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How to Become a Naturopathic Doctor

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How to Become a Naturopathic Doctor

Naturopathy blends modern science with the wisdom of natural medicine. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) diagnose, treat, and manage patients with acute and chronic conditions while holistically addressing dysfunction and disease.

This article explores what an ND is, the route to becoming an ND, the differences between NDs and MDs/DOs, career options, and salaries.

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What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) defines naturopathic medicine as a "distinct health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science."

NDs are trained professionals who diagnose, treat, and manage patients by prioritizing "the most natural, least invasive, and least toxic therapies."

The AANMC provides six principles that NDs uphold:

First, Do No Harm: this principle is core to all medical practice. It represents the desire to improve human health while striving to provide treatment with the most natural and non-toxic therapies available.

The Healing Power of Nature: NDs use substances that originate in nature and promote a healthy, natural environment as essential to human health. NDs harness the body's inherent wisdom to heal itself.

Identify and Treat the Causes: NDs focus on identifying the root causes of illness and removing any possible barriers to cure.

Doctor as Teacher: NDs support patients in learning about their condition to better understand how to maintain optimal wellness. Both education and a trust-based relationship are crucial between NDs and their patients.

Treat the Whole Person: NDs understand how lifestyle and environment influence human health and approach medical concerns from a whole-person standpoint.

Prevention: NDs consider it better to prevent disease whenever possible.  

NDs have a diverse set of approaches for preventing and treating disease; examples include:

How Long is Naturopathic School?

Naturopathic medical schools are accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) and recognized by the US Department of Education. Entrance into ND schools requires candidates to have completed a four-year undergraduate (Bachelor's) degree.

The ND degree is four years long and completed at a naturopathic medical school. Similar to allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) medical schools, naturopathic training provides a solid foundation in topics like "anatomy, biochemistry, histology, pharmacology, and pathology." Unlike MD and DO training, naturopathic schools also cover nutrition, botanical medicine, and homeopathy. Some school programs include contact with patients during the first two years of training, while in the other programs, patient interactions start in year three.

Graduation from a naturopathic medicine program provides eligibility to write the licensing exam called the NPLEX. Board certification (additional education and testing) for NDs is through The American Naturopathic Medical Certification Board (ANMCB).

How Does ND Training Differ from MD/DO?

There are two significant differences between ND and MD/DO training:

  1. The Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT) is not required for admission to accredited naturopathic schools.
  2. Residency training is optional for NDs and is usually one year long, whereas residency is mandatory for MDs/DOs and is at least three years long.

What are The Accredited Naturopathic Medical Programs?

Five accredited schools in seven locations within the US and Canada offer naturopathic medicine training:

  • Bastyr University, San Diego, California, and Seattle, Washington
  • Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine - Boucher Campus - Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto Campus, Toronto, Ontario
  • National University of Health Sciences, Chicago, Illinois
  • National University of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon
  • Sonoran University of Health Sciences, Phoenix, Arizona

Where Do Naturopathic Doctor's Work?

The clinical demand for NDs is high, providing employment opportunities in various settings. Common practice settings include integrative medicine offices, solo practitioner offices, concierge practices, and telehealth.

NDs can be primary care providers for general medical health issues (e.g., minor respiratory infections, uncomplicated urinary tract infections, non-life-threatening headaches). NDs can also have a more specialized scope and serve a specific patient population (e.g., women's health, pediatrics, geriatrics).

*It's important to note that the scope of practice regulations varies among licensed/regulated states and provinces, as do the parameters and restrictions for practitioners located in pre-licensed locations. This is something to consider if you want to practice in a specific area. A complete list of regulating states and provinces can be found here.

What is The Average Salary for an ND?

Full-time NDs make, on average, $80,000-150,000 USD annually, with the highest-paid NDs making over $450,000 annually. Incomes are "projected to increase with growth in the profession and professional opportunities."

Summary

An ND is a professional who focuses on holistic wellness through health promotion and disease prevention. They address concerns in an individual's body, mind, and spirit using natural or alternative treatment methodologies such as botanical therapy, nutrition, herbs, and traditional medical therapies and techniques.

Naturopathic physicians treat patients of all ages and genders and have their clinical practice in private clinics, hospitals, integrative medical centers, urgent care clinics, and others.

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