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What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic medicine (sometimes called “naturopathy”) is a distinct system of primary health care that emphasizes prevention and the self-healing process through the use of natural therapies. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) blend centuries-old knowledge and a philosophy that nature is the most effective healer with current research on health and human systems.
Naturopathic diagnosis is focused on identifying the underlying causes of disease, while naturopathic therapies are supported by research drawn from peer-reviewed journals from many disciplines, including naturopathic medicine, conventional medicine, European complementary medicine, clinical nutrition, phytotherapy, pharmacognosy, homeopathy, psychology and spirituality.
The therapeutic modalities used in naturopathic medicine (including physical manipulation, clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy and hydrotherapy) integrate conventional, scientific and empirical methodology with the ancient laws of nature. The underpinnings of naturopathic medical practice are in six principles (see a more detailed description):
- First Do No Harm –primum non nocere
- The Healing Power of Nature –vis medicatrix naturae
- Discover and Treat the Cause, Not Just the Effect –tolle causam
- Treat the Whole Person –tolle totum
- The Physician is a Teacher –docere
- Prevention is the best “cure” –praevenire
What type of training do naturopathic doctors receive?
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are primary care physicians who have attended a four-year naturopathic medical school, are clinically trained, and work in all aspects of family health — from pediatric to geriatric care. (See a list of the states, provinces and territories that license NDs).
Most NDs provide primary care through office-based private practice. Many receive additional training in areas such as midwifery and acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Because NDs view natural remedies as complementary as well as primary, they cooperate with other medical professionals, referring patients to (and receiving patients from) conventional medical doctors, surgeons and other specialists when appropriate.
How is naturopathic medicine similar to, and different from, conventional medicine?
Educated in all of the same basic sciences as a medical doctor (MD), a naturopathic doctor uses the Western medical sciences as a foundation for diagnosis and treatment. Just like MDs, naturopathic physicians must pass rigorous professional board exams before they can be licensed by a state or jurisdiction. And, for at least the final two years of the medical program, naturopathic medical students intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed professionals.
NDs, however, also study holistic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, NDs are trained in clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, physical medicine and counseling. Another distinguishing feature is the treatment philosophy: Naturopathic doctors see the physician as someone who facilitates healing by identifying and removing barriers to health.
Because MDs are much more common than NDs, (as of 02/2013 there are about 975,000 MDs and about 2,000 NDs) I believe the best way to explain how thoroughly NDs are trained is to compare their training to MD training.