Naturopathic doctors could become licensed in Missouri under Republican-backed legislation
Emmayln Pratt has been surrounded by firefighters her whole life, growing up in Kearney, 30 miles northeast of Kansas City.
Her father is the local fire chief, and he’s part of a long line of firefighters in the family.
“I’ve lived the sacrifices that they make to be away from their families and put their lives on the line,” Pratt said. “But they’re also putting their health on the line.”
That’s part of the reason she decided to study at the Sonoran University of Health Sciences in Arizona to become a naturopathic doctor — or a primary care physician with a focus on holistic care. Pratt’s dream is to open her own practice in her hometown to, in part, help optimize the health of first responders.
But under current state law, Pratt couldn’t establish that practice in Missouri. Unlike Kansas and 22 other states, Missouri does not have licensing or registration laws for naturopathic doctors.
In states where the practice of naturopathic medicine is regulated, doctors are required to graduate from accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical programs and pass a postdoctoral board examination in order to receive a license or registration.
Because Missouri doesn’t have a licensing program, Pratt could consult with patients, but she couldn’t write prescriptions, order lab tests or many of the other things she’s trained to do.
Two Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation to establish that licensing structure in Missouri — state Sen. Nick Schroer of Defiance and Rep. Doug Richey of Excelsior Springs.
Richey said Emmalyn and her father, Kevin Pratt, brought the issue to his attention a couple years ago. He believes the legislation will provide Missourians with more opportunities for quality health care.
“As we continue to talk about the need for more access to healthcare in both rural as well as metro contexts, this is an area of medicine that is known to be effective,” Richey said. “There are other states that have formally recognized it as such.”
Dr. Emily Hudson, president of The Missouri Society of Naturopathic Physicians, estimates there are currently a dozen or more naturopathic doctors working in Missouri who could be licensed under the proposed legislation’s prerequisites.
“There’s also doctors practicing in other states that would very much like to come back to their hometown in Missouri,” she said.
And because of the country’s growing physician shortage that the American Medical Association announced in October, Hudson said passing the bill is urgent. The association estimates more than 83 million people nationwide currently live in areas without sufficient access to a primary care physician.
“With this physician shortage, we’re so poised to be able to step in and help,” she said. “Even further, providing safe, ethical and effective options for people.”
What is a naturopathic doctor?
Firefighters are exposed to harmful chemicals when they fight fires, Pratt said, and it puts them at risk for developing diseases.
“Those exposures are just so high, even in that short period of time,” she said.
Every year, Pratt’s father and first responders undergo blood work and stress tests to make sure they’re physically fit for duty.
“It’s supposed to be a form of prevention…so that they can get a handle on it early,” she said, if a condition is detected.
But where Pratt sees a gap is in someone guiding them through implementing the suggestions.
That’s where her practice would come in, she said, “to provide that naturopathic side of things for them so that they can make long-term changes.”
Beyond prescription medications, Pratt said she would focus on helping them maintain a healthy lifestyle and assisting them in natural ways to help their bodies detox.
At the core of naturopathic medicine is the idea of “treating the person first,” said Dr. Jamila Owens-Todd, a naturopathic doctor based in St. Louis.
“You don’t treat the illness,” she said. “You look at the person for who they are, and you see what the imbalances are.”
Owens-Todd is currently working with the Bullet Related Injury Clinic, a community-based clinic in St. Louis that helps people heal after they have been injured by a bullet.
There, she works alongside Dr. L.J. Punch, the clinic’s director who previously served as a trauma surgeon at Barnes Jewish Hospital while on faculty at Washington University School of Medicine.
“We work from inward outward, so to speak, and Dr. Punch gets that,” Owens-Todd said. “And not only gets that, but made a facility based on that.”
Naturopathic medicine lends to healing, she said, despite the demographic or socioeconomic boundaries or the severity of the illness.
And it requires extensive training, she said.
Currently, Hudson said there are numerous people using the title “naturopathic doctor” in Missouri who have not gone through the training that would be required under the licensing framework outlined in the bill.
If the bill passes, those who don’t have the required education will no longer be able to use the title.
“That title protection, that’s the utmost importance for the safety of Missouri,” Hudson said, “so that people don’t have to dig or feel confused about what type of practitioner they’re seeing.”