A Pair o’ Docs

These naturopathic physicians complement traditional medicine and each other

by Liz Schick

Molly Fleming, N.D., LAc., a licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, shares offices with Donna Powell, N.D., LAc., at Health Resolutions Main Street in Burlington. Fleming was active in the effort a few years ago that led to the licensing of naturopathic physicians by the state.

Naturopathic physicians are licensed by the state of Vermont to diagnose and treat patients using the same tools and tests used by medical doctors. Patients are generally people seeking an alternative to traditional medicine or those who do not wish to ingest synthetic chemicals. Donna Powell, N.D., LAc., is also an experienced hypnotherapist.

In 1993, when physicians Molly Fleming and Donna Powell opened the offices they share at 41 Main St. in Burlington, they carefully chose the name Health Resolutions as the most descriptive of their practices. Fleming and Powell are licensed naturopathic doctors (N.D.) and acupuncturists, certified by the National Council for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

“We resolve health problems people are having, without using synthetic chemicals,” says Powell, “and we don’t do major surgery. Other than that, we are general practitioners, with concern for the entire family. We are licensed by the state to diagnose and treat patients, using the same tools and tests used by M.D.s. We refer patients to other physicians when there is a condition beyond our scope or that requires a synthetic drug.”

Patients come from two groups, says Fleming: “people who are looking for an option to traditional medicine because they feel they are not getting the help they need, and those who are naturally inclined and want no toxins induced or ingested into their bodies. As you can imagine, we do a lot of patient education.”

The education starts with an explanation of naturopathic medicine by Fleming.

It stems from the words “nature cure,” she says, a popular movement in Germany around the end of the 18th century that incorporated the idea of living a healthy lifestyle through diet and nutrition, and used herbs, health spas and hydrotherapies to achieve its goals. About the same time, a German physician developed homeopathy, a specific modality that uses herbs, minerals, salts and minute amounts of some animal products such as hormones or bee venom, which are made into “natural” remedies. Both modalities together make up naturopathic medicine.

Fleming has educated more than patients. In 1992, she began a lobbying effort in Montpelier to have naturopathic physicians licensed by the state of Vermont. “It took four years of educating legislators about what we do: how it is different as well as how it is similar to traditional healthcare; how our standards are similar in terms of education; and why it is important to offer options to people who want more natural forms of healthcare.”

During that legislative process, Fleming also spent countless hours informing elected officials and the public at large, about the large group of independent-minded people who have what she calls a “‘˜we-can-take-care-of-ourselves philosophy.’ They avoid doctors whenever possible,” she says. “Naturopathic medicine, because it gives people tools and knowledge about how they can take care of themselves, is consistent with that very Vermont philosophy.”

She strongly believes it’s not right to block people’s choice to have an alternative. “If alternative medicine helps to keep people healthy, it will ultimately cost the state less money. Allowing it to be licensed, so the public can be assured of receiving responsible, dependable health care, makes good sense.”

Thanks in large measure to Fleming’s efforts, in 1996 naturopathic physicians became licensed through the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulations’ Naturopathic Advisory Board.

Fleming gives this administration and its predecessor credit in seeking to understand where today’s health care dollars are going. “They really do understand that chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease use up most of the available money,” she says. “As a result, there is now a chronic care initiative, for which the department of health has put together focus groups consisting of practitioners from different professions - chiropractic, naturopathic, acupuncture, geriatric - to discuss the most effective ways to treat chronic disease.”

She remains active in Montpelier because, she says, there is still a need. For example, in past town meetings about health care insurance, people have indicated that, in addition to access to health care insurance, they want coverage of alternative medicines. Continued work by Fleming and others has helped to initiate a bill (S23 and H98) that will reimburse naturopaths for services already covered when performed by other physicians and nurse practitioners.

“Finally,” Fleming says with a laugh, “and then I’ll get off my soap box, I need to explain that the name, ‘alternative medicine’ is changing. Many feel that what we do is complementary to traditional medicine, so it became ‘complementary and alternative medicine.’ With American’s great love of acronyms, we are now CAM: Complementary Alternative Medicine. The good news, whatever we are called, is that medical schools are beginning to do more CAM education. UVM, for example, is planning to have a CAM Institute next summer and has already had guest speakers on the topic.”

Powell agrees that people don’t easily understand what naturopaths can do for them. “What’s neat is that we offer an eclectic service,” says Powell. That includes acupuncture, ultrasound, manipulation of the spine, herbal, dietary supplement and nutrition information, hypnosis, biofeedback, homeopathy, hypnotherapy - Powell is an experienced hypnotherapist - or frequency-specific microcurrent, a state-of-the-art treatment for nerve and muscle pain, one of Fleming’s specialties. Both Fleming and Powell are experts in the proper use of herbs, give support treatment to cancer patients, work with food sensitivities and allergies, and do full physical and gynecological examinations.

The physicians see a full rage of maladies in the course of a day. “One of the biggest differences people find with our practice is that we take half an hour or more with each patient,” Powell says. “In traditional medicine, doctors today spend an average of six and a half minutes with each patient. Taking the time to observe and listen to patients makes a huge difference in the quality of care.”

What Fleming and Powell do is as interesting as how they came to do it. Coincidences abound. For example, both grew up outside of Buffalo, N.Y., but never met there.

Powell received a bachelor of arts in psychology from SUNY-Oswego and was planning to become a clinical psychologist. However, after working in a school for emotionally disturbed boys where she observed their hyper-reactions to candy, she changed her own diet. When she experienced positive results, she decided on a career in the kind of medicine in which dietary influences were considered.

Fleming attended SUNY-Binghamton as a liberal arts major and then changed to pre-med at Southern Oregon State College, where she received a bachelor of science in biology, as she was planning to work in women’s health. After she and her mother suffered through health issues that weren’t helped by traditional medicine, but were by chiropractic, she decided to specialize in alternative medicine.

Mari Siegrest-Jones, the office administrator, has been with Health Resolutions a little over two years. She is helping the doctors in their search for larger quarters.

Another coincidence occurred when both attended the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore. They met, but didn’t stay in touch after graduation. In 1991, when Powell decided to move to Burlington a few months after Fleming had already settled here, a mutual friend put them back in touch. Each had her own practice, and in 1993, they made the decision to share an office.

Along the way, Powell married David Francis, and has a son and daughter. Ben, 18, attends Vermont Technical College; and Kiah, 15, goes to Burlington High School. Fleming isn’t married but the joy of her life is her soon-to-be-age-10 daughter, Zoe.

At the moment the women are intent on expanding their practices into a larger clinic setting, having outgrown their current offices, which are held together by front office manager Mari Siegrest-Jones. “Mari,” Powell says, “does everything but doctoring. She is our efficiency expert but, more importantly, she has a wonderfully calming way of working with people.”

They plan to incorporate an osteopath, an acupuncturist and a therapist-herbalist into their new offices. Says Powell, “We will be able to offer patients a full range of comprehensive, natural healthcare, expanding the already eclectic approach that is Health Resolutions.” •

Originally published in October 2005 Business People-Vermont