NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE is a growing healthcare profession that focuses on the healing and prevention of illness. Rather than treating you like a diagnosis, naturopathic physicians aim to consider every aspect of you as a whole person. We consider your social experiences, emotional state, and your struggles – including your current health concerns, of course.
Naturopathic Medical School candidates are required to complete a bachelor’s degree and a number of college-level premed requirements (including but not limited to biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, mathematics, and psychology) that are similar to MD requirements.
A Naturopathic Doctor (also called a Naturopathic Medical Doctor or Naturopathic physician, depending on state licensure) has attended an accredited four-year naturopathic medical school. Similar to MD schools, ND candidates spend the first two years taking core and clinical science courses, after which they must pass a core science board exam called the NPLEX 1 in order to continue the program. Afterwards, the next two years involve additional clinical science courses and treatment modality course such as nutrition, physical medicine, psychology and counseling, pharmacology, botanical medicine, and more. ND students are in the clinic for three years, which begins with a training and technical role providing hydrotherapy treatments to patients. In their third year, ND students become secondary interns, and then primary interns in clinical rotations. In the various clinics, which are typically out-patient, ND students perform intakes, physical exams, order labs and imaging, and formulate and apply treatments under the supervision of an attending physician and resident.
After four years of scientific classes and clinical training rotations, all ND students must have passed all courses, completed all clinic proficiency objectives, passed three OSCEs (live clinical exams), and performed and ADDITIONAL 700 hours of preceptorship with practicing physicians outside of the clinic. Following successful completion of the aforementioned requirements, students receive a diploma bestowing the title of Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. In order to practice, students must sit for and pass their clinical board exam called the NPLEX II. At this point the newly minted Naturopathic Doctors can either continue onto a residency or start a private practice.
As the emphasis on primary care is growing, so is the need for Naturopathic Medical residencies. Currently the AANP, led by my alma mater NUNM, is expanding residency opportunities for graduates in licensed states where NDs are responsible for primary care and managing prescription medication.
Although the NPLEX examinations and AANP are national, regulation is by state, and therefore Naturopathic Doctors have different practicing rights depending on the state. In states such as Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, and Arizona, NDs are able to practice and prescribe as primary care physicians, in alliance with our training, and are covered under most insurance plans.
Pennsylvania is currently a “Registered” state. Therefore, Naturopathic Doctors in Pennsylvania are not covered by insurance. We have our foot in the door for licensure and are hopeful about establishing these regulations in the next few years. If you want to help, please check out the PANP.org. If you would like more information regarding state licensure, click here. Those of us who work in pre-licensed states carry licenses in other states. I currently have a Connecticut license to practice as a Naturopathic Physician, as well as a Pennsylvania Acupuncture license. I am also a Certified Nutrition Specialist*.
Because Pennsylvania is still working on regulations regarding the practice of Naturopathic Medicine, it can be easy to become confused regarding a licensed Naturopathic Doctor who trained at a 4-year, accredited school (as described above) and someone who calls themselves a “naturopath” or “traditional naturopath”. Be sure to inquire about your practitioner’s background and education. If they do not list their degree from one of the accredited naturopathic medical schools, they are not a Naturopathic Doctor. For more information, take a look at the difference between Unlicensed Naturopaths vs. Naturopathic Doctors.
As preventative and functional medicine begin to make waves in the conventional medical world, a number of different degrees and certifications are getting public play. So how do you choose? What makes Naturopathic Doctors stand out? Integration, full stop. Throughout our training, as described above, Naturopathic Doctors are trained in the clinical use of BOTH conventional clinical training and the clinical use of preventative modalities such as nutrition, lifestyle, counseling, and botanical medicine.
MDs attend a 4-year accredited medical school with similar preliminary coursework and rotations. They also often more extensive residency training, particularly if they choose a specialty such as neurology. While NDs do learn minor surgery and pharmacology, MDs focus the bulk of their clinical training on pharmacology, in-patient care, and are also experienced in major surgery. Functional MDs and others must learn courses/certification following MD training, often do not experience supervised clinical nutrition. Registered Dieticians (RDs/RDNs) often have a masters and a clinical nutritional internship, are less experienced with primary care and botanical medicine. Health Coaches and Wellness Coaches often have a bachelor’s degree and take a 4-month to 1-year online program. They are not required to have any doctoral training, nor any in-person clinical experience.
* Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) Requirements: My CNS requires a clinical doctorate (MD, ND, DO, DC) or masters degree, a number of hours in biochemistry and nutrition classes, 1000 hours of supervised clinical nutrition, and a certification exam.
If you’re interested in care from a practitioner with clinical experience in both primary care and holistic, preventative modalities, consider seeing a licensed Naturopathic Doctor!