Naturopathic Medicine

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care system that blends modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine. The naturopathic philosophy is to stimulate the healing power of the body and treat the underlying cause of disease. Symptoms of disease are seen as warning signals of improper functioning of the body, and unfavourable lifestyle habits. Naturopathic Medicine emphasizes disease as a process rather than as an entity.

Treating both acute and chronic conditions, naturopathic treatments are chosen based on the individual patient – their physiological, structural, psychological, social, spiritual, environment and lifestyle factors. In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, natural therapies including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation and traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture, may also be used during treatments.

In Canada, the naturopathic medical profession’s infrastructure includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing, national standards of practice, participation in many federal health committee initiatives, and a commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.

What are Naturopathic Physicians?

Naturopathic Physicians, or NDs, are trained as primary care physicians and perform physical exams, Pap smears, diagnostic laboratory tests and imaging studies familiar to all types of family physicians and general practitioners. Naturopathic physicians are also trained in when and how to refer to specialists and for urgent care. They have been licensed in British Columbia for nearly 70 years.

Like a conventional doctor, dentist, or chiropractor, the naturopathic doctor first completes pre-medical studies at university. The naturopathic student then enters into a four-year, full-time medical program at an accredited school of naturopathic medicine. Training includes basic, medical, and clinical science; diagnostics; naturopathic principles and therapeutics; and extensive clinical experience under the supervision of licensed naturopathic doctors. Graduates receive the title “N.D.” or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine.

Is Naturopathic Medicine covered by MSP?

Provincial subsidies for naturopathic medicine were cut by the liberal government on January 1, 2002. At present there is no MSP coverage available for visits to an ND unless you are on premium assistance. There is limited coverage for premium assistance patients; find out if you have coverage and whether your ND will see premium assistance patients before making an appointment. Most extended health plans (i.e., private plans usually through your employer) do cover visits to NDs. Most plans pay 80% of patient visits but make sure you clarify coverage with your benefits manager.

How are NDs Different From MDs?

A Naturopathic Physician is trained in the methods of treatment commonly referred to as alternative medicine. When you see an ND for health care your treatments may include therapeutic diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes, such as a stop smoking program, herbal medicines, nutritional medicines, manual manipulation or physical therapies. Your naturopathic physician may refer you for massage, acupuncture or midwifery services as needed. You and your chosen ND would work together to determine the best possible treatments available including those traditionally provided by specialists such as cardiologists, allergists, pulmonary specialists and so on.

Can I see an MD who is also an ND?

No. In BC doctors must be licenced as either an MD or an ND. They cannot be licenced as both at once.

What conditions/illnesses do Naturopathic Doctors treat?

Naturopathic doctors are primary health care practitioners. They are trained to treat virtually all health concerns from acute to chronic, pediatric to geriatric and physical to psychological. Naturopathic doctors work with three main groups of people: 1) patients that are looking for disease prevention and health promotion, 2) patients with a range of health concerns and no clear diagnosis and 3) patients with chronic and severe illnesses.

What are typical visits to a Naturopathic Doctor like?

The first appointment with a naturopathic doctor is about 1 to 1½ hours and subsequent appointments will be from 20 minutes to 1 hour in length depending on your specific health concerns and the naturopathic doctor you are working with. Typically during the initial visits your naturopathic doctor will take a detailed history of your current and past health concerns, conduct a physical exam and use information from laboratory tests to make an assessment and diagnosis. With the patient’s input, a personalized treatment plan will be proposed to help facilitate achieving his or her health goals.  

What is the training required to become a Naturopathic Doctor?

 To obtain a naturopathic medical credential (ND) that qualifies the recipient to sit for licensing examination students must have the following:

  • Prerequisites including three years of pre-medical sciences at a University with a cumulative grade point average 3.00 on a four point scale. Prerequisite courses: biology, biochemistry, chemistry, organic chemistry, introductory psychology and humanities.
  • Successfully complete a 4-year-full time program in an accredited school of Naturopathic Medicine that includes more than 4,500 hours of classroom training and 1,500 hours of supervised clinical experience.
  • Pass NPLEX board exams that are written after the 2nd year and 4th year of study. NPLEX is the standard examination used by all licensing jurisdictions for Naturopathic doctors in North America.
  • Meet the Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits as required by the provincial regulatory boards on an ongoing basis.

What areas of training do Naturopathic Physicians receive?

Naturopathic Doctors undergo training similar to medical doctors plus they include the naturopathic disciplines. The four areas of training in the four year, full-time Naturopathic Medicine curriculum are:

  • Basic Sciences – This area of study includes anatomy, physiology, histology, microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, pharmacology and pathology.
  • Clinical Disciplines – Diagnostic medicine areas of study are physical and clinical diagnosis, differential and laboratory diagnosis, radiology, naturopathic assessment and orthopaedics.
  • Naturopathic Disciplines – There are six major disciplines that define the areas of naturopathic practice. Each discipline is a distinct area of practice and includes both diagnostic principles and practices as well as therapeutic skills and techniques. They include: clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, naturopathic manipulation and lifestyle counselling.
  • Clinical Experience – All students must complete 1,500 hours of clinical requirements and demonstrate proficiency in all aspects of Naturopathic Medicine prior to graduation.

What is the difference between a Naturopathic Doctor and a homeopath?

There are three major differences. The first is training. The second is regulation. The third is treatment.

In regard to training, naturopathic doctors are generalists in alternative medicine. They receive at least 3-years pre-medical training at university, then 4-years at an accredited naturopathic college. They are primary care physicians using a variety of therapies and modalities according to each patient’s need.

In BC and many other provinces and US states naturopathic medicine is regulated just as MDs, nurses, chiropractors and other health professionals are licenced and regulated. At present, homeopathy is not a licenced or regulated health profession in BC. In one sense, only NDs are licenced to practice homeopathy.

Another difference is treatment. A homeopath would only prescribe a homeopathic medicine. An ND may use botanical medicine, homeopathic medicine, physical medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or any combination to treat a patient.