This is a common question, and one typically posed by those accustomed to the conventional medicinal model. While naturopathic medicine has undergone significant growth and legitimization in the last few decades, many people are still unsure just what naturopathic doctors do, what their medical training looks like, and what their qualifications are. In order to answer the question comprehensively, let’s first define the term “doctor”.


Doctor - A Definition

A conventional dictionary definition of doctor reads as such: “Physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor (MD), or simply doctor, is a professional who practices medicine, and whose ultimate goal is the promotion, maintenance, and restoration of health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. A doctor may focus his practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment, specialties, or assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities— general practice. Medical practice requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment, the science of medicine, as well as competence in its applied practice and the art or craft of medicine.”


Do Naturopaths Fit The Dictionary Definition of "Doctor"?

Many people may be surprised to learn that licensed naturopathic doctors (ND’s), like conventional medical doctors (MD’s), dentists, and chiropractors, must first complete an undergraduate degree at the university level before applying to medical school. The naturopathic student then enters into a four-year, full-time, accredited naturopathic medicine program. This extensive training includes a standard medical curriculum, as well as clinical sciences, diagnostics, naturopathic principles, anatomy, and the full range of therapeutic modalities. ND students also intern in clinical settings under the supervision of licensed, practicing ND’s for the last two years of their program in order to gain the experience and confidence they need to prepare for their future as physicians. Finishing students must take and pass a professional board exam, the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) to become licensed. Graduates of these accredited programs receive the title “N.D.” or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine.


Licensed ND’s, like MD’s, can assess and diagnose diseases, disorders, and dysfunctions, order lab testing, as well as perform a range of in-office tests, and dispense, and prescribe some restricted drugs, and other substances. As such, the answer to the initial question is yes, naturopathic physicians are indeed doctors. They do; however, differ in the way that they view health and wellness and in the way they treat illness.


The Naturopathic Approach

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct type of primary care that blends age-old healing traditions with the latest scientific advances and current research. It is guided by a unique set of principles that recognize the body's innate healing capacity, emphasize disease prevention, and encourage individual responsibility to obtain optimal health. Naturopathic treatment modalities include diet and clinical nutrition (the foundation), behavioural change, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, botanical medicine, physical medicine, pharmaceuticals, and minor surgery, among many other modalities.


One of the most important concepts of the naturopathic approach to health and wellness is that it aims to treat the whole person – this, in fact, is one of the six guiding principles of naturopathic medicine. Indeed, ND’s focus on identifying the underlying cause(s) of health concerns and empowering patients to engage actively in restoring and managing their health. Naturopaths also recognize that multiple factors contribute to health and illness including; diet, lifestyle, genetics, psycho-emotional makeup, spirituality, socioeconomic position, environmental issues, and much more. This is why they seek to understand all of the facets of a person, and with this information, tailor individualized treatment plans that aim to bring patients back into homeostasis (balance), and ultimately stimulate the body’s innate self-healing capacities. Make no mistake; however, the whole-person approach to health and wellness is not merely a flight of fancy. Research has shown that whole-person care leads to higher patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.


In addition, some of the other benefits of naturopathic medicine include:

• The promotion of optimal health & wellness
• Disease prevention
• Individualized treatment plans that aim to transform one’s overall health and wellbeing
• Safe and effective treatments with minimal risk of side effects
• Cost-effective
• Strong educational component (“when you know better, you can do better”)
• Empowers patients to take charge of their own health


Naturopathic doctors have a wide range of modalities at their disposal to treat their patients, including medicinal herbs, supplementation, massage therapy/bodywork, acupuncture, exercise therapy, and, last but certainly not least, nutritional counselling.


Conventional Medicine (Or Modern Medicine)

In sharp contrast, the conventional medical model is what is commonly practiced by most licensed medical doctors (MD’s) and is widely accepted as the mainstream approach to health care. While it cannot be argued that modern medicine is responsible for the development of a wide range of incredibly innovative medical advances and ground-breaking medications that have helped countless people regain health and avoid disability and early death, there is one significant drawback to conventional medicine that cannot be ignored. That is that it focuses exclusively on symptoms rather than on the patient. Thus, the conventional medical doctor takes a science-based approach to treating patients with the use of modern medical diagnostic tools and treatments such as surgery, prescription medication, and a range of therapies. So, rather than addressing the root cause of illness through diet and lifestyle changes, conventional MD’s prioritize drugs to remedy the symptoms of a given condition. As a result, many experts estimate that the over-prescription of medication to treat, calm, and quiet symptoms is the third most common cause of death globally after heart disease and cancer.


Interestingly, in recent years, many classically trained and licensed medical doctors (MD’s) have begun complementing their standard medical approach with a range of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) modalities, a practice that has been coined "complementary" medicine or "integrative" medicine. These newer approaches to health care combine the best of alternative medicine with the best of conventional medicine to help patients maintain health, reduce the risk of illness, as well as help manage chronic diseases effectively and safely over the life span. This is an interesting and positive trend that ultimately benefits the patients health and wellness.