It requires several years of education and experience to earn a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic doctors work with complementary and alternative therapies and treatments, along with more conventional Western medicine and treatments. Naturopathic medicine, practiced according to six principles, is taught by accredited colleges and universities, requires several pre-requisites prior to school admission, and must be practiced by licensed professionals.
Naturopathic medicine has its foundation in the concept that the body has the inherent healing ability to fix itself, especially if provided help by leading a healthy lifestyle and adopting positive habits. Doctors encourage patients to use exercise, lifestyle changes, diet, and natural therapies to not only enhance health, but also to ward off disease or illnesses. Naturopathic doctors develop comprehensive treatment plans that combine modern medical science with traditional, natural approaches to health and well being. The overall intention of naturopathic medicine is to concentrate on treating the whole body, not just a symptom or illness. Herbal remedies, nutrition, and physical fitness are stressed as treatment options, along with massage therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and other ways of treating patients.
There are six principles that define naturopathic medicine. They are:
- The healing power of nature: The body has the inherent wisdom to heal itself, especially when given opportunities by making it as healthy as possible.
- Identify and treat causes: Doctors look beyond the symptoms to determine the ultimate cause of an illness or health issue. Once the cause is identified, it should be treated to keep the symptoms from continuing to manifest themselves.
- Do no harm: Doctors of naturopathic medicine implement the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies possible to treat patients. These treatment options are utilized prior to trying other options.
- Doctors are teachers: Patients are educated about the steps to acquire and maintain optimal health. Doctors use examples, health plans, and specific instructions to teach patients to take better care of themselves.
- Treat the whole person: A patient is more than just an illness. A patient’s mental, physical, genetic, environmental, sexual, social, and emotional states should be attended to through treatment.
- Prevention: It is easier to ward off or deter disease and illness than to cure it. Patients can use naturopathic medicine to become healthier, thus eliminating chances of developing diseases or disorders.
Students who aspire to become doctors of naturopathic medicine are advised to attend accredited schools and programs. Most are accredited through the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMA). The standard curriculum for most programs includes four years of instruction broken into two halves. The first half (two years) includes classroom instruction. The remaining half (two years) puts students into internship situations in which they learn clinical skills through real-world experience. They gain familiarity with nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathic treatments, laboratory tests, counseling, and minor surgery. Many accredited universities and programs require more education than standard allopathic medical schools.
There are several prerequisites for admission to the typical accredited school for naturopathic medicine. Generally, students must obtain an undergraduate degree and take courses in biology, general and organic chemistry, anatomy, physics, botany, biochemistry, physiology, math, and psychology.
A doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine qualifies someone to act as a primary physician, go into pharmacology, work in emergency medicine, and perform acupuncture or other Oriental medicines. Licenses are administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). Doctors must pass the NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination). Many states have specific guidelines that doctors must meet in order to practice legally within a state’s boundaries.
Currently there are 5,000 doctors of naturopathic medicine in North America. The number has tripled within the past 10 years and is expected to grow in the future. Average salaries for naturopathic doctors range between $80,000 and $90,000 annually.