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UB’s decision to phase out naturopathic medicine leaves incoming students at loose ends

April 6, 2019

When Madeline Guman found out one of only a handful of university-based Colleges of Naturopathic Medicine in the country was located 20 minutes away her house in Milford, she took it as a sign.

She had abandoned the idea of becoming a physician’s assistant a year and a half earlier and had been searching for a more patient-centered profession.

“I thought it was meant to be,” Gunman said of the University of Bridgeport’s naturopathic medicine program, which, like she, was 22 years old.

“This is what I was supposed to do,” she added.

Guman applied in January to the UB program and was elated when she got a phone call from a graduate admissions counselor at UB informing her she had been accepted for the fall of 2019.

As soon as an acceptance packet came in the mail, Guman sent in her $500 deposit, went online to sign up for a student ID and started thinking of herself as a Purple Knight.

A few short weeks later, Guman got a call from the same counselor.

“She said, ‘I am really sorry to tell you that the new president has decided they are going to close the program,’ ” Guman said.

Guman didn’t know what to say.

“I might have asked her if she was serious,” she said. “I was so dumbfounded.”

The decision

The call to Guman came a few days before the public announcement on March 25. UB was not only phasing out its naturopathic medicine program but a number of other of majors including martial arts, East Asian studies and Religion and Politics.

They will be replaced by programs in performing arts, computer engineering technology and a masters program in robotics and artificial intelligence

Combined, Provost Stephen Healey said there were about 100 students enrolled in the affected programs including 74 in naturopathic medicine. Those in the program now will be allowed to finish. Healey said the 14 students confirmed to attend the naturopathic Medicine program in the fall had their acceptances withdrawn, Guman among them.

Guman reached out to everyone she could, including Trombley.

She got an email back directing her to the Dean of the School of Health Sciences if she was interested in applying to one of UB’s other programs. She is not.

Trombley, who became president at UB last July, declined to comment. Her office said she was tied up this week with her inauguration ceremony set for April 6.

Frustrated, Guman started an online petition. She said she read that the new president wanted to take UB into a new direction.

“I hope (the petition) will show the school (naturopathic medicine) is a good direction,” said Guman. “It is a growing field.”

Or is it

With UB phasing out its naturopathic school, six accredited programs will remain across North America, according to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

One was to open in Maryland in 2018 but never did. The association could not say why. Admissions staff at Maryland University of Integrative Health confirmed their plans were canceled, saying only that the degree would be a major undertaking.

Most existing programs are on the West Coast, with one in Illinois and one in Canada.

Marcia Prenguber, director of UB’s naturopathic school, said her office is working with those student applicants who are interested in applying to other naturopathic programs and with those schools to find ways to make any possible redirection as smooth as possible.

Prospective students like Guman said they are not sure they have the resources to just pick up and relocate to where existing programs remain.

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession where the focus in on prevention, looking for the root causes of illnesses rather than suppressing symptoms, and using therapeutic methods and herbal substances that encourage self-healing.

Some 21 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands license naturopathic doctors, requiring them to graduate from accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical programs and pass a board examination.

Connecticut has allowed the practice for more than a century but with restrictions — such as the inability to write prescriptions — that lead many in the field to relocate once they get their license.

In Connecticut, there are about 275 practicing ND’s, according to the Connecticut Naturopathic Physicians Association, and more than 500 with the license to do so.

Healey said the decision to phase out the program came down to strategic data and revenue.

“It was about better hitting the center of the market of students interested in coming to UB,” he said.

The naturopathic medicine program has been at UB since 1997. It never grew the way officials initially thought it would, Healey said. A few years back, the program had 115 students, compared with 74 this academic year. The Class of 2022 has 14 students.

Some, like Dr. Kendra Becker, a UB grad and practicing naturopathic physician in Waterford, maintains the university never did anything to promote or showcase the program.

Healey said naturopathic schools nationwide have been experiencing a decline.

“Some are bouncing back. Possibly if we waited, ours would, too, but at 74 (students), it seems now is the time to decide it’s time to phase program out,” he said.

Healey said the changes have been considered for awhile. When Trombley came on board, she was prepared to support the changes, Healey added.

The wrong change?

Gunman earned her bachelor’s degree at Quinnipiac’s program in Hamden because it promised her a smooth transition into a physician assistant graduate program. In her senior year, she shadowed a physician’s assistant and found the routine wasn’t at all what she expected.

“One of the things I don’t like about the doctors is that you only get five minutes with them,” Gunman said. “PA’s ended up being almost exactly the same.”

So after graduating in 2017, Guman took time off. She was still interested in health sciences but wanted to shift gears. Someone suggested naturopathy. She was floored by the difference.

“The first visit, they generally spend an hour with you going over your diet, how much you exercise, what work you do,” Guman said. “They get to know you.”

She shadowed a naturopathic physician and sat in on a UB class.

“I was so excited to be on track to do something that was going to be a real career,” she said. “Something where I felt I could help people and feel good about work I was doing.”

Since the announcement, she has been in contact with some others who were accepted and then rejected from the program.

And she started her online petition.

As of April 3, some 106 people have signed it.

Some are in the same boat as Guman, saying their life has been turned upside down.

“I was ready to start, made plans to move closer to the school, leaving my current job, to start the program,” one petition signer wrote. “I am left feeling devastated.”

Others called it a blow to a profession that saves lives.

“I am a design student at UB,” wrote Courtney H. of Connecticut. “Last year I went through some difficulty in my personal life. I lost 10 pounds due to stress and an inability to eat. I reached out to the naturopathic clinic for help, and they completely changed my life.”

Another signer surmised the closure could affect the long-standing strides naturopathic medicine has taken the past few decades becoming more mainstream to the public.

Guman, meanwhile, is left to sort out her next step.

“I am definitely going to have to re-evaluate my path forward,” she said.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck