I’m Les Witherspoon, a formerly practicing naturopathic doctor (naturopath, if you prefer). My original education was in chemistry, with a minor in mathematics, and graduate classwork in biochemistry and immunology.
I entered Bastyr University’s Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program in 2006 and graduated in 2011. I practiced as a licensed ND until February 2019 in Seattle, WA. My focus was on LGBTQ health, transgender care especially. I also supervised student clinicians as an adjunct clinical supervisor at BU’s teaching clinic from January 2018 to February 2019. Since 2016 I have been the web admin for a pro- vaccine advocacy site run by naturopathic doctors, featuring articles discussing many of the misconceptions surrounding vaccination.
I graduated having already decided to use conventional care standards of care as the foundation of my practice, with natural therapies used as appropriate. My practice was mostly low-income patients, especially Medicaid; I took Medicaid payments, private insurance, and offered a sliding scale. While I saw a fair amount of transgender patients, the great majority of my practice was ongoing general care, rather than hormone therapy. I did not authorize cannabis, give IVs, perform B12 injections, treat cancer or sell detoxes. I was not fond of homeopathy, which I regarded as bad Victorian pop psychology dressed up as a placebo. I spent a fair amount of time discussing quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, getting vaccinations, and the benefits of undergoing the dread colonoscopy and mammograms.
I learned a lot in those years that I was in practice. And I am forever grateful to those patients who entrusted me with their care. They were my teachers, as patients always are, no matter what letters are after our names. My patients gave to me as much as I hoped they received. And I am grateful to the many colleagues, both naturopathic and conventional (MD, DO, ARNP, PA, RN, MA) who shared guidance and insight with me.
An encounter with a Seattle sidewalk in February 2019 resulted in a reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (rTSA) to repair a four-part proximal fracture of the left humerus. The accident and surgery precipitated my departure from practice. This was due to the initial severity, the long post-surgical recovery time, and the ongoing limitations. I am grateful to the colleagues who took over the care of my patients and the supervision of the student clinicians that I taught.
I am grateful I had the chance to serve people as their naturopathic doctor. And I was honored to supervise students at Bastyr Clinic for Natural Health. Still, at the time I fell, I had long been troubled by some aspects of naturopathic medicine. While the seeds of these doubts were planted while I was in naturopathic school, they grew during my time in practice.
As I practiced, following evidence based medical standards led me to look more critically at the studies presented in support of naturopathic therapies. This was reinforced by advocating for vaccination, which I focused on starting in early 2016. I began to upgrade my criteria for what I accepted as evidence for a therapy. These, in turn, led me to question many of the therapies and assumptions that underlie much of natural medicine in general, as practiced by naturopathic medicine. Much of the digging deeper into this had to wait until I was out of practice and had the time, however.
As of this writing, I am no longer in practice. I will continue to advocate for transgender rights and vaccines – and to advocate for scientific literacy and knowledge. And increasingly my attention is turning to public health. While in practice, I saw firsthand how socio-economic factors – income, discrimination, environmental pollution, the safety of a neighborhood, the availability of affordable housing and food, and the changes in the planet – affect health. I saw especially how they affect marginalized groups. We are not healthy in a vacuum. This has led me to focus on learning about public health, epidemiology, and the data analysis and coding skills that can help us make sense of the problems that we face. Through this, I hope to be able to continue to serve the health of the community as I tried to serve the health of my patients.