorous work-out demanded as founder and current president of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. He is author of two textbooks, and a full-time lecturer and promoter of the profession of Naturopathic Medicine. Like his favorite athletic sport, basketball, establishing naturopathy within the American health care mainstream calls for some fancy footwork, a fast-paced team effort and a few long shots. Recently, the Washington State Board of Insurance has ruled in favor of paying claims for naturopathic care – a landmark score for the “Natural Team”. It’s an exciting time for this emerging field! Eleven states have licensed naturopathy as a profession and with licensing comes new credibility and responsibility. In a few short years, naturopathy has come from the fringe to center court as an increasingly popular choice for those seeking medical attention without the high tech and prescriptions. But the stakes are high and the opponents are numerous. In l994 Americans spent over fourteen billion dollars on alternative health care, and some people don’t like these statistics at all.

In his textbook Encyclopedia of Naturopathic Medicine ..Dr. Pizzorno refers to the motto by Hippocrates which modern day naturopaths follow: Vis Medicatrix Natura. These three words, meaning through the healing power of nature, sum up the naturopath’s philosophy for the preventing and the treating of disease. Although naturopathy has been practiced informally through the centuries as the folkloric form of medicine found across the globe, only in 1895 was the term coined by Dr. John Scheel of New York City.

The Encyclopedia further recounts how, after gaining steam in the early part of the twentieth century, naturopathy ran headlong into the medical profession. In the 1930’s drug and chemical companies subsidized medical schools and backed legislation which helped turn allopathic medicine into a monopolistic field excluding other emerging health care systems. Naturopathic medicine sat it out on the bench for four decades until pioneers like Dr. Pizzorno, who graduated from National College’s Naturopathic Physician’s degree program, helped move it to public acknowledgement. These advocates of naturopathy are not looking for a great playoff competition between sides – allopathic medicine versus naturopathic medicine, although there are some people on both sides with their banners waving and wagers set. Health care in America is not a winner-take-all gamble. Most advocates of natural medicine would like to see an even playing field where the best of both sides can be fairly evaluated and successfully used to treat illness and insure health for all.

In this light the prestigious Cooper Institute and the Southwest Florida Endowed Chair of Nursing joined together to host the Conference on Complementary Medicine in Naples, Florida on March 16, 1995. It was there that I caught up with Dr. Pizzorno to ask him a few questions. We sat at an outside table enjoying the warm glow of the Florida sun and the pleasant din of the successful conference.

LB: Could you give us an overview of what is happening in the licensing movement now in naturopathy?

JP: There’s a lot of activity going on in seventeen states when I last checked! Colorado is probably the closest to gaining licensing, and then North Carolina. There’s a lot of activity going on in California too, but I think this state is going to be a tough nut to crack. It’s a very big place.

LB: Why is licensing so important?

JP: If you are a physician, an N.D. it’s a big deal. patients come to us expecting complete care, not just adjunct care. I think we are a threat to the medical profession because we represent a different way of thinking about a physician. Naturopathic medicine is a harder path to follow. For example, at Bastyr University we have programs in acupuncture too. This profession is licensed in thirty five states now; but it is relatively non-threatening because acupuncture is thought of as an adjunct therapy. I don’t think most professionals realize that Chinese medicine is a complete system of medicine, and there are many acupuncturists who want to start practicing more broadly.

LB: What do you think of the current vogue in correspondence schools, some of which are offering degrees by mail?

JP: I think that if a person is going to call themselves a physician, they have to have a physician’s training. You cannot do a complete training by mail order and call yourself a naturopathic physician. That is fraudulent. In this country it is a four year residence program. (Editor’s Note: Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash., National College in Portland, Ore., and the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix are the only three fully accredited programs in the U.S.)

LB: You have been deeply involved in helping develop naturopathic medicine into a viable and recognizable profession. Once you reach this goal what is to prevent you from mandating, regulating and defining the profession to the exclusion of many other viable options?

JP: Health food store owners have worried that natural medicines will be turned into prescription items, so naturopathic doctors can use them and natural food stores not. I am a very firm believer in people having health care access to whatever they want, whomever they want, whenever they want. I can’t say that my opinions are shared by everyone in the profession.

Some people would like to see only prescriptions. I do believe that this can be avoided through self-regulation. One of our strengths is our eclecticism and our ability to do, as naturopathic physicians, what is best for our patients.

One of the problems that the medical profession has gotten itself into is textbook medicine – that you do it this way or else. The main danger that may come is from the malpractice side, because malpractice lawyers always want to establish standards and practices. It may be that we are forced into standards and practices that are sufficiently rigorous that they decrease our effectiveness. Hopefully, we can avoid that danger.

LB: The G.O.P. is having a field day cutting programs and limiting funding for cutting programs for health care and research. How do you think this new direction in the federal government will affect the future of naturopathic medicine?

JP: Actually, the G.O.P’s “anti-regulatory” attitude may help us. Regulatory restrictions are the tool that certain parties have used to suppress alternative forms of medicine. The G.O.P. tends to encourage competition, so they may actually be good for us. We’ll have to see what happens.

LB: Will the unschooled, natural healer be forgotten in this momentum tostructure and legitimize the profession?

JP: We do have a place for them. I hope we don’t regulate them out of existence because that would be very foolish. We would like attract to Bastyr University people who have both an innate healing ability and commitment and who also want a high-tech level of skills. That’s the best of all.

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Written by Lane Badger

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