It’s Naturopathic Medicine Week! To celebrate I have a lot of fun stuff coming up and I’m excited to share more about my passion as a naturopathic physician. I thought a great way to kick things off would be to answer some of the general questions I receive about being a naturopathic physician. Here we go!
1. We attend 4 years of medical school and take rigorous board exams to become licensed physicians.
While naturopathic medical students don’t attend the same medical schools as students training to become conventional MDs, there are a lot of similarities in the basic training and a lot of differences in the technical training. For instance, the first two years of training for NDs, MDs, and DOs emphasize the biomedical science classes and the diagnostic science classes. After the first two years, in addition to standard medical curriculum and hands-on clinical training, naturopathic medical students must complete training in clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, physical medicine, and lifestyle medicine. The program consists of a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training over the four-year program.
During and after the four years of medical school training, naturopathic doctors are required to take and pass a series of board exams. These exams must be passed in order to obtain licensure as an ND.
2. We believe in the Healing Power of Nature
The healing power of nature is one of six core principles that guide naturopathic doctors in diagnosis and treatment. This principle speaks to the fact that there are many substances found in nature that can be utilized to promote healing. But it also encompasses a greater concept, the body’s inherent ability to heal itself. The body is part of the natural world and it contains patterns that aim to keep the system in homeostasis. Disease arises when events occur that overwhelm the body’s ability to maintain normal function. Even at a cellular level, there are therapies and treatments that will support and enhance the natural healing power of the body. Naturopathic doctors focus on identifying and removing obstacles to recovery (such as underlying food intolerances, poor lifestyle habits, unmanaged emotional stress, hormonal dysregulation), in order to facilitate the return of balance to the system.
3. Naturopathic doctors are herbalists and nutritionists
Nutrition is a cornerstone in naturopathic treatment, since proper diet and nutrition are pivotal components of optimal health. Since many chronic diseases have links to poor diet, all medical providers should be well-versed in utilizing nutrition as a therapeutic tool. However, nutrition training for MDs and DOs is minimal.
Another foundation of naturopathic practice is botanical medicine, the science and practice of using medicinal plants and extracts to treat acute and chronic disease. During medical school, NDs complete an average of 130 classroom hours of botanical medicine education. Modern botanical medicine combines evidence-based science with traditional usage and knowledge to provide effective treatments. In fact, many conventional pharmaceutical drugs are derived originally from plant extracts.
By utilizing clinical nutrition and botanical medicine, naturopathic doctors can tailor a treatment plan that is individualized and impactful.
4. Our philosophy is based on a set of principles that guides how we diagnose and treat disease
Based on a set of principles that guides how we diagnose and treat disease. It is a distinct philosophy that sets naturopathic doctors apart from other practitioners of medicine. In order to effectively create a shift towards optimal health, the root cause of the imbalance needs to be determined and removed. Additionally, the focus in our assessment includes treating the whole person. Naturopathic physicians understand that each cell, each organ, each system is actually intrinsically connected. This interconnectedness is a core component to enhancing the body’s ability to heal. Within this paradigm, the primary objective is to restore and regenerate health, not necessarily to treat pathology.
5. We use the best of natural medicine combined with conventional medicine as needed
There are times when natural medicines should not be used exclusively and there may be need for pharmaceutical intervention. A naturopathic doctor is trained as a primary care physician and has the ability to prescribe medications when necessary. Additionally, we are trained to be excellent diagnosticians and able to discern when a patient may need a higher level of intervention. Naturopathic doctors will also refer patients out to other medical specialists such as orthopedics, cardiologists, etc. If I could make one recommendation about how to use naturopathic medicine within the conventional medicine system it would be to first seek out treatment from an ND and then if the situation warrants it, then see your MD. It is always easier to restore balance to a system in the early stage of illness and prevent the disease from developing in the first place.