Q: What’s the Deal with Naturopathic Medicine?

Health | | April 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm
Photo by Mai Le.

Photo by Mai Le.

Who are we? What’s it all about? How does one become a naturopathic physician? In our most comprehensive Ask the Experts yet, we answer all your questions about naturopathic medicine.

Here’s the best way to find a licensed naturopathic doctor near you.

Q: Hey, what is naturopathic medicine exactly?

A: Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care. It is an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease. The modalities used in naturopathic medicine have been commonly practiced in Europe for several hundred years and the techniques integrate conventional, scientific and empirical methodology with the emphasis on the ancient laws of nature. There are six principles of healing that reflect the foundation of naturopathic medical practice:

  1. First do no harm
  2. The healing power of nature
  3. Treat the whole person
  4. Identify and treat the cause
  5. Doctor as teacher
  6. Prevention is the best cure

Q:  What sort of education do naturopathic doctors receive?

A licensed naturopathic physician (N.D.) attends a four-year naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as a medical doctor (M.D.). An N.D. also studies holistic and non-toxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the N.D. is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, physical medicine and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes in support of their personal health). A naturopathic physician takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician. (Courtesy of AANP)

Q:  What schools train naturopathic doctors?

Only 6 schools in the world offer doctoral level N.D. degrees training graduates to practice as primary care physicians:

Standards at these schools are maintained by the Council for Naturopathic Medical Education(CNME) and only graduates from these 6 schools are eligible to sit for the Naturopathic Physician Licensing Exam (NPLEX) which are overseen by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). Passing the board exams then allows licensing in compatible states. There are no international standards for N.D. education outside of the U.S./Canada.

Q:  What about all the other N.D. degrees not from those schools?

Even though the CNME has only accredited these 6 schools, there are many other establishments in the U.S., Canada and worldwide which still offer N.D. diplomas and degrees.  However these do not allow graduates to practice as primary care physicians or diagnose / treat disease in any state, nor can they sit for the NPLEX board exams. Graduates from these schools sometimes still refer to themselves as Naturopathic Doctors, but this is prohibited in licensed states where they may generally only use the term Naturopath, or Traditional Naturopath.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada there are no schools training N.D’s to a doctoral level. The level of training is limited to a bachelors degree or various diplomas.  These people still use the title N.D. but often (though not always) to refer to themselves as Naturopaths. This is true mostly in the U.K., Australia and India.

The term Naturopath is not protected by any board or licensing body and there are many people with varying levels of training who will use this title. Even licensed N.D.’s use this term.

Bottom Line: Ask your N.D. if they graduated from one of the 6 schools listed above. If they did, you know that they have been held to specific education standards and passed regulated board exams to practice. This is worth doing no matter what state you live in (licensed or not) because you will find many people using very similar titles and to the consumer it can be quite confusing.  Using the AANP’s find a doctor today tool is currently your best bet.

NishantDr. Nishant Rao is a co-founder of WellWire.com. He is a well-traveled naturopathic doctor and new father, practicing an integrative approach to create wellness in and around Los Angeles. Become a patient or discover his practice.

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