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“Dr.” Tad Sztykowski: One reason why acupuncture should not be licensed

Tad Sztykowski is an acupuncturist who lost his acupuncture license for misrepresenting himself as a physician. His case is a good illustration of why licensing quack specialties like acupuncture is bad policy.

The weekend was rather busy, and, because I had an obligation to produce material for my not-so-super-secret other blog yesterday, So, uncharacteristically, there wasn’t a post. Yesterday was pretty busy, too; so there almost wasn’t a post today. However, I came across a fun little story (well, maybe not to its subject) that is useful in illustrating the absurdities of licensing quackery. It comes, thanks to one of my Google Alerts, from the local Rhode Island ABC affiliate, and it’s about a man named Tadeusz A. Sztykowski:

Dr. Tad Sztykowski, who owns the centers for integrative medicine and healing in Providence, says he’s been treating patients for three decades.

But he was arrested and jailed recently for practicing acupuncture without a license.

“Good people cannot be punished like this, okay?” he said, fighting back tears.

Sztykowski says he had a Rhode Island license until 2017, when he moved to Florida — where he maintains a license.

Of course, “Dr.” Tad Sztykowski is an acupuncturist. Although he apparently has an M.D., his “degree” that he uses professionally is his D.Ac, “doctor” of acupuncture. Acupuncture, of course, is a fairly regular topic on this blog. That’s because it’s a form of quackery that seems to serve as a “gateway quackery” in academia, after which follows the more hardcore quackery. The whole concept of acupuncture is that you can somehow heal disease and relieve symptoms by “unblocking” the flow of mystical magical life energy (a.k.a. qi) by sticking thin needles into “meridians,” channels for that mystical life energy that have never been demonstrated to exist or correspond to any anatomic structures, albeit not for the lack of trying by believers in acupuncture. Of course, as I’ve described on more than one occasion, the filiform needles weren’t even used until the 1930s. They were invented by a man named Cheng Dan’an. Before that, acupuncture used large needles much more like lancets, and was very much more like that traditional “Western” medical quackery from centuries ago known as bloodletting. In reality, as described by a Scottish surgeon named Dugald Christie in a book about his three decades working in China from 1883-1913, acupuncture was brutal:

Chinese doctors own that they know nothing at all of surgery. They cannot tie an artery, amputate a finger or perform the simplest operation. The only mode of treatment in vogue which might be called surgical is acupuncture, practised for all kinds of ailments. The needles are of nine forms, and are frequently used red-hot, and occasionally left in the body for days. Having no practical knowledge of anatomy, the practitioners often pass needles into large blood vessels and important organs, and immediate death has sometimes resulted. A little child was carried to the dispensary presenting a pitiable spectacle. The doctor had told the parents that there was an excess of fire in its body, to let out which he must use cold needles, so he had pierced the abdomen deeply in several places. The poor little sufferer died shortly afterwards. For cholera the needling is in the arms. For some children’s diseases, especially convulsions, the needles are inserted under the nails. For eye diseases they are often driven into the back between the shoulders to a depth of several inches. Patients have come to us with large surfaces on their backs sloughing by reason of excessive treatment of this kind with instruments none too clean.

Anyway, that’s the history, and that’s the “healing art” that Sztykowski practices. Apparently both Rhode Island and Florida license acupuncturists, unlike Michigan, although certainly acupuncturists and supporters of quackery are trying to get it licensed here too. As I’ve said time and time again, if you license pseudoscience, what happens is that the quacks are the ones who define that pseudoscience and determine the standards of “practice” for it. In brief, state licensure of quackery legitimizes that quackery.

In any case, Sztykowski is very good at making excuses:

He says a different doctor ran his Providence office with a license, until she suddenly quit in July.

Sztykowski says that forced him to come back to Rhode Island to help for the rest of the summer.

He says he told every patient the same thing up front.

“I have no license,” he said he told patients. “Is it okay with you if I give you treatments? If not, you have the complete right to go home right now, get your money back if you want.”

Yeah, if I let my license lapse and tried to treat patients, I don’t think the state would let me get away with the excuse that I told patients I wasn’t licensed in Michigan.

Personally, I can’t help but observe that it doesn’t matter if Sztykowski was licensed or not. He was practicing quackery based on prescientific ideas about how the body works whose history was retconned under Chairman Mao Zedong into something that could be exported to the West. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that, if you’re going to license quackery and can’t even meet those low scientific standards defined by that quackery, it’s fairly pathetic if you can’t even be bothered to stay licensed.

It also turns out that there was more to the story than Dr. Sztykowski lets on. First, to its great shame, a local radio station, WPRO, employed Sztykowski as its health expert. There’s more, though. He had to surrender his acupuncture license in 2017:

WPRO’s healthcare expert — and regular on WPRI’s The Rhode Show — has been forced to surrender his medical license for multiple violations. Dr. Tad Sztykowski agreed to stop practicing medicine in a consent agreement for a range of charges including practicing medicine without a license.

Besides his paid show of WPRO AM, “Dr. Tad” as he is marketed, has also appeared more than a half-dozen times on WPRI’s pay-to-appear day-time show The Rhode Show.

On both radio and TV shows, Dr. Tad always presented him as a physician.

“He is renowned for his superior diagnostic skills which makes his clinic one of the largest and most sought after in the U.S.,” says WRPO’s Website. The show continued on WPRO this weekend although a staff member filled in for Dr. Tad.

Basically, Sztykowski entered into a consent agreement with the Rhode Island Board of Acupuncture to to permanently surrender his Rhode Island license as a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine as well as to cease to “advise, treat, diagnose, prescribe, or suggest therapies”, alternative or otherwise. Apparently Sztykowski did go to medical school in Poland in the 1980s (that rather reminds me of Stanislaw Burzynski), but as far as I’ve been able to ascertain never did a residency and never got a medical license in any state. Moreover, he was very blatant about misrepresenting himself:

The order stated that he presented himself repeatedly as a licensed physician. “In Respondent’s professional communications, including but not limited to advertising, marketing, and promotional materials for the Centers for Integrative Medicine and Healing, Respondent’s professional school of practice shall be designated by the term “Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.”

WPRO’s bio of Dr. Tad claims, “Dr. Tad has delivered more than 5,000 newborns, performed 2,000 surgeries, has treated more than 40,000 patients with both Western Medicine and Oriental Medicine and is a licensed M.D. in 28 Countries.”

In reality, “Dr.” Tad’s practice, Centers for Integrative Medicine & Healing, is a typical quack practice. He treats basically everything with acupuncture, including, it would appear, cancer:

This is basically an alternative medicine cancer cure testimonial, in which a man with what was thought to be a recurrent brain tumor decided to forego chemotherapy and do acupuncture instead. Regular readers have seen these sorts of stories all the time, particularly with Stanislaw Burzynski. Most likely, what happened, was that whatever was seen on MRI was not actually recurrent cancer. It’s impossible to know without a tissue diagnosis, of course, and no surgery was done.

This brings us to the question at the heart of licensing quacks: Who protects the public if quacks are licensed, given that it is the quacks themselves who determine what is the “standard of care” for their quackery? I hate to quote a malpractices lawyer’s site because I am a doctor and my opinion of malpractice lawyers is in line with that of most doctors, but this particular article asked some good questions:

The standard of care thus becomes a central issue for malpractice claims against alternative medicine practitioners. How so? Medical decisions made by CAM doctors cannot be judged against the same standard as methods used by the practitioners of standard medicine due to the very definition of alternative medicine. Otherwise, to administer alternative treatment could be viewed as malpractice in and of itself – after all, it is not common that a practitioner of standard medicine refers a patient to an alternative medicine doctor. Therefore, in the opinion of most courts that weighed in on the matter, CAM practitioners should be judged according to the standards of the field in which they are licensed. This means that an acupuncturist might be charged with medical malpractice if he or she administered a treatment inconsistent with, or outside of the scope of, the established standard of acupuncture, or if they simply made a mistake and injured a patient, for example by inserting a needle too deep and puncturing the patient’s lung. What happens, however, if a CAM practitioner is presented with a patient whose condition potentially excludes an alternative treatment? Does the standard of care require the practitioner to have sufficient knowledge and abilities to recognize this? What if he or she accepts this person as a patient and administers CAM treatment anyway?

The problem with licensing quacks is that the answers to these questions are not straightforward, even though they should be. That’s just one detrimental effect of licensing quackery like acupuncture, both on medicine and the law.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

28 replies on ““Dr.” Tad Sztykowski: One reason why acupuncture should not be licensed”

Acupuncture should be licensed. For example, immunologic skin-creams are being developed as a means to induce a therapeutic immune response; acupuncture compliments the dermal absorption process. Improper safety and sterilization techniques during the acupuncture process could adversely affect a patient’s immune response. Therefore, acupuncture should be licensed in an effort to “compliment” forward thinking conventional-medicine techniques.

Re. “acupuncture compliments the dermal absorption process.” How so? By making tiny little holes in the epidermis, the better for the medicine to leak through after the needle is removed? If that’s so, then why bother with all the ritual, when sterilized sandpaper ought to to an even better job?

Interesting point, Gray Squirrel. Sometimes you have a good nut on your shoulders. Today. although, you’re to abrasive.

Acupuncture should be licensed.

Why offer something that doesn’t work (as shown repeatedly)? Are you so completely lacking in ability that you can’t understand the studies that show it is worthless?

(Looks back at mjd’s posting history.)

Oh, yes, you are that completely lacking in ability.

dean writes,

Looks back at mjd’s posting history.

MJD says,

Thank you, dean. Your respectful insolence is loud and clear. Independent of my abilities, acupuncture is popular and possibly useful as a science-based secondary treatment to enhance immunotherapy.

possibly useful as a science-based secondary treatment to enhance immunotherapy.

Thanks for confirming my comment.

re ” immunologic skin creams are being developed as a means of inducing a therapeutic immune response”

Of course they are! And who, pray tell, are developing them?
Oh, MJD & Co. He told us so right here at RI. For stage 4 cancer, was it?

There was a presenter at a stem cell conference I was just at who was talking about localized application of stem cells on full-thickness burns to prevent cytokine storms. But that’s not even in human trials yet, so that’s clearly not what MJD is talking about.

MJD and some guy are inventing a skin cream to treat stage 4 cancer via allergic response (?). There is a website
( isn’t there always a website ?) but I forget the name.

. . . acupuncture compliments the dermal absorption process.

Arguing facts not in evidence. Citations, please. Preferably not by the noted practitioner and experd, MJD.

sirhcton spelled backwards is “not chris.” Do you want to talk about it? Deep psychological problems need to be addressed even when you’re one of Orac’s minions, and a RI friend of many.

There already exists a good way to induce a therapeutic immune response by puncturing the skin with needles. Vaccination.

Indeed, a subcutaneous injection is preferred when a “quick hit” is efficacious. Although, new age immunotherapies may require repeated and prolonged exposure (e.g., skin-cream application) to induce specific antibody/effector-cell expressions. Not surprising, the utilization of acupuncture may be advantageous in said immunotherapies.

Oh FFS! “acupuncture compliments the dermal absorption process”. Really?

Acupuncture to dermal absorption process: “Well, hello there! You really are very good looking you know? How do you keep looking so young?”

Not knowing, or not noticing with predictive text, or not caring, the difference between “compliment” and “complement” indicates to me a very sloppy-thinking kind of mind.

Hundovir writes,

…the difference between “compliment” and “complement” indicates to me a very sloppy-thinking kind of mind.

MJD says,

You and Narad “seem” to be two peas in a pod, and that’s a compliment. You can keep track of my kind of thinking at https://alleam.net/

@ Orac,

Since I’m in auto-moderation, could you kindly make corrections ( approximately one in a million or 1 ppm) before accepting? Your the best, thank you!

If he’s a “licensed M.D. in 28 Countries” why doesn’t he practice in any one of them instead of hanging around Rhode Island where he isn’t licensed at all? (Plus, if he’s a “licensed M.D.”, why is he doing acupuncture. 🙂

28 countries? Well, if he is still licensed to practice medicine in Poland (I’m not sure what the rules are), then maybe he is counting the whole EU?

“What happens, however, if a CAM practitioner is presented with a patient whose condition potentially excludes an alternative treatment?”

Otherwise known as a ‘patient’?

From the linked article about Sztykowski agreeing to surrender his license, I gather that Rhode Island is fine with licensing acupuncturists, but not fine with acupuncturists claiming to be medical doctors. And it looks like he violated that consent degree, which was a land-war-in-Asia class blunder on his part.

It is possible that–again, like Burzynski–Sztykowski started out on a path to becoming a legit doctor and went over to the dark side somewhere along the line. But there are details that need to be filled in, such as when he came to the US and what steps he took to get a license to practice in the US.

Thanks for today’s blog. Two things:

1) It is surprising that WPRO, as a news organization, is so willing to admit they were totally credulous about “Dr” Tad. It underscores that if you’re in the news business you really, really want to make sure that your information is accurate (even in Rhode Island). I wonder if WPRO will perform its due diligence the next time they employ a health expert claiming to be a doctor by actually checking that said person IS a doctor?

2) It seems that someone did share the 2017 license revocation in Rhode Island with the authorities in Florida (https://appsmqa.doh.state.fl.us/MQASearchServices/Document/MzQ4MTI5MDQ%3D). Of note, as per item #6 of Department of Health (Florida) v. Tadeusz Sztykowski A.P., he was apparently advising patients to discontinue medications prescribed by their physicians without coordinating such advice. Yikes!!
Though it is clear that by his actions in RI he violated Florida Statutes it is still not clear which of the following penalties was (or will be) administered by the Florida Department of Health Prosecution Services Unit in May of 2018: revocation or suspension of license, restriction of practice, administrative fine, reprimand, probation, corrective action, or remedial education.

Stay classy, “Dr” Tad.

Moose (and Orac): If a federally-licensed radio station is promoting a Not-Doctor as a doctor, they are potentially indictable as an accessory before the fact, to the Not-Doctor’s fraud.

What we need is an FCC regulation and/or a federal statute, to make it crystal clear (as in “crystal goblet,” not as in “healing crystal”;-) where the broadcast station’s liability resides.

There are three things here, and they’ll need to be treated differently:

1) Quack buys regular advertising on FCC-licensed station: To my mind, we can’t expect broadcast outlets to closely police their advertising, no matter how much I’d like to see that requirement (“Gold IRAs!!,” ugh). However we can reasonably expect them to pull ads off the air where an advertiser is convicted of a crime or held responsible in a civil liability case.

But policing ads more closely than that would require the station’s advertising sales people to research the product or the provider, something they are not equipped to do. “Let’s see, this acupuncturist calls himself a doctor but he’s not an MD, is that OK? But he has an acupuncture license, does that make it OK?”

2) Quack buys program-length paid time: In that case we can reasonably expect a station to police the buyer and the content, because to most viewers, a program-length presentation will appear to be “a program,” thus it will appear to have the station’s endorsement. So we can at least propose a regulatory standard of “due diligence,” that includes checking the licensing and qualification of anyone who represents themselves as a licensed professional.

3) Quack is paid by the station and endorsed in a particular role. This is where the hammer needs to fall hard, because the paid position and titled role (“WPRO Health Expert, Doctor Quackadoodle Doo”) doesn’t just imply being vetted and endorsed, it positively shouts it from the rooftops. In this case there should be full liability for accessory to medical fraud or accessory to the practice of medicine without a license.

Broadcasters will of course attempt to claim “freedom of screech” for hiring fraudulent “experts,” and “compromise” with disclaimers similar to quack Miranda warnings (“WPRO’s Health Expert may or may not be a doctor. Programming is for entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon blah blah blah…”) but there should be no question that overt professional/commercial fraud has exactly zero 1st Amendment protection.

To get this done, what we need is a team consisting of at least one MD and at least one attorney with FCC regulatory experience. They could write the regulation and get it proposed as an FCC rule. Given the present climate in Washington DC, this will probably have to wait until the next administration takes office, but it would be good to get prepared in advance and then pounce as soon as the opportunity occurs.

A. The fact that the news station either did not realize he was not a physician or was willing to mislead people on that doesn’t give me confidence in its reporting.

B. I’m not sure licensing would determine the standard of care, unless the licensing statute directly addresses the issue (and you know more than I whether they usually do). That’s not a focus in torts when we discuss the scope of professional responsibility.

I live in RI and have for the last 7 years. Local news is ghastly except for weather and the accident/fire/shooting of the day. The Rhode Show is perfect for “Dr Tad” as it has limited credibility and a VERY local focus. I assume there are plenty of credulous fools in RI as elsewhere, but if you are taking advice form a TV doctor (Oz anyone?), you get what service you deserve. I am sorry my state has felt the need to legitimize this quack-crap with licensure, and I am glad he was finally tagged and removed. I will try and write to WPRO and The Rhode Show about future requirements they plan to use to vet their presenters. I don’t expect much.

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