A growing percentage of the population is choosing to focus on prevention, wellness, and natural approaches to managing illness by seeking out practitioners of complementary and integrative medicine.
As such, patients are seeking the advice of naturopathic doctors to guide this process in a safe and effective way.
Despite the popularity of natural medicine, there is a lot of confusion around what naturopathic medicine is and how naturopathic doctors practice. Below we will address some common myths and misunderstandings about naturopathic medicine.
Myth #1: You may complete your naturopathic medical degree online.
One of the most common questions we get is if you can complete your naturopathic medical education online. While some prerequisites may be taken online, the degree itself is hands-on training to become a doctor. Completion of any fully online naturopathic medical program does not confer eligibility for licensure as a naturopathic doctor in any jurisdiction that formally recognizes naturopathic doctors. Jurisdictions that regulate naturopathic doctors require completion of an accredited, in-residence, doctoral level program that includes hands-on, supervised, clinical training. Furthermore, graduates of online programs are neither qualified nor eligible to sit for the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), the passage of which is also a requirement for regulation. Accredited naturopathic programs may offer telemedicine and a portion of courses in hybrid or online versions, however the bulk of the training is in person and hands on.
Myth #2: Naturopathic medicine is not scientific or evidenced-based.
Another common myth about naturopathic medicine is that it is not scientific or evidenced-based. Regulated naturopathic doctors go through rigorous four-year, science-based medical education at an accredited or candidate school of the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (the only naturopathic programmatic accreditation agency recognized by the US Secretary of Education). A minimum of two years is spent studying the same biomedical sciences that prepare medical students to be doctors. ND students learn to appraise and weigh the evidence base as a part of developing patient treatment plans. ND schools are also leaders in developing primary research in natural medicine.
Myth #3: Naturopathic doctors are anti-drug/anti-pharmaceuticals.
Naturopathic doctors are not anti-drug/anti-pharmaceuticals. The ND curriculum includes the study of pharmaceuticals as well as the biochemical pathways and mechanisms of actions, indications, and adverse effects of drugs. As an addendum to conventional pharmacology, NDs study the intersection and efficacy of conventional medications with supplements and herbs and drug/herb, drug/nutrient interactions. It is the job of a naturopathic doctor to treat the individual, meet them where they are, and work as part of the health care team for the best interest of their patient. Prescription medications can be part of this process.
Myth #4: Naturopaths and naturopathic doctors are the same.
In jurisdictions that do not regulate the naturopathic profession, individuals without accredited training sometimes use the title naturopath or naturopathic doctor. These individuals should not be confused with graduates from CNME recognized four-year programs and do not complete the standardized education of an accredited program. You may find graduates of accredited programs in the United States and Canada here.
Click here to learn more about the difference between traditional naturopaths and licensed naturopathic doctors in North America.
Myth #5: You need to choose between naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine.
Naturopathic physicians are an integral component of the health care team and work alongside conventional physicians in academia, clinical settings and research. Naturopathic doctors provide patient care based on a foundation of conventional and integrative medicine. As such there is growing demand for NDs in integrative settings. Studies have also shown that by adding naturopathic care to conventional care patients have better overall health. Dugald Seely, ND conducted a comprehensive study of patients at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. At the end of the one year study, the group receiving naturopathic care in addition to conventional care had a large reduction in risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke than the group receiving only conventional care.[i]
Myth #6: Naturopathic medicine is only for wealthy patients.
There is growing insurance coverage for naturopathic medicine in a number of states in the US, which helps make naturopathic care more accessible. For patients who may be unable to afford care, NDs often offer income-based sliding scales. When viewed with a longer-term lens, the cost savings and improvement in life quality from disease prevention is worth the upfront investment for many patients. They see the value in prioritizing care with naturopathic physicians for their overall health.
Additionally, we are proud to state that every AANMC member school offers free or reduced cost care through networks of community outreach clinics. NDs and ND students provide naturopathic care to vulnerable populations who often need it most.
Myth #7: Naturopathic medicine is only for hippies.
Naturopathic medical patients are as diverse as our general population. The top conditions treated include digestive/GI disorders, nutrition, and women’s health, among others, and our patient base spans all beliefs, ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic categories. Patients who value preventive, individualized medicine choose naturopathic doctors. They recognize the importance in preventing disease rather than suppressing their symptoms, and want to lead a healthier lifestyle, taking an active role in managing their health.
Myth #8: Naturopathic doctors are the same as homeopaths.
Naturopathic doctors and homeopaths are not the same. Homeopathy is one of many tools in a naturopathic doctor’s therapeutic toolbox. It is one of many therapies available and only one component of a diverse curriculum.
Myth #9: Naturopathic doctors are not trained as primary care doctors.
Licensed naturopathic doctors work in primary care settings across North America and are able to manage most outpatient concerns typically seen in primary care practices. Naturopathic doctors learn to treat all aspects of family health and wellness, from pediatrics to geriatrics, and acute colds and flus, to chronic aches and pains.
Myth #10: If it’s natural, it must be safe.
Just because something is “natural” does not necessarily mean it is safe. Natural products may have side effects and contraindications. It is important to consult a licensed naturopathic doctor before beginning treatment to ensure that what you are taking is appropriate and safe for you.
With these myths addressed, hopefully you have a better understanding of the role naturopathic doctors play in helping patients stay well longer and live happy and fulfilling lives.
[i] Seely D, Szczurko O, Cooley K, et al. Naturopathic medicine for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a randomized clinical trial. CMAJ. 2013 Jun 11;185(9):E409-1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23630244/