Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct primary health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Naturopathic physicians are trained as primary care providers who diagnose, treat and manage patients with acute and chronic conditions, while addressing disease and dysfunction at the level of body, mind and spirit. They concentrate on whole patient wellness through health promotion and disease prevention, attempting to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition. Naturopathic physicians care for patients of all ages and genders. They provide individualized evidence-informed therapies that balance the least harmful and most effective approaches to help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health.
The following principles are the foundation of naturopathic medical practice:
- The Healing Power of Nature- recognize the inherent self-healing process in people
- Identify and Treat the Causes- identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to merely eliminate or suppress symptoms
- First Do No Harm- utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects
- Doctor as Teacher- educate patients and encourage self-responsibility for health
- Treat the Whole Process- take into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors
- Prevention- emphasize the prevention of disease by assessing risk factors
Upon graduation with a bachelor’s degree, the graduate student attends a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school. Here the students are educated in all of the same basic sciences as a Doctor of Medicine (MD), but also study holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician also studies clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling.
One such college offering a ND program is the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Tempe, Arizona. Their curriculum involves the study of:
- Human Biology and Embryology
- General Medical Diagnostics
- Clinical Practice
Outside the standard medical courses, students are given the opportunity to study:
- East Asian Medicine
- Herbal Sciences
- Ayurvedic Medicine- Hindu Traditional Medicine (Ayurveda=”life-knowledge”)
- Health Psychology
As of September 2013, there were 17 states that license naturopathic doctors: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX) is the standard examination used by all licensing jurisdictions for Naturopathic Physicians in North America. It includes 5 basic science exams (anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, microbiology and immunology) taken after the first 2 years of medical school. The clinical science examinations are taken following graduation after the 4th year of school.
In those states where NDs are not required to be licensed, they are not able to practice all of the medical techniques they were trained to perform. However, there are plaintiff attorneys who believe some of these ‘doctors‘ are practicing unethically; some may not have attended a program recognized by the Council for Naturopathic Medical Education. Worse yet, is that an unknown number are claiming to be naturopathic doctors when they may only have an online degree or certificate.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list this category of occupations. A website on health careers states the median annual salary is $80,000. If considering a career in this profession, the research suggests that it’s advisable to chose an accredited college and plan to work in a state requiring licensure for NDs.