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A steadily 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, many 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: I can get an ND degree online
One of the most common questions we get is, “Can I earn my naturopathic degree online?” The answer is “No.” Graduating from an online naturopathic medical program does not confer eligibility for licensure or regulation as a naturopathic doctor in any jurisdiction that formally recognizes NDs. 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.
Myth #2: Not scientific/evidenced based
Another common myth about naturopathic medicine is that it is not science/evidenced based. Regulated naturopathic doctors go through a 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 research 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. ND curriculum includes the study of pharmaceutical interventions 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. 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 interests 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. Find graduates of accredited programs at the state and national professional associations here: Find an ND (U.S.) Find an ND (Canada).
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 outcomes. 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.1
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 up-front 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, 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. In addition to being trained in all the naturopathic therapies, naturopathic doctors are also trained in homeopathic medicine. It is one of many tools available in the naturopathic tool belt.
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 of the outpatient concerns typically seen in primary care practices. Naturopathic doctors learn to treat all aspects of family health and wellness, from pediatric to geriatric, 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 with a licensed naturopathic doctor before beginning treatment to ensure that what you are taking is appropriate.
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.
- 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/