In her campaign material, Brooks uses the initials “M.D.” to denote her status as a medical doctor.
Brooks is not licensed to practice medicine in Maine. According to the state’s Board of Licensure in Medicine, her license was revoked in 2004 and her application for renewal was denied the following year based on personal health issues, substance abuse and her “lack of medical practice for a considerable amount of time.”
Even if someone has earned a medical doctor degree, state law bans anyone who is not licensed to be a physician from using the initials “M.D.” with their name if they “purport” to be a physician. Under the statute governing professions and occupations, doing so is a Class E misdemeanor.
In campaign references, and in listing her status on various boards and committees, Brooks is identified as “Heidi Brooks, M.D.”
Asked for a response, Brooks issued a written statement: “I never intended to mislead anyone about my experience as a doctor. I’m sorry if that has been unclear.”
Brooks graduated from Boston College and earned her medical degree at New York Medical College in 1996.
“I practiced medicine before facing significant struggles with my own mental illness 10 years ago,” she said. “Since overcoming my personal battles, I have been a patient advocate and community volunteer.”
The Sun Journal last month sent campaign questionnaires to each of the legislative candidates in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties. In the section asking for occupation, Brooks told the Sun Journal she was a physician currently volunteering for various organizations.
Some Sun Journal readers believe her to be a physician, including those who have written letters endorsing her candidacy, saying that her unique position as a physician gives her a greater understanding of the need for improved health care in Maine.
Last year, Brooks was honored as the inaugural recipient of the 2013 Rising Star by Emerge Maine, which is part of a national network that trains Democratic women to run for office. Brooks graduated from the Emerge Maine program in 2012.
In a news release announcing the 2013 award, Emerge Maine wrote, “In her capacity as a physician (Brooks) believes that health care is a basic human right and has seen firsthand the consequences of not providing health care early enough to prevent illness.”
Stavros Mendros, a former legislator and current chairman of the Maine Republican Party for Androscoggin County, is critical of Brooks’ repeated description of herself as a physician.
“Voters in this district deserve to know what their candidates actually do for work,” he said.
“Is she a doctor or not? This should be a simple question,” Mendros said, “But, unfortunately for Heidi Brooks, it isn’t. Instead, she’s claiming to be a doctor, despite having her license revoked for over a decade.”
“It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” he said.
Tom Reynolds, chairman of the Androscoggin County Democrats, defended Brooks’ experience and standing as a candidate.
“Heidi is a former doctor, a longtime patient advocate and a community volunteer who has dedicated herself to helping the people of Lewiston,” Reynolds said. “She might not be practicing medicine now, but she understands personally the struggles of overcoming mental illness and depression and has been a mentor to so many people in our area.”
He added, “Her experience overcoming her own adversity makes her uniquely qualified to be a voice for Lewiston families in Augusta, especially when it comes to health care.”
After graduating from medical school, Brooks completed an internship and residency at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Mass. When she returned to Maine, she joined the staff of Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland where she practiced internal medicine, specializing in preventive medicine and women’s health.
In defending herself Friday, Brooks said she is “very proud of my medical degree and the hard work it took to get,” and that “as a former physician and as someone who has struggled with mental illness … I will fight for health care for more Maine families in Augusta because I know firsthand how hard it is to be sick and face mounting medical bills.”
Brooks is a member of the board of directors of Androscoggin Head Start and of the Maine People’s Alliance, and she serves as secretary for the Androscoggin County Democrats. She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, MSEA-SEIU, Sierra Club Maine, Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Education Association and the Maine Alliance for Retired Americans. She is also a member of Lewiston’s Community Development Block Grant Citizens’ Advisory Committee.
Unopposed in the Democratic primary, she faces independent Mark Cayer and Republican write-in Robert Reed on Nov. 4.