Just like MD’s, naturopathic doctors are trained in clinical sciences such as pharmacology, gastroenterology, cardiology, neurology, orthopedics, pediatrics, gynecology, psychiatry, dermatology and minor surgery, plus all aspects of diagnosis using labs, imaging (x-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound) and physical examination.
A naturopathic doctor completes an internship with over 1,100 hours of patient care and takes rigorous two-part board exams to become licensed or registered by a state or Canadian province. Some naturopathic doctors obtain board certification in the areas of oncology, endocrinology, pediatrics or other specializations.
ND’s speak and understand the language of conventional medicine, but they have a broader set of tools and insights to offer their patients. Naturopathic medical education places a greater emphasis on healthy lifestyles, natural therapies and disease prevention, and less emphasis on pharmaceutical therapy. ND’s also learn therapies such as Chinese medicine, physical medicine, counseling and homeopathy. Conventional medical school curriculum is based heavily on drug or surgery treatments, with few or no courses offered in nutrition or botanical medicine.
Where ND’s differ greatly from MD’s is in their philosophy and treatment approach. Naturopathic doctors correct the underlying disturbances that are contributing to a person’s illness rather than only suppressing symptoms. ND’s prioritize gentle, non-invasive therapies first and use drug treatments or surgery referrals only when necessary. Prevention is paramount to naturopathic practice; instead of waiting for disease to surface, ND’s work to intervene before it happens. Naturopathic doctors are known for spending a considerable amount of time with their patients, which is in contrast to the short appointments that are common in the conventional setting.
With all of their similarities and differences, both conventional and naturopathic medicine play important roles in our health care system, and both have strengths and limitations.