In a move that promotes consumer access to natural medicine in California, lame duck Governor Grey Davis signed legislation that extends licensure to clinically trained naturopathic doctors (NDs) on September 21, 2003. Senate Bill 907, which was authored by California Senate President John Burton and sponsored by the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians (CANP), took effect on January 1, 2004.
With licensure, NDs now can legally participate in public health projects, integrative healthcare teams, and research opportunities in California. In addition, licensure is a critical first step to including naturopathic doctors in HMOs, private insurance plans, and government health programs. Several schools, including Bastyr University in Seattle, have expressed interest in starting ND training programs in California in the near future.
This new law1 establishes the Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine within California’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The Bureau will be charged with defining the parameters of the licensure process, and ensuring that the spirit of the new law is maintained as rules and regulations are developed. The process of issuing licenses to California’s NDs will probably commence in the fall of 2004 as the regulatory bureau and infrastructure are put into place.
Under this new bureau, NDs will be licensed as independent doctors, able to diagnose and treat disease, order lab work and diagnostic imaging studies, perform physical exams, and utilize the full spectrum of natural therapies such as nutrition, botanical medicines, homeopathic remedies, hydrotherapy, and independently prescribe both natural and synthetic hormones. NDs will be able to furnish other prescription medications in collaboration with a medical or osteopathic physician; an advisory committee will review the education, testing and safety record of the profession and make recommendations to the legislature by January 2006 regarding this aspect of practice.
SB 907 reserves the titles "ND", "Doctor of Naturopathy" and "Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine" for those licensed under this law, and makes it a misdemeanor to use those titles without being licensed as a California ND. All states that license naturopathic physicians require a doctoral-level resident course of 4,100 hours (four full years) of study from a college or university recognized by the state regulatory body. Naturopathic medical education includes the biomedical sciences (such as anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, pathology and differential diagnosis) as well as the study and application of natural principles and therapies (such as clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine, and health counseling).
SB 907 keeps the title "naturopath" in the public domain and allows its use by others who have not completed the education necessary to be licensed as a naturopathic doctor. Clarification of the educational requirements for the use of the title ND gives consumers the ability to discern between these two different practitioners who draw from the same philosophy but whose education and scope of practice is significantly different.
The scope of practice outlined in SB 907 is non-exclusive and does not prevent anyone from providing health supportive consultation, recommending or selling dietary supplements, herbs, homeopathic remedies and other natural therapies. In 2002, California State Senator John Burton (D-San Francisco) also sponsored SB 577, the "health freedom bill," which became law in January 2003. SB 907 is in complete harmony with SB 577 and represents the next step in improving consumer access to an array of natural healthcare providers.
Establishing legal access to NDs in California allows the profession the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the conventional public health system and other healthcare professionals to educate and empower Californians in cost-effective, health-promoting strategies and disease prevention.
From the beginning of the legislative process of SB 907, the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians articulated the principles of accessibility, affordability, and accountability in natural medicine. As SB 907 moved through the legislature, support for these principles in the consumer, healthcare provider, legislative, and regulatory communities became clearly evident. Passage of SB 907 makes California the 13th state to license NDs.
Sally LaMont earned her ND degree at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon in 1981 and trained as an acupuncturist at Emperors College of Oriental Medicine in Santa Monica, California. She practiced both naturopathic medicine and acupuncture in Oregon before moving to San Rafael, California, in 1994. Frustrated by the inability to practice as an ND in California, she took a sabbatical from practice to serve as Executive Director of the California Association of Naturopathic Physicians during its campaign to license NDs in California.
1. The Naturopathic Doctors Act (SB 907). Now codified as Section 3610 in the California Business Professions code. Available online: <www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/bill/ sen/sb_0901-0950/sb_907_bill_20030922_chaptered.html>.