Naturopathic medicine wasn’t introduced to the United States until the late 19th century but its practices have been part of traditional cultures since ancient times. The earliest healers used food, herbs, and water to treat illness and naturopathic physicians still use them today.
Modern licensed naturopathic doctors, given the title ND, are trained as primary care physicians and experts in holistic and integrative medicine. Patients consult with naturopathic physicians for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of all acute and chronic illnesses. Unlike other medical paradigms that focus on symptomatic treatment, naturopathic medicine addresses underlying causes of disease, treats each person as an individual, focuses on comprehensive treatment using the least invasive options, works to proactively prevent illness, and promotes wellness in body and mind.
In the United States, licensed naturopathic doctors attend a four-year naturopathic medical school with admission requirements and coursework comparable to those of conventional medical schools. Naturopathic doctors are educated in the same basic and clinical sciences common to all medical education, from biochemistry and pharmacology to cardiology and oncology. NDs also study natural therapies including botanical (plant-based) medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy (the therapeutic use of hot and cold water), exercise therapy, psychology, counseling, and stress management. Some pursue additional studies to practice Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and/or natural childbirth.
Naturopathic doctors work with one-on-one with patients in clinics and hospitals (the scope of practice varies by state) but they also act as experts on advisory boards. NDs serve on the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee. They're also researchers and members of the advisory board for the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The practice of naturopathic medicine in the United States varies by location because not all states license naturopathic physicians at this time. Licensing laws for NDs currently exist in twenty-two states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington), as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Licensed naturopathic doctors must graduate from a four-year naturopathic medical school accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Education and pass extensive post-doctoral board exams. They are also subject to review by a State Board of Examiners.
In some states that license naturopathic doctors, their services are covered by insurance and they practice as primary care physicians under their full scope of training. This includes ordering lab tests; performing physical exams, diagnostic procedures, and minor surgery; writing prescriptions when necessary; and administering IV therapy. In other states that license naturopathic doctors, their scope of practice is smaller.
In states that do not license naturopathic doctors there are no educational requirements or standards and some individuals who use the title “ND” or “naturopath” may not have attended an accredited naturopathic medical school nor passed national board exams and they would not qualify for licensure.
To learn more about naturopathic medicine and find a licensed naturopathic doctor near you, visit the website of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.