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An Open Letter to Life University
Students and Graduates

Allen J. Botnick, D.C.

Following Life University's recent loss of accreditation by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE)—and given the agency's lack of disclosure of the exact violations cited—many students have requested help in making sense of what is going on. Being a 1996 Life graduate, I have followed its downward spiral over the past few years and have decided to disclose information that I feel is needed to protect the public welfare and help current students evaluate their situation.

Several violations cited in the 2001 CCE site visit report involve patient safety. I feel that the continued operation of the Life University public clinics directly jeopardizes the welfare of the clinic's patients, including students who may be misdiagnosed, inappropriately treated, and receive unnecessary x-rays.

As I see it, the fundamental problem with the chiropractic training provided at Life University is that students are taught to prematurely assign a pseudodiagnosis of "subluxation" based on speculative criteria that fail to rule out other possible diagnoses based on the patient's complaints. Students are taught the incorrect idea that the examination procedures used by the Life University clinics are valid and definitive for establishing a diagnosis. As a result, they mistakenly conclude that it is not necessary to rule out conditions other than "vertebral subluxations." However, the examination procedures taught by Life University are unsubstantiated and do not lead to rational assessment.

This system follows the principles of Life University President Sid Williams's practice-management company Dynamic Essentials, which presumes that all patient complaints are caused by subluxations and warrant chiropractic treatment. Standard medical testing related to medical problems is not performed. In a 1989 publication called "The Meadowlands Experience," Williams instructed:

It is your primary responsibility to accept that patient if they have a vertebral subluxation, even though the deviation from the normal observations are there that would indicate a referral [1]

and

I accept all cases regardless of the condition. Now when you do that, what kind of potential do you got in your little town of four or five or ten thousand people...what do you see? All this potential.

Boilerplate examination procedures are used to avoid diagnosing patients with conditions that would necessitate a medical referral. Instead, all patients are inappropriately diagnosed as suffering from "vertebral subluxations" and considered suitable for chiropractic treatment.

This system is highly unethical because the diagnostic procedures used have not been proven valid for establishing the diagnosis. In 1997, Edward F. Owens, Editor of the Life University Chiropractic Research Journal, commented on this:

We have still not tackled the challenge of validating our own unique chiropractic clinical and research measures.... Also still lacking are demonstrations of the reliability and validity of measures of the direct neurological effects of the subluxation [3].

Instead of teaching students to use established differential diagnosis methods, the Life University administration implemented this questionable system. This switch has prevented students from realizing that the methods taught are inconsistent with current practices. In the same issue as the Owens article, Williams commented on the lack of foundation for his "separate and distinct" system:

I would like to see more work done emphasizing the fundamental ability of chiropractic to facilitate optimal homeostasis in the body and hence its wellness. Such research would help us establish our position as a separate and distinct health care modality [4].

The 2001 CCE site visit inspection report that resulted in probation confirms that this is exactly what was done. The inspectors concluded that patients were being misdiagnosed, inappropriately treated, subjected to unnecessary x-rays, and that the rights of research subjects were not being adequately protected. Here are some representative quotes taken from various parts of the report:

The program was unable to provide evidence that assures doctor of chiropractic degree candidates demonstrate an understanding of the clinical indications for and the relative value of diagnostic studies. Moreover, there was no evidence of demonstrating understanding of federal and state regulatory guidelines governing procedures and the use of equipment employed in diagnostic studies. . . .

Patient files reviewed reflect signs of blood or glucose in urine without evidence of a more sensitive or specific assessment. . . .

The team observed evidence of inadequate assurance of doctor of chiropractic degree candidate identification of the pathophysiologic process responsible for the patient's clinical presentation and natural history of the disorder. The Life University, School of Chiropractic, Clinician Handbook reflects that the "Principal Finding," the vertebral subluxation, is the primary cause of the patient's chiropractic problem. All patient charts reviewed revealed primary diagnoses of subluxation . . . .

Reasonable assessment and patient care plans are not reflected in a "SOAP" format as outlined in the Clinician Handbook. The team observed substantial evidence of care plans that were not consistent with the diagnosis and the pathophysiology and/or natural history of the disorder. Out of thirty random patient files reviewed most patients had a plan of care for twenty or more adjustments. In the patient files the majority presented for "wellness" care. . . .

The team is concerned that the protocol for mandatory x-rays results in unnecessary exposure of patients to ionizing radiation. The team recommends that the clinic modify its x-ray protocol to allow for more selective application of radiographic imaging based upon clinical findings. . . .

The team is concerned that the quantitative clinic requirements relating to interpretation of clinical laboratory data are not being met. The team recommends that the program provide students with the appropriate opportunities to correlate laboratory results with patient data to fulfill the required number of interpretation experience. . . .

The team recommends that the clinic modify its x-ray protocol to allow for more selective application of radiographic imaging based upon clinical findings. . . . [5]

Endangering and defrauding patients for the sake of profits is the most serious betrayal possible for any health care professional. Keeping this in mind, I am appalled by a 1989 statement from Williams that advises clients (including students) that their concern for potential patient injuries as a result of the failure to diagnose should not concern them:

I'm asking you: what do you want? What do you really want to do? Do you want to be afraid every time you adjust a patient, because you don't know what's wrong with him? What kind of disease does he have? They've all got diseases. The minute we're born aren't we going downhill? How many people have been here a long time? I notice a lot of my friends; they keep disappearing. Do you know what I'm saying [6]

I personally believe that these statements indicate extensive corruption within the administration of Life University. That sentiment, combined with the CCE observations that faculty are unqualified and the curriculum is inadequate, lead me to recommend that all students should limit their losses (and financial support of this administration) by immediately disassociating themselves from Life University. Those who attended Life during the period when it lost accreditation are eligible to join a class action lawsuit that was has been certified by the superior court of Fulton County Georgia. Interested parties should contact attorney Yehuda Smolar; 101 Marietta Street Northwest; Atlanta, GA 30303. Phone (404) 525-3900

  Sincerely,

Allen J Botnick BA, DC
Email: aljbotnick@yahoo.com

References

  1. Williams S. The Meadowlands Experience. D.E. International, 1989, pp 43-44.
  2. Williams S. The Meadowlands Experience. D.E. International, 1989, p 87.
  3. Owens E. Follow your leaders. Chiropractic Research Journal 4(2), 1997.
  4. Williams S. Researching the role of chiropractic in improving homeostasis. Chiropractic Research Journal 4(2), 1997. ,
  5. Life University Letter of Response to CCE Site Visit, May 16, 2001. pp 39, 40-42, 68, 69, 87.
  6. Williams S. The Meadowlands Experience. D.E. International, 1989, p 20.

___________________

Dr. Botnick attended Life College from 1992 to 1996. His article about the school's assemblies provides a vivid description of the school's atmosphere. His Chirotalk Forum contains further skeptical discussion of chiropractic.

Reader Response

November 26, 2002

Dr. Botnick,

I was relieved when I read your "open letter" to Life University students. I am glad someone in the field is thinking of the student. Thank you. I just wish the CCE had an "open letter" to the student now and years ago when this all started. They only have an "open letter" to the profession on their site. Do not get me wrong. I know Sid Williams forced the hand, but I just feel CCE could of let the student know sooner the "seriousness" of their concerns. If Life University was not going to let the student know, which is quite evident now, then CCE should of stepped in purposely to let the student know or make the transition of the "loss of accreditation" less devastating. Allowing any student with less then a year left to get thru the program. This being the CCE's only interest is the "public and the student" and not "politics"(?).

I was a 13th Qtr. student until October and a cautious 12th Qtr. student before then. I saw myself what you witnessed in the Life University clinics when you attended. It made me sick and not want go to clinic. I assure you alot of my classmates felt the same. Should a "higher education" be this way? Especially at a high cost? The clinics of Life University were not driven by education but by monetary purposes disguised by an educational process. And that unfortunately is how some "future Chiropractors" graduated with values as such.

I was not alone in my efforts to become a Chiropractor it was the support and love of my family and some friends that made this happen. For me, that is the saddest part of this situation and makes me frustrated. I would give up any "monetary compensation" just to see Sid Williams sit in jail for some time in his "golden years". Maybe, some of his family and extended family (board of trustees) could keep him company.

Thank you for reading and listening! Now, I am off to [another school] for 15 mos. and leave the Southeast and Life University behind. Happy Holidays!

 

In good health,

(Name withdrawn by request)

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This page was revised on January 25, 2004.