Naturopathic Doctors Contribute to Patient Safety

While most people would consider traveling on an airplane to be a riskier activity than seeing their doctor, the World Health Organization reports that there is just a one in a million chance of being harmed while flying. Compare that with a whopping 1 in 300 chance of a patient being harmed by the actions (or inactions) of health care providers.1 Iatrogenic events, which describe illnesses caused by medical intervention,  now constitute the third leading cause of death in the US.2 Breakdown in communication is a large contributor to poor patient outcomes. The good news is that naturopathic doctors excel in providing gentle, lower risk therapies and creating a profound foundation of trust in the doctor-patient relationship.

The origins of patient safety concerns can be traced back to the beginning of medicine and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. However, some credit famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, as being the “Mother of Patient Safety and Healthcare Design.”3 This largely came about because of her view that the concepts of patient safety, healthcare quality, and outcomes of care must be viewed as a whole, together, and not in isolation from one another.

In the complexities of modern healthcare, many professional groups have published definitions of patient safety. Over time, the definition has evolved to identify the components of appropriate patient care and safety in the 21st century. Modern ideals of patient safety focus upon the overall quality of care rather than the quantified indicators and outcomes of the past. The Institute of Medicine provides that, “quality care is safe, effective, patient centered, timely, efficient, and equitable.”The concept of patient safety as the primary focus is the foundation on which modern, quality patient care is centered.

There are a number of ways in which naturopathic doctors can positively support patient safety in the contemporary medical setting:

Naturopathic doctors are experts in natural therapeutics dosing and usage.

We often hear about the potential side effects of pharmaceutical medications; however, we rarely hear of the potential for side effects of vitamins, minerals, and other natural therapeutics. This can lead to the mistaken impression that simply because something is natural that it is also safe and free from risk. For example, vitamin B6 is a commonly consumed supplement, but taking too high of a dose for an extended time can lead to neuropathy (the feeling of pins and needles) in the extremities. Naturopathic physicians are extensively trained in the therapeutic dosing of natural substances and can provide knowledgeable input on their safe and effective, evidence-informed use.

Naturopathic doctors are the authority in detecting and monitoring herb/nutrient-drug interactions.

According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s 2018 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 75% of American adults take some kind of dietary supplement.5 Some of the potential for interactions are well-known within the mainstream medical community such as Vitamin K and anti-clotting drugs like Warfarin, but many more are not as recognized, particularly when it comes to herbal supplementation. Core to naturopathic medical training includes learning about herb/nutrient-drug interactions as well as how to determine the potential for such interactions when limited empirical safety data exists. Awareness and monitoring for interactions enhances patient safety.

tranfer credit - advanced standing students

Naturopathic doctors are collaborative, valuable members of integrative healthcare teams.

The contemporary medical training model has largely resulted in a systems-based approach with each specialty physician covering a component of patient care. As such, the implementation of healthcare teams is becoming more common. Naturopathic physicians are trained to work collaboratively not only with their patient, but with other healthcare providers as well. Including naturopathic physicians on the healthcare team can have a number of benefits for the patient, and can support patient safety by increased monitoring for nutrient/herb-drug interactions, increased emphasis on prevention, identification of the root cause of illness, and lifestyle factors impacting disease. Naturopathic physicians also play an important role in referrals to both conventional and integrative practitioners, again supporting a team-based, patient-centered experience.

Naturopathic doctors can serve as primary care providers, thus reducing the burden on an already bulging medical system facing a significant provider shortage.

A delay in diagnosis can result in a delay in treatment. This may increase mortality risk, as well as reduce the number of treatment options available to a patient making more invasive treatments with higher risk necessary.6,7 Among the key determinants in delayed diagnosis include factors such as missed diagnoses, incorrect diagnoses, and lack of access to care. Physician availability can be a key factor in reducing access to care. Recent estimates suggest that the US will face a significant physician shortage in the near future. Data published in 2018 by the American Association of Medical Colleges revealed a projected shortage of as many as 121,300 doctors by the end of the next decade.8 The shortage is expected to impact both primary care as well as specialty care.8 Graduates of accredited naturopathic medical colleges are trained diagnosticians who are well positioned to help fill this void and minimize delays in receiving a diagnosis and initiating care.

NDs see patients who may not have otherwise sought care.

Each year there is a portion of the population who choose to forgo conventional medical care. A substantial number turn to alternative medicine instead. Studies examining this trend have shown that from 16-26% of the US adult population does not receive conventional care.9 People choose to receive medical care outside the conventional setting for a number of reasons. Among these is interest in alternative approaches, financial concerns, religious basis for natural approaches, as well as the belief that conventional therapies would be of no help.9 For those that choose to forgo conventional care, about 25% seek alternative care.9

Naturopathic doctors are trained to provide patient-centered, specific, and individualized treatments that support prevention and overall wellness.

The training naturopathic physicians receive in naturopathic medical school centers on getting to know each patient on a deep level, and developing treatments that focus not only on improving the current condition but also in sustaining long-term health. This in-depth exploration can uncover issues that may have otherwise gone unreported. The totality of the naturopathic medical interview provides a substantial informational foundation in which the naturopathic physician can use to support the health of the patient, and implement prevention strategies to preserve health moving forward.  Additionally, because of the significant time investment naturopathic physicians utilize in developing a relationship with their patient (first visit is often one-two hours), the patient may be more likely to reveal certain health habits that they might not otherwise share in a medical setting. Chief among these habits is their supplement use and lifestyle factors that may play a role in disease. Research has shown that although a substantial number of people use supplements, including 64% of those taking a prescription medication, and only half disclose their use to their conventional provider.10,11 Naturopathic physicians are trained to address these issues and ensure the safety of supplement, herb, and nutrient protocols.

If you want to explore a deep healing relationship with a naturopathic physician or are curious about what they do before applying to ND school, click here for a directory of NDs in the US and Canada.

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Dr. Jessalyn Shamess – BINM

Jessalyn Shamess, ND, BSc, BHK shares her path to naturopathic medicine as a recent graduate of the naturopathic medical program at Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (BINM).

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

“Before I started naturopathic medical school at BINM, I was working in public health research. I loved the field, but really missed the person-to-person interaction and desired to return to clinical work. I had a deep interest in chronic disease management and felt that naturopathic medicine was well suited in that area. As a perpetually inquisitive individual, I loved the fact that naturopathic medicine figured out why a person was not well, not just what to do for them.

I knew naturopathic medicine was the right path for me for many reasons. I’ve always loved nutrition and biochemistry, and I found naturopathic medicine to be strong in those areas. The principles of holism and the idea of the intrinsic ability of the body to heal also really connected with my personal philosophy on health. Ultimately, working with patients was what really showed me that naturopathic medicine was the right profession for me. I really enjoyed what I could offer my patients, whether that was simply listening or being directly a part of their healing process.”

BINM as a springboard

“I was attracted to BINM for the fact that their students routinely score as one of the highest across all of the accredited schools in board examinations. I also saw the benefits of the small class sizes.

It is impossible to put into words all that I gained while I was at BINM. Aside from the obvious clinical and medical skills, I appreciated that teachers and professors did not just stick to teaching content, but also taught how to expend thinking skills to be better at approaching clinical problems. From a self-development side, I found that the counseling program was also top-notch and encouraged students to continue to develop as a person aside from the development of clinical skills. These skills will continue to help me in my career. BINM really challenged me, but also provided the support, skills, and encouragement to face those challenges.

As a student, Dr. Shamess served as Chapter president of the Boucher Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA). “I found NMSA to be an extremely positive experience, and learned a great deal about the profession. I was able to connect with so many different types of NDs which really helped me gain a greater perspective on the realm of career possibilities. Being surrounded by so many bright young leaders further ignited my passion and gave me even more tools to reach my goals and dreams as an ND.”

Advice for aspiring NDs

“Take time to observe and speak to naturopathic physicians! This is a great way to learn about the profession. Even better, go see an ND yourself to get the best idea of what it is like to experience naturopathic holistic care. If you are passionate about health and wanting to give a lot to your patients, this is a great profession to be in.”

Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada, or read other naturopathic doctor success stories.

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What Makes a Successful Naturopathic Doctor

What Makes a Successful Naturopathic Doctor?

Is a career in naturopathic medicine the right path for you? Learn about the careers and habits of successful NDs in the field.

Naturopathic doctors set themselves apart with personality traits and qualities that help them excel in holistic, patient-centered care.

First and foremost, naturopathic doctors are known for their strong listening and communication skills. Before proposing treatment options, NDs intently learn about each patient in order to get a full picture of the condition. In fact, a first office visit to an ND is likely to last at least 60-90 minutes.

“I would say I’m a really good listener and educator. Patients are constantly appreciative of that because the standard medical model doesn’t always provide adequate time for their concerns to be heard.”

Jaquel Patterson, ND, MBA

Immediate Past President, American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

According to the 2015 AANMC Alumni Survey (stay tuned for the 2020 results to be released soon!) what makes a successful ND can be attributed to some of the following personality traits:

  • Compassion
  • Persistence
  • Open-mindedness
  • Optimism
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Passion
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Curiosity
  • Determination
  • Hard work
  • Tenacity
  • Flexibility

“An ND needs to be curious, and dedicated to being a lifelong learner. Medicine is constantly evolving, and your medical education doesn’t stop with graduation. It is also useful to know how to ask for help. Patients and the practice of medicine can be complex, so being okay with not knowing everything, and being to let go of one’s ego are important personality traits to have as well.

It is important to be congruent in your life. If you are seeing patients and asking them to make changes in their life in order to optimize their health, then it is also equally important for doctors to be willing to do the same.

It is also important for NDs to be kind. Many patients seek NDs out as a last resort for their medical care, and warmth and compassion really goes a long way in the healing process.”

Rosia Parrish, ND

Graduate, Bastyr University

Beyond personality traits, there are certain skills that help NDs excel as healthcare professionals.


Husband and wife team, Dr. Pina LoGiudice and Dr. Peter Bongiorno emphasize the importance of business sense, public speaking abilities, and strong writing skills in order to build a successful practice.

“Once a doctor graduates, it’s up to her or him to let people know about what they do. Everyone needs what we do, but they may not know about naturopathic medicine. It is up to us to get out in front of anyone and everyone, and educate. If I had to do it again, I would take a few business and marketing classes while in school. I wish I knew then that mistakes are going to be made and that they will make you stronger.”

Peter Bongiorno, ND, LAc

Graduate, Bastyr University

“For new graduates, I’d recommend if you’re not keen on public speaking, to join Toastmasters and work on that anxiety. Connecting with people is required. While there is a ton of technology to get the word out, nothing replaces giving a good old-fashioned lecture in front of real people, and getting people excited about what you do and who you are. In the end, it’s putting out this energy that gets people interested and then treating them really well once they come in your door.”

Pina LoGiudice, ND, LAc

Graduate, Bastyr University

“I also think writing is a must,” Dr. Bongiorno adds. “If you are not comfortable with writing, start blogging, and blog something every day – a comment about new research, a book review, or anything you are passionate about. Write as you would speak, and you will be fine.”

Dr. Parrish adds that there are a few fundamental skills that are very important in practicing naturopathic medicine:

  • The ability to blend the current conventional standard of care approaches of medicine with the wisdom of naturopathic healing.
  • The ability to problem solve. NDs tend to be medical sleuths and we don’t just treat compartmentalized symptoms, but we look at how all symptoms interconnect in the body, so it is very important to be a critical thinker with excellent diagnostic and treatment skills.
  • Many NDs need to be diplomatic leaders. Our profession is growing and we still need the ability to educate people, including other medical professions, about naturopathic medicine.

Why pursue a career naturopathic medicine?


Dr. Jaquel Patterson’s interest in alternative medicine started when she was a child. “I was on the medical program track from high school into college and have several allopathic medical doctors in my family, but it never felt like a good match. I learned about naturopathic medicine while working in the business field, and immediately knew that it was my next path in life. The philosophy of naturopathic medicine mirrors my core beliefs and resonates with me.”

For Dr. Kabran Chapek, it was about the patients.

 “I have always been passionate about helping people feel their best and be their best selves, and naturopathic medicine through the use of nutrition, exercise and targeted supplementation does this in the most effective way possible.”

Kabran Chapek, ND

President, Psychiatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians (PsychANP)

“I wanted to help people in the least invasive way possible, to help patients avoid unnecessary surgeries, medications, and to reverse and prevent disease.” Dr. Parrish adds, “Naturopathic medicine is a good fit for me because I love its synergistic treatment approach used to restore vitality in patients, not just to treat symptoms.”

Dr. LoGiudice found naturopathic medicine through her own health struggle. “I was a pretty sick teenager, with irritable bowel syndrome, to the point where I couldn’t go out socially for fear of not being a few steps from a bathroom. When I graduated school, I was literally homebound – so my mom took me to every doctor,” she says. Each one told her just she had to live with her condition and offered drugs for stress and bowel function, which didn’t help. “Fed up, and not knowing what else to do, my mom took me to a naturopathic doctor, who spoke to me and looked at my diet. In two weeks, it radically changed my life and I knew this was the medicine I wanted to study and learn more about.”

Dr. Bongiorno saw naturopathic medicine work for a friend of his with multiple sclerosis. “She had the chronic progressive type, which is a very debilitating disease,” he says. “After receiving no benefit from conventional care, she visited a naturopathic doctor. I had never heard of that kind of doctor before, and frankly, didn’t believe in that kind of healing. But, I was astounded to see her improve, and that was my ‘ah-ha’ moment. I decided to skip conventional school and go to naturopathic medical school.”

What to consider if you want to pursue a career in naturopathic medicine?


“Your career begins the moment you decide to be an ND. Too often, students wait to begin their business plan just short of graduation. Successful students have a strong personal vision, measurable goals, and the grit to get them across the finish line.”

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE

Executive Director, Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

Dr. Patterson says being self-sufficient and able to adapt to different situations is crucial. “If you do not have either skill, you will struggle in your career,” she says.

“A prospective ND needs to be a self-starter and self-motivating,” say Drs. LoGiudice and Bongiorno.

In starting your own practice, they say, “A prospective ND should like the challenge of the road less traveled, because you may have to forge your own way.”

Dr. Bongiorno adds, “I used to think the ‘successful NDs’ I knew had some secret they weren’t sharing. Now I know they just worked really hard and inched their way by doing what they believe in.”

While all forms of naturopathic medicine are based on a holistic approach, each ND has their own philosophy that pulls from the core principles, but with a few variations.


Dr. Yanez’s Philosophy:

“Relationships matter, whether they are with patients or forging a professional network. Core to being an ND is our desire to find the root of an issue and take a 360-degree assessment to get there. When we stay true to our philosophies and align them with our practice, work and life can live harmoniously, and yield happiness, purpose and satisfaction.”

Dr. Jaquel Patterson’s Philosophy:

“I would say I’m a pretty fair, balanced person and I apply that in my practice and philosophy as a naturopathic doctor and as an executive healthcare administrator. I always aim to meet people where they are at and focus on the underlying cause of disease.”

Dr. Kabran Chapek’s Philosophy:

“It’s all medicine. We use the level of force that matches the level of need, which may mean exercise, diet, medication or surgery depending on the need of the patient. For example, if someone is suicidally depressed, a medication is more likely to stabilize them and save their life. Medications are over prescribed, but we should also know when to use them.”

Drs. LoGiudice and Bongiorno’s Philosophy:

“It’s the philosophy that we were taught at Bastyr: use the most natural methods to allow the body to heal itself and save higher force interventions, like drugs and surgery, for emergency situations where natural methods would not be effective in a timely way. It’s a pretty simple philosophy, but in the rush of trying to build a clinic, create an income, treat patients, and have time to enjoy life too, sometimes that can get lost. Trust the naturopathic philosophy. We see it work powerfully, every day.”

Today, there are approximately 8,500 licensed naturopathic doctors practicing in North America.

The field of naturopathic medicine is growing quickly as more and more prospective medical students discover the benefits and rewards that come with a career as a naturopathic doctor.

Currently, 22 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands all have laws regulating naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic physicians also work in numerous capacities in pre-licensed states and provinces.

NDs are highly educated in all of the same biomedical sciences and clinical diagnostics as MDs, and naturopathic doctors are also required to pass rigorous professional board exams before they can be licensed.

Many patients specifically seek out naturopathic doctors instead of conventional doctors because of their holistic approaches that emphasize disease prevention and wellness.

NDs diagnose, treat, and manage patients using a wide range of treatment options in addition to traditional pharmaceuticals. These treatments include everything from botanical medicine and clinical nutrition to lifestyle counseling and mind-body medicine.

Common conditions treated by NDs include women’s health, digestion, endocrinology, aging, chronic pain, autoimmune disease, allergies, anxiety, depression, infertility, cancer, and fatigue.

Seeking advice from naturopathic doctors in the field is a great way to learn more about the profession and find out if it is the right path for you. Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada, or read other naturopathic doctor success stories.

Learn More About Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor

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Why Your Heart Health Matters

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide. For women in particular, heart disease results in more deaths every year than all forms of cancer combined!  Cardiovascular disease affects nearly half of all US adults. In addition, over 1/3 of American adults have high blood pressure, which puts them at higher risk for developing heart disease. 1 What three steps can you take to help ensure that you do not become a statistic and wind up the victim of a heart attack or stroke?

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart with marker on whiteboard

1) Heart Friendly Food

Focused nutrition is the best place to start getting your heart health under control. Naturopathic medical schools and clinics have long utilized patient education as a means of encouraging people to eat healthier. Several accredited naturopathic medical schools feature cafeterias and high-tech teaching kitchens on campus to assist in instilling healthy eating habits and food preparation. Similarly, schools also offer intensive seminars and one-of-a-kind conferences that focus on nutrition trends and current nutrition related biomedical research.

healthy eating, diet and weight loss, detox . dumbbells, kiwi and a bottle of water

A cornerstone of naturopathic education revolves around nutrition. Naturopathic doctors receive advanced training in nutrition to better help their patients. Some NDs even choose to specialize in this area. When it comes to eating healthy, here’s a few tips to get you started:

Fruits and Vegetables

The most important dietary change for improving and supporting cardiovascular health is to increase your intake of whole fruits and vegetables. Research has shown that heart disease risk decreases with more produce consumption. 2

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants which help protect the heart in multiple ways. Fiber helps with detoxification, lowers cholesterol, and decreases glycemic load (blood sugar) by slowing the absorption of sugars. In general, the more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the higher the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power. Typically, the same pigments that give plants color, act as antioxidants. Eating a rainbow – having some red, orange, yellow, green, and blue fruits and vegetables in your diet every day is a great place to start.


In the early 1900s manufacturers found they could process vegetable oil in a way that made it solid. This increased its shelf life and let it be marketed as a “healthy” replacement for butter. In the 1950s it was discovered that this solidified vegetable oil, often marketed as margarine, contained a substance called trans-fat that was formed during processing. By the 1980s and 90s it was becoming clear that these fats had serious negative health effects and increased the risk for heart disease. 3 Food labels are now required to list the amount of trans-fat in the package, and some grocery stores, cities, and even countries have decided to ban trans fats entirely. In 2018, partially hydrogenated oils, a main source of trans fats, were officially banned as an allowable food ingredient by the FDA. 4 The key to avoiding trans-fats is to avoid highly processed pre-packaged foods and always read labels carefully. By law the amount of trans-fat has to be listed. Click here to learn how to read food labels.


The standard American diet generally leads to the consumption of around double the daily amount of recommended salt. This increases the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. 5 If you are looking to add flavor to your foods, spices and herbs like garlic, cayenne and ginger are great additions and provide health benefits too. Garlic can lower blood pressure and ginger has been shown to decrease inflammation. 6,7 By using spices, not only do you cut down on your salt intake, but you gain heart and cardiovascular benefits, and better tasting food!

Meal planning

One of the best tips to keep your meals on track is to plan them out:

Step 1. Clear your pantry of everything that does not move your health in a positive direction.

Step 2. Sit down and plan what meals you will cook at home.

Step 3. Restock your cupboard and refrigerator with better food and staple choices.

A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra olive oil or nuts has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes by around 30% even in those at high risk for cardiovascular disease. 8 By improving the quality of foods available, eating out less, and planning meals to cook at home, you can better control not only what’s in your meals but the portion size as well. Restaurant meals can contain 200 or more calories per meal, which over time can lead to significant weight gain.

2) Exercise

Besides eating well, staying active is an important part of cardiovascular and mental health.  The following are a few simple ways to add movement into your day.

Monitor Your Movement

Using a wearable fitness tracker, pedometer, or other activity tracking device can help you record your steps during the day. This will help keep tabs on how active you are. Try walking in place at your desk, parking at the end of the lot so you have to walk farther, and taking the stairs whenever possible. All of these things will help you move and exercise throughout the day. Set goals and challenge yourself to reach them daily. Make sure to take movement breaks throughout the day if your work is sedentary.

Be Reasonable

Many people create a plan to work out every day for an hour. This can be unrealistic and discourage you if you don’t hit your goal, particularly in the early stages. Instead, start with manageable chunks for you, like 20-30 minutes per day, three times a week. Another idea is fitting in simple body weight exercises like push-ups and squats during work breaks.

Get Your Heart Pumping

Exercise is great, but if you really want to get your heart healthy, you have to make it work. It is a muscle after all. This means taking part in aerobic exercise designed to raise your heart rate such as running/jogging, swimming, or riding a bike. Talk to your healthcare provider about what your heart rate goal should be to help improve your heart health. Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.

3) Stress Reduction

Stress is a part of everyday life, but it can also have detrimental impacts on your health, particularly the cardiovascular system. Stress can increase blood pressure and inflammation, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Naturopathic medicine looks at health holistically, integrating stress management techniques like meditation and acupuncture. There are even herbs that can help the body have a more productive stress response. Traditional naturopathic therapies such as hydrotherapy can help boost the immune system and promote relaxation. Here are a few techniques that you can start today to help with stress.


Consider keeping a journal to help you cope with stress. Writing about the things that are causing emotional upset and how you are feeling has been shown to reduce stress and improve health outcomes for a number of conditions. 9 The general recommendation is to give yourself 15 minutes to write your innermost thoughts and feelings down on paper. The only caveat is that if you’ve just gotten over a traumatic event then immediately writing about it can possibly make things worse. If you’ve experienced a major trauma, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider if you’re going to start journaling.

Practice Gratitude

At first, practicing gratitude can sound really cheesy. “You mean I should be thankful for my chair, my shoes, and my dinner plate?” Yes! We usually focus on what we lack. Gratitude short circuits that process and helps us be thankful for what we have. Clinical trials support how effective it can be to reduce stress and help with conditions like anxiety and depression. 10 Practicing gratitude can be as easy as writing down three things that you are grateful for before bed. It might be the worst day ever, but you probably have a bed to sleep in, a pillow, four walls and a roof over your head. Try it for a week and you’ll start to notice your stress level decrease and more joy come into your life. Click here for additional information on the health benefits of gratitude, and what you can do to start practicing it!

Get Rest

Many people are irritable and stressed out due to simple things like lack of sleep. Eating well and exercising can help provide a deeper and more restful sleep. Giving yourself at least an hour before bed without looking at a screen and minimizing light in your room at night (this includes light from things like a digital clock) can also improve sleep quality. The blue light from electronic devices alters the way melatonin, the main hormone of sleep, is produced. Finding a way to naturally get the sleep you need every night is a good way to help reduce your stress levels.

Leading a healthy and active lifestyle by eating well, exercising, and using regular stress management exercises can help keep your heart healthy. In naturopathic medical school, students become experts in helping their future patients meet these goals. If you need more guidance on heart health tips seek out care from a clinic at one of the accredited naturopathic medical schools, or click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.

Thank you to for sharing this graphic.


Keep Your Heart Healthy at the Office


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The Difference Between a Traditional Naturopath and a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor in North America

Guest Post by Valerie Gettings, CISSN

Having a career as a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) is exciting and rewarding. However, choosing what type of educational program to enroll in is often a confusing decision for many potential students, who come across numerous different types of naturopathic doctor and naturopathy programs advertised. How do you choose the right one for you? Some schools offer online or correspondence programs, while others are accredited four-year, in-residence medical schools. With all of the programs out there, it’s important to know that not all naturopathic doctor programs are created equal, and that graduates of these programs leave with varied degree/certificate titles and professional training, which can create confusion for patients. This is especially true when it comes to knowing the difference between a traditional naturopath and a licensed naturopathic doctor/physician (ND) in North America.

What is the difference between a traditional naturopath and a licensed naturopathic doctor?

While both traditional naturopaths and licensed naturopathic doctors aim to help the body heal through natural substances such as food, herbs, and water, their education is very different, and their scope of practice and regulatory status vary from state to state and province to province—and in some states and provinces there are not yet any regulations pertaining any types of naturopathic practice. The titles “traditional naturopath” and “naturopathic doctor” (or “naturopathic physician”) are not interchangeable. A licensed naturopathic doctor (ND/NMD) is a primary care physician who is trained to diagnose and prescribe, while a traditional naturopath is not able to do either. In some states where naturopathic medicine is not yet a regulated medical profession, a traditional naturopath may on his/her own, choose to use the title, “naturopathic doctor,” which is likely to be confusing to patients looking for a licensed ND.

What is the education of a licensed naturopathic doctor?

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, a naturopathic medical student in the United States or Canada attends a four-year, professional, in-residence doctoral program accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). The CNME is recognized as an accrediting body by the U.S. Department of Education, and it is the only accrediting body for naturopathic medical programs in the U.S. and Canada that qualify graduates for licensure. Students from accredited naturopathic medical schools complete a more than 4,100 contact hours of instruction, including at least 1,200 hours of supervised, hands-on clinical training. The schools’ evidence-informed curricula consists of biomedical sciences—including anatomy (with cadaver lab), physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, and embryology)—similar to conventional medical school, as well as clinical medicine, homeopathy, botanical medicine, lifestyle management, nutrition, pharmacology, radiology, physical medicine. Additionally, the curriculum includes specialized classes in such areas as pediatrics, fibromyalgia, oncology, and sports medicine. Some schools also offer the option of studying Asian medicine and acupuncture, which enables graduates to become a licensed acupuncturist in addition to a licensed ND.

In order to become licensed, naturopathic medical graduates must also pass the two-part national board exam, Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX), which consists of biomedical science and clinical medicine portions. Some licensed ND students go on to complete post-doctoral residencies in health care facilities across North America.

Currently there are six accredited naturopathic medical programs across seven North American campuses. NDs are regulated in 22 states and 5 provinces, as well as the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. In some of these states and provinces, licensed NDs are able to prescribe pharmaceuticals, administer vaccinations, and perform minor surgery, as well as order labs, diagnostic imaging, and food sensitivity tests. NDs follow different career paths and work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, integrative oncology care, private practice, medical schools, and government organizations.

What is taught at a traditional naturopathic school?

Online and correspondence naturopathic doctor degree or certificate programs do not have a standardized curriculum or accreditation of their programs as recognized by the US Department of Education. These programs are not accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. They may teach a variety of classes that help students understand the healing power of nature and the innate ability of the body to heal itself. The classes may consist of botanical medicine, homeopathy, orthomolecular nutrition, introductory anatomy, reflexology, and iridology, among others. Program length can vary from a few months to a few years to complete.

Since classes are mostly offered online in traditional naturopathic programs, these programs lack standardized, on-site, clinical training in treating patients under the supervision of experienced licensed NDs. Also, faculty in traditional naturopath programs are not required to be licensed NDs, which is in contrast to CNME-accredited four-year naturopathic medical programs where naturopathic faculty must have an ND degree and other faculty must have terminal degrees in their professional fields (e.g., PhD). Some traditional naturopath programs are entirely online, and students in these programs may never interact with faculty in person.

In addition, traditional naturopaths are not eligible to write the NPLEX national board exam or obtain licensing. For that reason, many traditional naturopaths choose to practice in unregulated states and provinces, and use their knowledge primarily to help family and friends, or for their own personal health use. Some individuals trained as traditional naturopaths subsequently choose to attend a four-year, CNME-accredited naturopathic medical program in order to become licensed.

Which program should I attend?

1. Determine your end-goal

First, it’s important to determine what you want to do with your education. If you want to be trained as a primary care physician and act as a partner in health with your patients, then becoming a licensed ND may be the career for you. However, if you want to learn more about botanical medicine, nutrition, or homeopathy, and use that education to help yourself or family, there are many other programs that may fulfill that desire.

2. Do your research

Find out what the degree you are looking at will allow you to do. Each state and province are different in terms of scope of practice and regulation of both naturopathic doctors and traditional naturopaths. Also, the term “accredited” can be confusing because many online or correspondence naturopathic programs are “accredited” by organizations that—unlike the CNME which accredits four-year, doctoral level ND programs—are not recognized by the U. S. Department of Education. These other types of programs will not make you eligible to obtain licensure or write NPLEX. So carefully research your options before deciding.

3. Fall in love with the curriculum

Whatever program you decided to attend, make sure you fall in love with the curriculum, and that it will enable you to reach your desired end-goal.

For more information about CNME-accredited ND programs and becoming a licensed ND, click here.

About the Author

Valerie Gettings, CISSN is a fourth-year naturopathic medical student at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and the President of the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA). She is also a traditional naturopathic doctor graduate from Trinity School of Natural Health. Prior to her path in naturopathic medicine, Valerie was a public affairs specialist and director for community outreach for U.S. Navy Medicine. Valerie received her B.A. in public communication and international relations from American University, Washington, D.C.

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