Naturopathic Doctor & Patient Relationship – A Guide

The Naturopathic doctor (ND)/patient relationship is the cornerstone of an ND’s holistic practice. To treat a patient holistically is to understand them as a whole person, not just a body displaying various symptoms. We will delve into 4 aspects of the naturopathic doctor/patient relationship to provide a detailed explanation on why it is a fundamental aspect of the profession.

First, we will look into why a patient would seek out an ND, and what a patient can expect from their doctor. Afterwards, we will show what it takes to become an ND and one AANMC staff member’s perspective on the doctor/patient relationship.

Reasons to See a Naturopathic Doctor

Today more than ever, the healthcare consumer is learning that they have a choice in who they see as a provider. When choosing your healthcare delivery team, it is important that you take into account the different skills of practitioners and how they meet your needs. Making sure your priorities and perspective match your provider’s is an important step in the process.  Read on to learn about why others choose a naturopathic doctor as their healthcare provider.

To Provide a Different Approach to Health Issues

Many people are dissatisfied with existing healthcare options and want to explore root-cause focused, natural approaches. A naturopathic doctor (ND) is a great resource who will be able to advise you on natural treatments that are safe for you, including changes to your diet and lifestyle that can help with individual problems or overall health.

To Integrate Natural Medicine with Conventional Healthcare

Many people who are satisfied with their conventional medical treatments would also like to add evidence-based natural treatments to their regimen. 1 NDs can recommend supplements, dietary changes and other treatments that are safe, in tandem with whatever conventional medication or treatment regimen you are undergoing. 2 Working with a licensed naturopathic physician ensures a provider who is well-versed in drug-herb and drug-nutrient interactions, and that your therapies will not interfere with conventional care.

*In some jurisdictions, ND scope includes prescription medication.

As a Long-Term Solution

Often, people with chronic conditions would rather not be on medications indefinitely. Many patients seek out naturopathic doctors when they want to find a natural, sustainable way to manage their chronic pain conditions, address the root cause of illness, and create lifelong health and wellness.

To Stop Problems Where They Begin

NDs view health problems holistically, and work on addressing the root cause of medical issues instead of simply treating the symptoms. 3 NDs will begin their evaluation with a comprehensive patient history, physical examination and assessment. However, their ultimate goal is to teach patients how to be and stay well. 

What to Expect from the ND/Patient Relationship

As more and more evidence shows that naturopathic medicine is an effective tool on its own or in conjunction with conventional medical care, many people are integrating visits to naturopathic doctors into their regular healthcare regimen. 5 6  If you are new to naturopathic medicine, here is what you can expect from the ND/patient relationship and why it is so crucial in yielding effective treatment.

Patient-Centered Care

Core to the practice of naturopathic medicine is an individualized, root-cause-focused approach to patient care. 7 A strong, therapeutic doctor/patient relationship can improve patient outcomes. It is helpful when the patient or their care team thinks of seeing a naturopathic physician as a partnership towards health goals. Patient involvement may take the form of honest sharing about the condition and aspects of one’s life as well as taking ownership of execution of some of the therapeutic options. The patient has a large role in the healing process, so it is most helpful when all are engaged and open regarding assessment, treatment and health maintenance.


Collaboration is an important part of naturopathic medicine. The relationship between a naturopathic doctor and patient is not simply one where the patient is passive and the ND actively treats the patient with minimal input. Instead, the patient is expected to take an active role in their own treatment and engage in learning about their health and prevention of future illness. This collaborative process is why the first visit to a naturopathic doctor tends to be a relatively long session.8  During this first session, the patient is asked a series of questions about their health, lifestyle and symptoms including those they are currently experiencing, and those that they have experienced in the past. 9  The doctor and patient also may explore what treatment paths may be the most beneficial.


Because collaboration and open dialogue are crucial to the naturopathic care process, NDs work hard to create patient relationships built on trust. In order to collaborate fully and receive the most benefit from naturopathic care, it is vital that the patient feel safe, secure and comfortable sharing personal details with their naturopathic doctor. They also must trust that the ND will take their concerns seriously and work towards finding a solution that fits the individual patient. This trust is essential to the practice of naturopathic medicine because it allows for the most effective treatment, so naturopathic healthcare practitioners take extra care to make sure that their patients are given a safe space to speak openly without fear of judgement or dismissal. 10

Doctor as Teacher, Patient as Student

One of the six principles that naturopathic medicine is built on is the concept of “doctor as teacher.” The word “doctor” comes from the Latin docere, which means “to teach.” Naturopathic doctors see themselves as teachers who empower their patients to take charge of their own health through education. 11  The focus on education as well as treatment allows patients to gain a better understanding of their bodies and how to take the steps required to achieve increased health and wellbeing.

What Does it Take to Become a Naturopathic Doctor?

Is pursuing a career in naturopathic medicine a good fit for you? If you like to be challenged, want a flexible career that offers a work/life balance, and relate to any of the following qualities, naturopathic medicine may be the career that offers everything you are looking for.

Dedication to Hard Work

Training to become a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) takes time, energy, and hard work. It is also incredibly rewarding work and naturopathic doctors have a very high level of job satisfaction. 12 If you thrive in a professional environment that challenges you regularly and inspires lifelong learning, you will find that naturopathic medicine feeds your drive to continually improve and rewards you for it.

A Desire to Think Outside of the Box

Practicing integrative medicine well means thinking about things from many different perspectives and keeping an open mind to outside-the-box solutions. Many people go to naturopathic doctors because they want to get a different perspective on their health issues. They crave a healthcare experience that opens up different ways of managing their symptoms and an approach that addresses the root cause of an issue.


Curiosity and an eagerness to always keep learning is important for those pursuing a career in naturopathic medicine because you will be constantly learning new things throughout your training and practice. A sense of curiosity will always serve you well in the field and help you stay open to new innovations and developments in integrative medical practice.

A Collaborative Approach

If you find collaborating with and educating others in order to help them identify solutions individualized to them, naturopathic medicine is a great fit for you. Naturopathic medicine focuses on collaborating with patients by educating them on prevention and encouraging open communication. This allows the patient to take responsibility and gain more control over their health, which results in more positive health outcomes. 13 14

AANMC schools are all fully accredited and offer robust curricula including practical, clinical experience. For more information on AANMC naturopathic medicine programs and to find the right program for you, learn more about our individual schools, located across the United States and Canada.

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Patient-Centered Care: the ND Patient Experience

Read the first-hand account of an AANMC staff member’s experience as a healthcare worker and a patient of naturopathic medicine.

I was a registered nurse for 35 years and worked in multiple settings before my last nursing administration job in a medium sized healthcare system leading their patient-centered care initiatives.  As a former industry executive and naturopathic patient,  ND provide true patient-centered care.

It was at this last position that I was assigned to be the Patient-Centered Care Chairperson for the hospital.  It was my assignment to champion the movement within the outpatient and inpatient services.  Now I can tell you this was not my first assignment into culture change within a healthcare system, matter of fact, I’ve been involved in numerous campaigns to make the mainstream model of healthcare more patient friendly over my career.

For me it started soon after graduation from nursing school when the institution I was working at agreed to try Primary Care Nursing.  It was an attempt to connect the patients to one caregiver who would oversee their healthcare needs and advocate for them.  Years later this transformed into team nursing with the same goals.  And then nursing adopted the discharge planner and they were to help the patient navigate the system with the goal of discharge being the optimum goal for all.

But in early 2013 when the healthcare system chose me to lead the Patient-Centered Care Committee it seemed like a new paint job on an old car.  However this new approach still tried to make patient care friendly, now also included the physicians.  This had never been tried before and I was anxious to see how we would all work together.

For the next three years my committee made some wonderful improvements into our health care system.  We were able to add some integrative care modalities into the outpatient setting such as acupuncture, massage therapy, health care coaches, nutrition and lifestyle classes, and yoga classes.  But for every success in new programs, we faced failure with changing the care delivery in the outpatient and inpatient setting.

The goal was to provide the care that the patients wanted and needed by making same day access a reality, having every healthcare worker perform at their highest capacity, and ensuring that physicians had more time to spend with each patient.  This time could be used to learn what the patient’s goals for their healthcare were and help them to reach them.  But like the old saying goes, “We took one-step backwards for every two steps forward.” And some days it felt like two steps backwards.  We really made extraordinarily little progress in the primary care clinics and it became a source of frustration for many on the committee.

These memories lead me to the now… working at AANMC.   The one thing that stands out to me so far is that naturopathic medicine already has what we were striving for in our patient-centered care campaign.  This is the whole focus of ND training.  They come to this naturally and it seems effortless because that is who they are.

Now do not get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything.  When I need emergent medical care for a specific problem, I know I may need an MD.  But when I want a primary care doctor that addresses mind, body, and spirit, listens to my needs, goals, and helps me to improve and heal my body, I will take an ND please!


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