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A naturopathic physician is a doctor who blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The practice is sometimes referred to as complementary medicine or naturopathy. It has a long history, beginning with some of the earliest doctors who used botanical medicine, herbs and natural treatments. In the late 19th century, the tradition became more formalized with the opening of the American School of Naturopathy.
With increased globalization comes greater awareness of alternative and eastern-style medicine. The established medical community viewed many naturopathic treatments with suspicion initially, and for a time naturopathic physicians were seen as dangerous quacks. Laws were even passed preventing their practice in many places. As modern medicine and scientific knowledge increased, however, physicians began to realize the value and credibility of the naturopathic approach, and natural medicine has been incorporated into conventional medical practice.
Over the past few decades, naturopathy is again evolving into its own distinct form of medical practice. Although acceptance is growing, resistance among some members of the traditional medical community still prevails. Evidence-based research is being conducted in an effort to validate herbal remedies and alternative medicine and enhance the credibility of naturopathic practices.
The naturopathic physician is a primary health care provider of naturopathic medicine. He or she uses complementary and alternative therapies along with mainstream medical practice, with the goal of treating underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities. Natural remedies are generally chosen in favour of pharmaceuticals; a holistic approach is used and many physicians advocate conventional treatments alongside naturopathic ones. A naturopathic physician will refer patients to other practitioners if treatment is outside the naturopathic scope of practice.
Some of the key philosophies of naturopathy include:
The naturopathic physician designs an individualized treatment plan and prescribes natural treatments such as:
Many naturopathic physicians are self-employed in private practice and set their own schedules and hours. These often include evenings and weekends to accommodate patients. Others join private clinics with other health care practitioners, and spend much of the day examining and treating patients. Completing paperwork and patient documentation is also part of the work day. Some find employment in research and development, marketing, teaching and consulting.
A naturopathic practice takes time to build, and achieving success depends on many factors, including individual talent, experience and initiative.
There are two main ways to become a naturopathic physician. First is by becoming a medical doctor and then taking up the naturopathy specialty. In Canada and the U.S., this begins with pre-med university studies which is usually a four-year bachelor of science degree. Next is a three- or four-year medical doctor degree, followed by post-graduate specialty training. Up to four years of hospital residency is also required. Getting accepted into most MD programs is a very competitive process, and students must meet certain criteria, including high grade averages.
The second way is to become an accredited doctor of naturopathic medicine, or ND. In many states in the U.S. and in most of Canada, this is a specialized degree granted by an accredited medical school. Although there are some variances in admittance criteria, most programs require a bachelor's degree in pre-med sciences, with competitive average marks in biochemistry, physiology, organic and general chemistry, biology, psychology, and the humanities. The ND programs are generally four years long, and many naturopathic doctors take additional post-graduate training in specific treatments, such as chelation therapy or acupuncture.
In the U.K. a two-year post-graduate naturopathic diploma can be earned by a healthcare professional such as a medical doctor or nurse, and registration is required for accreditation. Many eastern countries, for example, India, also offer specific university training in naturopathic medicine.
Among personal criteria and other skills that are required:
Although I am a naturopathic doctor and follow naturopathic principles in my every day practice, I have great respect for the life saving techniques of ‘modern’ (or allopathic) medicine.
The practice of Naturopathic Medicine includes six underlying principles of healing. These are based on the observation of health and disease.
My profession is rather small, and we're yet to be licensed in every state. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are currently licensed to practice as medical professionals in 16 states, and two U.S. territories, and five provinces in Canada.
Like many doctors, Chris pursued this career path because he wanted to be involved in science and healthcare.
Naturopathic doctors are licensed medical doctors who integrate the best of conventional medicine with botanical, nutritional and homeopathic therapies.