A common question that occurs among individuals who have not received care from a Naturopathic Doctor is “are Naturopathic Doctors real doctors?”. The answer to this question is yes; however, I have the impulse to clarify what this question is really asking.
Are you asking if Naturopathic Doctors go to medical school and have a medical doctorate degree?
Are you asking if a Naturopathic Doctor is the same as an MD or DO?
Are you asking if a Naturopathic Doctor is trained in and can practice medicine?
Are you asking the difference between Naturopathic Doctors and other conventional doctors (MDs and DOs)?
lots! – let me explain!
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Naturopathic Treatment Approach
What distinguishes a Naturopathic Doctor from other doctors in medicine is how NDs approach a medical problem.
Treat the underlying cause
Naturopathic Doctors believe in treating the underlying cause of a medical concern. The focus is identifying why you are experiencing the symptoms you have, and most importantly how to resolve them.
For example, if you are repeatedly experiencing upper respiratory infections, a Naturopathic Doctors would be asking what is causing you to get upper respiratory infections over and over? Is it allergies? Mold in the home? Chronic stress suppressing the immune system? Food intolerances?
A Naturopathic Doctor would look into all of these possibilities, and come up with a treatment plan that helps clear your current infection and prevent future ones. Conventional doctors may prescribe you a medication to suppress your symptoms, which never truly helps the body heal and resolve the health issue.
Treat the whole person
Naturopathic Doctors focus on treating you as a whole person. In other words, they believe people are more than the symptoms they come to the doctor to get rid of.
Naturopathic Doctors want to work with you so that you can feel better than you ever have in the past, which will require addressing several aspects of your health and well-being – mental, emotional, and physical. All of these aspects are connected. For example, anxiety can lead to sleep issues, which can lead to memory issues, weight gain, or low energy. Ensuring all of these factors are addressed is fundamental to Naturopathic Medicine.
Least invasive, most effective treatment
Naturopathic medicine believes in approaching a medical problem with the least invasive and most effective treatment.
For example, if you are suffering from chronic back pain, a Naturopathic Doctor would:
First, run imaging and perform physical examinations to rule out more serious causes of your pain.
Second, after the more serious potential causes of the back pain are ruled out, we may recommend acupuncture, stretches, dietary changes, minimally invasive injections, or other treatment recommendations to decrease inflammation and pain.
Next, if for whatever reason those treatments were not resolving the problem, we may prescribe a natural supplement or medication or recommend additional procedures such as prolotherapy or stem cell injections.
Finally, if your pain continued to persist, we may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon as a last resort.
The goal is to always work with the body and give it what it needs to heal itself. Naturopathic Doctors are highly skilled at this!
Naturopathic – Holistic – Alternative – Functional – Preventative Medicine
Unlike MDs or DOs, Naturopathic Doctors are trained in Naturopathic medicine and preventative medicine. This is sometimes referred to as functional medicine, holistic medicine, integrative medicine, or alternative medicine.
Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine
Many of the treatments and treatment approaches Naturopathic Doctor utilize are now becoming incorporated into conventional medicine such as acupuncture, nutrition, psychotherapy, and the mind-body connection.
A quick search on the internet will show many MDs and DOs are moving toward essentially practicing Naturopathic Medicine. However, since MD/DO training does not include nutrition or disease prevention at school, it is necessary for them to engage in additional training after school. In other words, these doctors recognize the efficacy of Naturopathic Medicine in both the prevention and treatment of disease. It should be noted that sometimes, these individuals are under the guise of functional medicine.
What does being a doctor really mean?
The word doctor comes from the Latin docēre meaning to teach. Naturopathic Doctors, MD, DO, and PhDs are all considered doctors as they hold a four-year graduate degree in their field. At the end of the day, your doctor should be helping you to better understand your health, and empower you with the tools to take charge of your own mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
So, ask yourself – Do you feel like your current doctor is teaching you these things?
When asking if a Naturopathic Doctor is a real doctor, it is important to determine what defines a doctor for you
Is it the ability to prescribe medications?
Is it understanding how the body works and disease pathology?
Is it the ability to resolve health issues?
The ability to help people understand why they have the symptoms they do and correct underlying issues?
Understanding the connection of different body systems, and how imbalances in one system such as emotions, can affect others like the digestive system?
Naturopathic Doctors are trained in and able to do all of these things.
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Take Note…Being a Naturopath is not the same thing as being a Naturopathic Doctor
Keep in mind a “Naturopath” is different from a Naturopathic Doctor and a Naturopathic Physician. To clarify, individuals who call themselves Naturopaths often receive their title from an online school or have no training at all.
These online programs do not sufficiently train people to diagnose, treat disease, or take the place of a licensed medical professional such as a Naturopathic Doctor, Nurse Practitioner, MD, or DO. Keep in mind, many of the online schools which grant the title Naturopath require one to three months of training. It is for this reason that you should ask the Naturopath you are considering working with what schooling and credentials they hold. Most importantly, ask them is they graduated from a school accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education and if they took and passed the NPLEX step one and two exams.
Naturopathic Doctor’s Education & Training
A Naturopathic Doctor is a licensed physician in the state of Arizona who carries a license to practice naturopathic medicine. Furthermore, Naturopathic Doctors receive rigorous training and are required to pass several national exams to become licensed. After completing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree and meeting science prerequisites, Naturopathic Doctors attend a four-year Naturopathic Medical School accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).
During a Naturopathic Doctor’s medical education, they learn pathophysiology, medical diagnosis, medical imaging interpretation, medical laboratory evaluation, minor surgical skills, and pharmacology just like MDs and DOs.
In short, the core education is the same – anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, regardless of the type of medicine a doctor practices. Additionally, many professors at Naturopathic medical schools are Naturopathic Doctors as well as MDs, Ph.D., or pharmacists, just like at other medical schools.
Naturopathic Doctors are required to take and pass two written national board exams called the NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination).
1. Part one is at the end of the second year of school, and part two is after graduation with a passing grade. NPLEX Part one covers basic medical sciences including biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, and more.
2. The NPLEX Part two covers clinical medicine and ensures that Naturopathic physicians are competent to practice medicine.
3. Naturopathic students complete real medical case exams multiple times during their education. Each of these exams involves diagnosing and working through a medical case. These tests ensure that the students have the knowledge to handle a case in real life and ensure the safety of Naturopathic patients in the future.
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