What's the difference between a licensed naturopathic doctor and a naturopath?

By The Institute for Natural Medicine

Licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) are regulated at the state level to practice naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic medical students attend accredited, four-year, in-residence, naturopathic medical schools where they study biomedical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. Their medical education incorporates the latest advances in science and natural approaches to illness prevention and management. Students complete a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training, including over 1,200 hours of hands-on, supervised, clinical training.

NDs can order diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, and, in some states, prescribe prescription drugs and hormones and perform minor surgery. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) 2015 survey of alumni, 50 percent of NDs practicing full-time self-report as primary care physicians, while 28 percent report working as natural health specialists. In addition, like conventional medical doctors, a growing number of NDs choose to focus their practices in specialty areas. Specialty associations currently exist for Endocrinology, Environmental Medicine, Gastroenterology, Parenteral Therapies, Pediatrics, Primary Care Medicine, and Oncology.

An ND must pass rigorous professional board exams prior to being licensed in a state that regulates the practice of naturopathic medicine. State mandated regulatory bodies oversee standards of practice, complaints, and discipline for all licensed jurisdictions. Licensed NDs must also carry malpractice insurance and maintain a commitment to lifelong learning through continuing education. These requirements are safeguards to ensure patients’ rights to quality naturopathic care.

The exam required to qualify for naturopathic doctor licensure is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). The Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) is a two-part examination. Only students and graduates from accredited or candidate naturopathic programs are eligible to sit for the NPLEX.

In contrast to NDs, naturopaths have varied levels of education and experience and may obtain this experience in a purely online or correspondence format. The education is not accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and will not qualify students to take the NPLEX examination or lead to licensure in any regulated jurisdiction in North America.

Be aware that while the terms may be used interchangeably, they are not the same.

Your patients should know that the terms “naturopathic doctor” and “naturopath” are often used interchangeably by medical practitioners in other disciplines and the public, even though naturopaths do not have the same training or privileges. Knowing the difference between naturopathic doctors and naturopaths can help your patients make informed decisions about which type of provider they should choose.

For more information on how NDs are educated, trained, and licensed, visit this blog post.

This information has been provided by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM).

About the INM

The INM is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides public education about naturopathic medicine and increases consumer access to naturopathic doctors. As a close partner to the AANP, the INM strives to increase consumer and physician choice in safe, effective healthcare that improves patient outcomes and lowers costs. For more information visit www.naturemed.org or call 855-799-4490.

About the AANP

The AANP is the professional association that represents licensed naturopathic physicians. The AANP strives to make naturopathic medicine available to every American, and to increase recognition of naturopathic physicians as the identified authorities on natural medicine. Learn more at www.naturopathic.org.

About the Author

The Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides public education about naturopathic medicine and increases consumer access to naturopathic doctors. As a close partner to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, the INM strives to increase consumer and physician choice in safe, effective healthcare that improves patient outcomes and lowers costs. For more information visit www.naturemed.org or call 855-799-4490.