Monday, December 10, 2007

Errors and Omissions Mar a Feature on a Local Facial Salon

The editor of “Feeling Fit” this week featured a brother-sister duo who own a skin-care parlor; they have created a marketing niche for their products and services, trading on Indian philosophy and the brother’s newly-minted medical degree. It’s an interesting local story and one worth reporting. However, the editor-reporter makes several glaring errors and goes to press with obvious omissions that undermine what could have been sound local journalism.

The shop owners are Manoj and Bina Dhariwal. The reporter writes that Manoj “currently works at Easton Hospital in Easton, Pa., as a general surgeon.”

In fact, Manoj Dhariwal is a Florida-licensed pharmacist who recently (2006) earned a medical degree at Saba Medical College, a Dutch-Caribbean school whose credentials do not meet U.S. standards. Its students are often admitted to state-side teaching hospitals with a provisional license to pursue further training. Manoj Dhariwal currently holds a “medical trainee” license in Pennsylvania, which his training hospital notes is associated with the unaccredited status of his medical schooling. He’s a student, studying in a general-surgery training program at Easton Hospital.

By reporting that Dhariwal works as a general surgeon, the writer misleads readers and allows Dhariwal, perhaps unintentionally, to create an impression that his sister’s facial services are medically supervised. Indeed, one paragraph in the story says the proprietors “take a medical history” from clients, giving readers the impression that the facials are somehow medically supervised. Neither Dhariwal nor his sister is licensed to practice medicine in Florida, according to state records available on-line.

Does this make them bad beauty-shop owners? Of course not. But the reporter has not done her job when she reports on credentials in a way that seems calculated to mislead.

Manoj’s sister, Bina, is licensed in Florida to give facials, a very restricted license that the editor-reporter fails to mention. Instead, the reporter goes straight to the big stuff: Bina “is proud” to be an Aveda-certified esthetician. “Her training is in Ayurvedic science, which is broken down to mean “science of life and longevity,” the reporter writes.

Two problems here. One, if the reporter had checked with anyone other than the nice shop owner, she would learn no one regards Ayurveda as science. It’s a belief system pertaining to folk medicine that originated on the Indian subcontinent in pre-literate times. The word is most often translated as “life principle” or “life knowledge,” not “science of life and longevity,” as the reporter naively parrots.

(Bear with me for a review lesson of what English majors learn in undergraduate world-lit classes: Ayurveda folk beliefs incorporate spiritual, physical, social and personal “harmonies” that are said to have begun as divine revelation from Brahma the Creator, which he then communicated to various deities and eventually to mankind as a song. Modern Hinduism has sorted these ancient folk beliefs into eight branches of well-being corresponding roughly to psychiatry, longevity, sexual purification, ENT, surgery, toxicology, and internal medicine.

The association of Indian folk medicine to modern fields of study, however, does not mean its beliefs are scientific, tested, uniform, or its ritual nostrums actually work. In fact, a Journal of the American Medical Association article back in 2004 reported many of herbal medicine products used in Ayurvedic treatments were laced with lead, mercury, and arsenic.)

And second, that Bina Dhariwal is a graduate of Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, as the reporter reports, simply means she completed a certificate program in specific beauty treatments that was organized and promoted by a beauty products manufacturer, a manufacturer owned by Estee Lauder Corp. One pays a fee, attends a week of classes, takes a test, and bingo, certification!Further, according to Aveda's school Web page, graduates promise to promote only its brands lotions and potions.

These journalistic errors are compounded when the reporter naively writes that Bina uses her client’s medical history to promote a gluten-free power-bar food product that she says her brother invented. “We would like to see people get on a more gluten-free lifestyle,” Bina is quoted as saying.

Let’s ignore the illogic of the sentence. (If something free of gluten, that’s an absolute condition for which there is no “more” or “less.”) Instead, let’s jump right to the quasi-medical diagnosis she proffers: What’s the benefit of avoiding this a basic protein? Is avoiding gluten a healthy strategy for the general population? It’s common knowledge that persons who suffer from an intestinal disorder called celiac disease are unable to process the gluten protein, but other than this population (which is usually diagnosed in early childhood), what’s the relationship between gluten and skin health? I’ve been to a medical dermatologist on several occasions and never once has the good doctor or his nice nurse practitioner mentioned gluten as a cause for my less-than-perfect skin.

In the end, I’m not saying Bina and her brother aren’t giving nice facials in a clean, well-tended shop with pleasant-smelling lotions. All I’m saying is that the reporter has an obligation to check out their assertions and keep the story in perspective. It’s in no one’s interest to create false impressions.


  1. Very interesting, you must have spent a lot of time resarching this imformation. I think you are right and the public should not be misinformed.

  2. Now who hasn’t checked all of the facts. First you stated that, “…Saba Medical College, a Dutch-Caribbean school whose credentials do not meet U.S. standards. Its students are often admitted to state-side teaching hospitals with a provisional license to pursue further training. Manoj Dhariwal currently holds a “medical trainee” license in Pennsylvania, which his training hospital notes is associated with the unaccredited status of his medical schooling.”
    Saba University School of Medicine’s absolutely meets U.S. standards, otherwise their students would not be able to rotate through U.S. hospitals. Second of all, ALL residents, whether from a U.S. medical school or a foreign one, hold medical trainee licenses.
    This is how Caribbean schools work. First, students complete their first two years of medical school off shore on a Caribbean island. Then they must take and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1, like me and any every other U.S. medical school graduate. Then after passing this exam, they rotate through clinical specialties in U.S. hospital—their second two years of medical school. The do this right along side of U.S. medical students. Finally, these Caribbean students compete with U.S. graduates in residency matching.
    These Caribbean and other Foreign Medical Graduates (FMGs) account for approximately 25% of all docs in the U.S., and they enter specialties that U.S. graduates do not enter—primary care. I am a U.S. graduate and a family physician. Out of my class of 154, only 47 went into primary care! Without these FMGs, our healthcare system would be adversely affected. I personally work with several FMGs in a rural primary care practice, and I can attest to their skill and knowledge of medicine.

  3. It only takes a small amount of research to conclude that she is a fraud hiding behind her "licensed physician & pharmacist" brother. She "prescribes" her lotions, pills and opinions as medical advice with out any medical training or under any supervision. The fact that she has her shop's address and website listed as a "family physician's medical practice" shoots up enough red flags to cause major concern. And I'm sorry but medical student or medical trainee does not equal general surgeon or family physician. I would have thought that a person such as yourself, being that you have put in all the years and dedication would completely understand the difference and the risk that poses to the general public.