What is Naturopathic Medicine?
What is a Naturopathic Physician?
In some states Naturopathic Physicians are also known as Naturopathic Medical Doctors (ND, NMD).
An ND is a family practice physician who has chosen to focus on the study of complementary and alternative medical therapies. Naturopathic physicians both diagnose and treat illness. They also practice preventative healthcare, helping to educate patients as well as taking extra steps in each patient’s program to ensure that all effective medical procedures and tests are offered. This ensures the chance of an earlier diagnosis of illness which leads to a higher chance of recovery and more vital health in the future life of the patient. Being well versed in contemporary medical care techniques and pharmaceutical drugs as well as all complementary and alternative approaches, an ND helps patients to come to the best-informed decision about their individual healthcare choices.
Naturopathic philosophy focuses on treating the whole person and strives to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition rather then focusing solely on symptomatic treatment. A naturopathic approach to healthcare focuses on taking the time to understand each patient’s individual needs. With “the patient comes first” approach in a health care system the ND is able to recommend the most appropriate and comprehensive therapies the first time. Where the situation calls for, Naturopathic physicians also work with all other branches of medical science to provide the most thorough patient care.
What kinds of disorders can Naturopathic Physicians treat?
Naturopathic physicians help care for patients with any illness or disease for which one might visit a conventional Medical Doctor (M.D.). NDs treat both acute and chronic conditions. Many patients choose NDs as their primary care physicians and visit them for anything from their annual physical exams to more serious healthcare concerns like heart disease or cancer.
Naturopathic Physicians are often sought out by those patients who have not been helped by modern western medicine. Similarly, those patients who have been given up on by this same system of medicine will often seek a Naturopathic Physician’s care and advice. The benefits of choosing a Naturopathic Physician are easily seen in the quality of care received and the attention to detail that focuses on the current as well as future health and quality of life of the patient. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, MD, the founder of osteopathic medicine said it quite simply: "To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease."
What sorts of treatments can a Naturopathic Physician do to help me?
Instead of just writing a prescription to ease a symptom, Naturopathic Physicians choose to concentrate on practicing several different treatment modalities. This is a comprehensive approach to health care which addresses not only the cause of the disease but also helps pave the pathway back to health.
NDs work closely with their patients and take extra time and care in understanding that patient in order to be able to prescribe the right plan of therapeutics.
Naturopathic therapeutics are supported by scientific research drawn from peer-reviewed journals from many disciplines, including conventional scientific medicine, naturopathic medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, psychology and spirituality.
Some of the Natural Therapeutics that are typically utilized by NDs are:
Clinical Nutrition: Medical nutrition and dietary therapies have always been an important factor in natural healing techniques. Many recent scientific studies are being done on clinical nutrition and diet therapy. These studies are showing positive results on how supplementation affects disease and patient health. Many medical conditions can be treated very effectively with foods and supplemental nutrients.
Botanical Medicine: Plant medicines have been used for thousands of years as powerful and effective treatments for physical ailments and disease. They have also been used to help the body achieve and maintain homeostasis by helping the body deal more effectively with stress in their environment.
Physical Medicine: Many NDs practice some form of physical medicine with their patients in order to help alleviate pain and to help bring the body back into alignment. Different techniques may include Naturopathic Manipulative Techniques (similar to Chiropractic manipulation), Craniosacral and Core Synchronism therapies (similar to Osteopathic manipulation), Physical therapy techniques, ultrasound, electro stimulation and hot/cold therapy.
Homeopathic Medicine: Homeopathic medicines work on the philosophy that “like treats like”.
Homeopathic remedies work to strengthen the body’s own innate healing capabilities and immune response. They are known for having little to no side effects and can treat conditions that conventional medicine may have no effective treatment for.
Counseling and Stress Management: Emotional states and the impact of stress is often an important underlying factor in disease. NDs are trained in various counseling and stress management techniques in order to help their patients work through some of the mental-emotional factors that may be contributing to their disease process.
What type of education is required to become a Naturopathic Physician?
Naturopathic medical colleges are four-year post-graduate schools that require the completion of a pre-medical school degree.
The Naturopathic degree involves graduate level study in the medical sciences including anatomy, cardiology, biochemistry, neurology, radiology, pathology, pediatrics, gynecology, immunology, dermatology, pharmacology, microbiology, lab diagnostics as well as other clinical sciences. Throughout the four year program there is also specialized training in naturopathic therapeutics which include medical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathic medicine, naturopathic manipulative therapy and others. Due to the many additional hours of natural therapeutics, Naturopathic Doctors receive more extensive classroom training then graduates of a basic medical school (M.D.) programs.
Additionally, Naturopathic Physicians need to meet the licensing requirements set forth by the state. ND graduates are required to pass rigorous professional board exams in order to be licensed as primary care general practice physicians. Only graduates from post-graduate accredited naturopathic medical schools are eligible to sit for the professional board exams in licensed states.
NDs must also fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements each year in order to keep their license current.
There are currently 4 accredited Naturopathic Medical schools in The United States.
Are Naturopathic Physicians licensed health care providers?
As of 2005 Naturopathic Physicians are currently licensed in twelve states as well as in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. At this time many other states are working towards gaining licensure for NDs that are living and working within them. It has been a slow process considering how long the profession has been around (over one hundred years!). Yet every year patients in the US are choosing Naturopathic healthcare for themselves and their families.
As the paradigm continues to shift, the role of the Naturopathic Physician will continue to grow quickly towards becoming recognized as an important mainstay in the U.S. healthcare system. Naturopathic medical schools are also seeing an increase in young students working towards their medical degree and striving to be able to provide a more well rounded health care program for their future patients.
Do Naturopathic Physicians ever specialize?
Yes, many Naturopathic physicians choose to specialize. NDs who decide to go this route often take extra schooling and exams in order to expand their license and scope of practice. Specialties that NDs often choose are listed below with the corresponding titles and agency websites:
- Obstetrics and Midwifery ND, LM
- Homeopathic Medicine ND, DHANP
- Botanical Medicine ND, RH (AHG)
- British Medical Herbalist ND, MNIMH
Where can I find more information about the Naturopathic Medicine?
Please visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website for more information.