What the Heck is a Naturopathic Doctor?

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After I graduate and pass my board exams, I will be licensed to prescribe an antibiotic, zap a skin tag, stitch up a bloody laceration, administer nutrients intravenously, draw blood, freeze a wart, manipulate a spine, chelate one from heavy metals, wean one off antidepressants, conduct physical exams, administer yearly gynecological exams, and even help one process her childhood.  This is just a sample of what naturopathic doctors are trained to do.

A naturopathic doctor (abbreviated as ND) is a natural medicine hipster.  Naturopathic physicians are professional medical experts in the field of natural medicine.  A naturopathic doctor practices naturopathic medicine, as opposed to allopathic medicine practiced by medical doctors or osteopathic medicine practiced by doctors of osteopathic medicine.  Osteopathic medicine is much more similar to allopathic medicine than it is to naturopathic medicine.

Naturopathic medicine is the umbrella term for the type of medicine a naturopathic physician practices.  It is founded on 7 core principles, which form the framework for everything an ND does. The way an ND sees your illness, the way he diagnoses the real problem, and the way he designs your individualized treatment plan all pass through the filter of these seven principles of naturopathic medicine.  It is the following principles that distinguish naturopathic physicians from their allopathic counterparts:
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  1. The healing power of nature.
  2. Find and treat the cause.
  3. First do no harm.
  4. Doctor as teacher.
  5. Treat the whole person.
  6. Prevention.
  7. Wellness.

Some alternative healthcare practitioners have solid scientific knowledge of natural supplements and herbs, but that can only get you so far.  Naturopathic medicine isn’t that simple.  NDs do not just prescribe an herb for a certain condition, and if they do, it’s called “green allopathy”.  Naturopathic doctors are trained to take everything about your health into account — all of who you are emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  It is the naturopathic doctor who is trained to see you as a whole, to uncover the root of your illness, and to individualize your treatment according to your idiosyncrasies.

To be a hipster, licensed naturopathic doctor, one must attend a 4 year post-graduate medical school program at one of the 6 accredited schools and pass postdoctoral board examinations.  Licensing for NDs varies from state to state, and not all states provide licensure for naturopathic physicians. Currently, 16 states, in addition to Washington D.C., provide legal licensure for naturopathic doctors. The scope of practice for an ND varies according to state laws.  In some states, naturopathic doctors are included in health insurance plans.

In states that do not provide licensure for naturopathic doctors, you must beware of the quacksters. A quackster ND is one who claims to be naturopathic doctor, but has never gone to an actual accredited naturopathic medical school (it feels sacrilegious to write “ND” after the word quackster, since they never earned an ND degree).  If you live in a state that does not provide licensure for naturopathic physicians, make sure to investigate where your doctor received his degree.  Legal licensure of the hipster naturopathic doctors protects this from happening, so if you’re in a licensed state you shouldn’t have to worry about the quacksters pretending to be all hip.

Just a little ND hipster biz:  A lot of times a naturopathic doctor is referred to as a “naturopath”.  Just don’t confuse this word with, “natural path”.  I read a blog that talked about her “natural path”, but she really meant her “naturopath”.

A naturopath is trained as a primary care physician with a variety of tools in his medical tool box.  All naturopathic physicians are trained to use the following tools therapeutically.  Each naturopath uses these tools differently in varying amounts, and some are not used at all.

Naturopathic Treatment Modalities

  • Therapeutic Diets
    Most NDs will address your diet, because it matters.  I know, some of you will absolutely despise this part and may never come back because you hate this about naturopaths.  But your diet is integral to your health.  Sorry, people!  If changing your diet is the secret to feeling better, why not?
  • Biochemistry
    Naturopaths are trained to investigate your individual biochemistry and see where you may need a supplement to make it work better.  This may also include genetic evaluations, since your genes determine your specific biochemistry.
  • Nutritional Supplements
    Naturopathic physicians are experts on the latest nutritional supplements that can be used to treat disease.  Vitamins and minerals can be used therapeutically to modify the course of disease.
  • Botanical Medicine
    NDs receive extensive training on the therapeutic use of plants.  Herbs can be prescribed through food, teas, capsules, or tinctures.
  • Homeopathy
    Naturopathic medical students spend an entire year learning about the intricacies of homeopathy, which functions out of the precept that ‘like cures like’.
  • Hydrotherapy
    Water can be used therapeutically as an external treatment for a variety of conditions.  Specific hydrotherapy treatments include contrast hydrotherapy, constitutional hydrotherapy, and sitz baths.  They are simple, yet powerful.
  • Physical Medicine
    The muscles and bones that hold you together are a crucial part of your health.  This is why NDs are schooled in treating musculoskeletal complaints through soft tissue manipulations, muscle stretching techniques, and spinal manipulations.
  • Intravenous Therapy
    Naturopathic doctors are licensed to insert an intravenous (IV) catheter in order to deliver nutrients intravenously.  An ND may also use IV therapy for the purposes of heavy metal detoxification.
  • Counseling
    In the state of Washington, naturopathic physicians are licensed to offer counseling services. They can even receive insurance reimbursement for these services.
  • Minor Office Procedures
    NDs perform minor surgical procedures such as the stitching of lacerations and the removal of warts, moles, and skin tags.  They also administer vaccines, vitamin injections, and draw blood.
  • Pharmaceuticals
    (Gasp!)  I know many of you will be surprised by this fact, but it’s true.  Naturopathic physicians are trained to prescribe  prescription medications.  That’s why they are hotshots when it comes to drug and herb interactions.  Prescriptive rights depend on state licensing laws.  In Washington state, an ND can prescribe most prescription drugs.

Naturopathic doctors practice medicine in the rhythm of how your body was made to work.  I know no medicine more in line with God’s creation than this, and I anticipate the blessing it will be to care for people in such a way as this.

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5 Responses

  1. Keya

    Wow Congratulations on your upcoming graduation! I always wanted to really know what a Naturopathic doctor did and now i do. I’ve been thinking for years about having one such doc as my primary, but I have a hard time just getting to the gyn these days. Good information for me to pass along to a few of my friends who have found little help in the “regular” medical field. Thanks!


    Dr. Archer

    Hi Keya! I’m actually not graduating until next year. I divided my last year into two since I had a baby last August! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad this post helped!


  2. Kelsey M.

    I love this post! I was never 100% clear on the scope of practice for ND’s so sometimes when I’m dealing with something I don’t know if I need to see an ND or an MD. Now I know! :)

    I remember the first time I went to an ND and was absolutely amazed. For the first time in my life I felt like I’d gone to the doctors and they had actually *listened* to me. That they actually cared about me. Before then all of my MD doctor visits were short, to the point, and impersonal. I love that ND’s take to time to get to know you and really figure out what’s best for you. :D


    Dr. Archer

    Thanks for sharing about your positive experience with an ND! Glad this post can help clarify things for you!


  3. Beth

    Thank you for this informative post, Archer. answered many questions, I’m interested to see how the rules for ND’s may differ here in BC. off to research! stay well.


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