If you prefer a holistic approach to your health, you’ll want your doctor to be naturopathically oriented—focused on preventive care and strengthening your body’s natural ability to heal itself. But how do you determine if the “naturopathic” provider you are considering actually has the right education and clinical training to provide the health care you need? Here’s what you need to know…
NATUROPATH VS. NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR
“Traditional naturopath,” “naturopathic practitioner” and “naturopathic doctor” all sound like different names for the same thing—but they’re not. Only naturopathic doctors (NDs or NMDs) are medically trained and registered or licensed by state authorities to diagnose and prescribe. Traditional naturopaths and naturopathic practitioners do not have those credentials and cannot do either…although they can be “health consultants” and/or “wellness coaches.” To confuse matters further, in states that do not regulate naturopathic medicine as a profession, some traditional naturopaths who are not licensed NDs choose to call themselves “naturopathic doctors.”
ND 101…AND BEYOND
Becoming an ND starts with undergraduate college courses in premedical subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry—the very same classes taken by those planning to become medical doctors—and graduating with a bachelor’s degree, usually bachelor of science (BS). That is followed by a four-year doctoral degree from a naturopathic medical school that is accredited by the US Department of Education-accredited Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). There are seven such schools in North America.
In the US…
- Bastyr University (Seattle and San Diego)
- National University of Health Sciences (Chicago).
- National University of Natural Medicine (Portland, Oregon)
- Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (Phoenix)
- University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
- Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (New Westminster, British Columbia)
- Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (Toronto)
The doctoral program includes courses in biomedical sciences and other typical medical courses, as well as subjects such as homeopathy, acupuncture, botanical medicine and nutrition. (Note that nutrition is barely taught in medical schools, and any training they might provide on the topic is minimal.) The program also includes passing a rigorous basic sciences board exam and a minimum of 1,200 hours of intensive clinical training in a naturopathic facility. It is this intensive two-year clinical training in a naturopathic facility that integrative MDs lack. Admission is competitive. In addition to a strong academic background, the schools look for students with an interest in treating the whole person.
Professional board-certification: Once graduated, an ND must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX)—a two-part examination that tests biomedical science and clinical knowledge and grants certification by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE).
State licensing: After certification, an ND can then apply for state licensure. NDs are licensed in 20 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. If your holistic health-care provider is an ND licensed by your state, then he/she is able to be a primary care physician and can order X-rays and lab tests, and depending on the state, may be able to prescribe drugs and even do minor surgeries. You can check what your ND is allowed to do with your state licensing board…or ask your ND.
Many NDs also go on to get additional training—such as from postdoctoral programs, seminars and hospital-based residencies—in specialties such as gastroenterology, oncology, pediatrics, environmental medicine or endocrinology. Naturopathic physicians who choose specialty practices usually join specialty societies and may also sit for exams that confer fellowship designation.
Most NDs also belong to their medical society, The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). You can learn more about naturopathic medicine, naturopathic physicians and how to find an ND near you on the AANP website.
If you live in a state that doesn’t license NDs…
You can consult at-a-distance with an ND who practices in a state that does license NDs. As with an out-of-state MD, an out-of-state ND is not permitted to “diagnose and treat” you…but the ND can work in collaboration with your MD as a member of your treatment team. In fact, this is a common practice with many NDs. An ND provides a health-care orientation to complement the disease management skills of your MD.