Short answer: a Naturopathic Doctor specializes is treating the whole person using a combination of traditional techniques and modern diagnostics. They are trained in a variety of methods including, but not limited to: homeopathy, botanical medicine, counseling, physical medicine and clinical nutrition. Patient appointments average 45min-1hr, allowing the physician time to investigate all aspects of the health concern and strive to identify the underlying cause. The goal of an ND is to treat the patient using non-toxic, non-invasive methods that facilitate healing from the inside out, and prevention of future disease.
When I tell people I am in naturopathic medical school, I get one of the following responses:
- “Is that like homeopathic?”
- “How long is your program?”
- “So, what will you be when you graduate?”
I’m going to address all of those questions here… even the last one.
In the above list, I pointed out that homeopathy is merely one of the many modalities NDs are trained in. There are many naturopaths who graduate and go on to never touch homeopathy again because it wasn’t their thing. Homeopathy is a specialty in and of itself, it just happens to fall under the umbrella of naturopathic medicine.
A true naturopathic medicine program at an accredited university is a full four years. It’s a grueling four years, that parallels conventional medical school for much of the program, so many students opt to extend to the five-year track. Prior to enrolling, students are required to complete an undergraduate in pre-med, or a similar course set that doesn’t necessarily bear that title. During the medical program, students must pass 2 separate rounds of national board exams (NPLEX), testing in basic science and clinical education. After completion of the four-year naturopathic doctorate program, graduates must obtain licensure (depending on the state) in order to be a practicing physician. Some states do not require licensure for naturopaths to practice as doctors, and this has its pros and cons which will be discussed another time.
Once the program is complete, the graduate is now a Naturopathic Doctor, or ND. We may then go on to complete a residency, join an existing clinic, or open a clinic of our own. Many NDs also become teachers, authors, researchers, and more.
Yes, it’s very cool! It’s cool to be a part of a profession that transforms people into happier, healthier, younger versions of themselves. It’s a fulfilling career, in which many of the elders in the profession say they still go to sleep happy every night because they love doing what they do.
What Naturopathic medicine is NOT…
We are not anti-conventional medical practices. In fact, we are trained in many conventional diagnostic and therapeutic techniques. After only 1.5 years into my program, I have been trained in lab diagnostics (phlebotomy, blood analysis, throat cultures, etc.) the use of laser therapy for rehabilitation, and have completed a full pharmacology course covering antibiotics, anti-coagulants, NSAIDS, anti-arthritics and many more. Multiple other examples of conventional exposure come to mind but I will not bore you by listing them all. Still, I am in the infancy of my training and have many more classes on diagnostic methods and pharmaceuticals in the coming years.
We are not at war with medical doctors. The expertise and training of MDs is vital, and life-saving. I have a child who would not be alive today if modern medical technology had not been in the capable hands of very knowledgeable and caring neonatologists and surgeons.
My goal, and the vision that is facilitated by Bastyr University, is to unite the medical fields around the goal of optimal health for the patient. NDs excel at laying the framework for a healthy lifestyle, and identifying underlying imbalances in the body.
“Naturopathic medical graduates demonstrate an awareness of the developing role of
naturopathic medicine within larger frameworks of health care and health care systems
in order to advocate for optimal patient care.” (www.aanmc.org)
We acknowledge and respect where our scope of care ends, and the scope of another professional begins. We refer our patients out when necessary because we care about them, and want them to have the best shot at full recovery.
Just as in politics, religion, and any other passionate group of people, there are extremes. There are extreme sides of the spectrum where you might find a naturopath who insists on using only herbal interventions. At the other end, there may be a medical doctor who adheres strictly to issuing pharmaceuticals for every ailment.
Don’t let the extremes fool you. There is middle ground, and that is where Integrative Medicine lies. That is where you will find people who don’t pay attention to titles, but rather, share knowledge openly with the goal of improving patient’s lives. When we learn to respect the knowledge all medical parties bring to the table, we will see a shift to a health care system rather than a sick care system.
My challenge to you is to increase your awareness. Follow me as I share insights with you. Click on the links I provide, and get familiar with what Nat Med has to offer our society. Advocate for it in your district, city, and state. Tell your friends who are sick that they have options, and know that you have options, too.