As one of three naturopathic doctors (NDs) here at One Medical, I field a lot of questions about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and I routinely encounter a lot of confusion about my specialty. To keep patients informed about all things CAM-related, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about naturopathic medicine and my integrative practice.
What is a naturopathic doctor?
Naturopathic medicine and allopathic, or conventional, medicine share the same diagnostic approach. That includes a thorough history, physical exam, lab testing, and/or diagnostic imaging. Where naturopathy and allopathic medicine diverge is in treatment strategy as well as the underlying philosophies that guide them.
Naturopathic medicine is grounded in the belief that the human body has an innate ability to heal itself and the treatments we employ simply support that process. Therefore, our initial treatments are the most minimally invasive therapies we know to be effective. This usually means starting with lifestyle and diet modifications. If those changes are enough to restore health, great! If not, we move to additional treatments that gradually become more invasive.
What are some naturopathic treatments?
Some of the tools I use are therapeutic nutrition, herbal remedies, nutrient supplementation including high doses of vitamins or minerals, homeopathy, and counseling. In certain states, licensed naturopaths also practice physical manipulation similar to chiropractic adjustments or osteopathic manipulation.
We use these treatments at therapeutic doses for specific purposes, just as conventional doctors use pharmaceuticals. If these treatments are not enough, we often use pharmaceuticals as well.
What kind of training does a naturopath have?
To become a licensed naturopath, you have to complete a four-year, graduate-level program at a naturopathic medical school. The curriculum covers the same basic sciences as a conventional medical school program, and you receive the same training in diagnostics to practice primary care. In addition to learning physical assessments, lab testing, blood draws, medical procedures, radiology, pharmacology, and minor surgery, naturopaths study the complementary and alternative treatment modalities mentioned above.
The real difference in the education is that naturopaths are not required to complete a residency, though the training does include 2 years of clinical rotations. Once you complete your education and pass a board exam, you’re eligible to do a specialized naturopathic primary care residency, though you can obtain the license without one. This is similar to the clinical training of a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant where the clinical experience is integrated into the graduate program and residencies are not required. In my opinion, this is why it’s good to see a naturopath that has a few years of clinical practice under his or her belt.
You’re also a nurse practitioner. Why did you pursue a dual degree?
During my naturopathic training I completed a three-month clinical rotation in a hospital in rural Nicaragua. I worked with a variety of health care providers there and realized that nursing and naturopathy are rooted in one major tenet: patient education. I also saw firsthand how much naturopathic medicine had to offer communities with limited resources.
After that experience, I felt compelled to make naturopathic care more accessible to various populations nationally and worldwide. I’m a New York native, but without my additional NP license, I’m not licensed to practice in my home state. One of my goals is to bring naturopathic care to New York and beyond.
Why should a patient choose naturopathy?
I believe in supporting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Naturopathy works on the notion of using minimally invasive therapies and creating a healthy lifestyle as opposed to remedying problems with a quick-fix pharmacological model. Symptoms can be a reflection of a deeper physiologic process that requires attention.
This isn’t to say naturopaths don’t use medication. Pharmaceuticals are a great fit in many circumstances. For most people, the conventional medical model is highly effective—that’s why it’s the predominant system. But some people have personal philosophies that are not oriented to the allopathic approach, and it’s important to me as a care provider to offer them options.
In many alternative systems of medicine, the therapeutic goal is two-fold—weaken disease and restore balance in the body. If you look at Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, they are great at restoring the body while addressing the cause of illness. Allopathic medicine does an incredible job of controlling pathology, but often lacks restorative tools, which is why allopathic medicine and CAM work so well together.