Alternative, holistic, and natural health care is still the Wild West of medicine. Licensing and regulation are not yet available for naturopathic medicine in a number of states, as well as for many other alternative medicine fields, so alternative medical educational standards are not yet universally uniform.

There are several kinds of research you can do to check out the credentials of people offering an alternative health care service or education. This kind of research is smart consumerism whether the credentials belong to someone who is running the educational program, is the author of a book, is selling you supplements, or is a practitioner.  

The first question to ask is the credential a degree or certificate? A certificate is usually held to a much lower educational standard than a degree and may be legit. However, because of this lower educational standard don’t expect it to be recognized by any state agencies or other institutions. Importantly, that doesn’t address the reliability of the knowledge taught in the program. This is where the teachers’ credentials become important. 

It is a much trickier issue for distance learning programs offering “degrees.” The different degrees (undergraduate: associate and baccalaureate; graduate: masters and doctorate) offered in the United States’ educational system have well standardized academic expectations. Thus, any kind of doctorate degree would be expected to require the highest level of academic rigor. However, there are a lot of “diploma mills” selling doctor degrees now for 10 to 20 times less money, time commitment, and effort than the legitimate degree.

Let me illustrate this in practical terms:

I have a doctor of naturopathic medicine degree (N.D.). It took me 4 years of undergraduate premed, 4 years of naturopathic medical school (including a 2-year clinical internship) and a one-year full-time residency to get my training. Plus it now takes as much as $80,000 to $100,000 to finish naturopathic medical college (thank goodness it wasn’t this expensive 25 years ago when I went!).

There are a number of diploma mills that will try to sell you a naturopathic “doctor degree” through the mail or Internet for $4,000 to $6,000. If you work hard at it you can finish the program in less than 6 months. I personally did an analysis of one of the more popular programs and I found the whole thing was maybe equivalent to one freshman semester of undergraduate college. Worse than that, its content was a dangerous mismatch of useful information and myths. Even the useful information was only at the academic level of any common book aimed at the average public, certainly far below the level of a freshman biology course.

It is important to always look at the credentials’ of the people who offer services or education in alternative health care. What are they? Where did they get them? Do they name of the college they graduated from? I find that people with legitimate degrees will almost always mention what college they got it from. If they fail to mention where the credential or degree came from, it is a good bet that it is made up or they bought it through the mail or on the Internet.

If they name the source of the degree there is one more step – look up who accredits the college. Many diploma mills have created their own legitimate-sounding accrediting agencies so it is important to investigate further. All legitimate colleges will be accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education. Such accreditation assures that the college is offering what it says it is offering. You can go to to see a list of all accredited colleges in the United States and their United States Department of Education recognized accrediting agencies.

These steps will pretty much save you from giving your hard earned money away to someone who does not deserve your confidence. As always, the knowledgeable consumer is a smart consumer.

UPDATE: On 11/20/07 the Seattle Times newspaper ran an detailed article about an alternative fake “doctor” who was convicted of negligent homicide in Colorado. The article goes on about how these kinds of people make themselves seem legitimate through collecting misleading or fake credentials. This article is a valuable read for all natural health care consumers: