What The Heck Is A Naturopathic Doctor And What Do They Do?
There is a lot of confusion around what a Naturopath, Naturopathic Doctor or Homeopathic Doctor is. What type of training have they had? What are they allowed to do with patients and what are the key differences? We reached out to Dr. Thomas Macsay and Dr. Caileen Vermilyea (who are both Naturopathic Doctors) to break this all down for us, as we were quite confused ourselves.
A Naturopathic Doctor (ND) is a licensed primary care physician that has taken a Hippocratic oath to dedicate themselves to the service of humanity, as practitioners of the art and science of Naturopathic medicine.
ND’s are trained to see each person as a unique individual, with a being that has an innate ability to heal itself. They honor this truth and support the search for internal balance with a variety of tools, keeping in view the health of body, mind, and spirit. Their comprehensive understanding of health has a rich background of clinical and diagnostic knowledge, stemming from a 4-year accredited graduate level medical training.
While entrance requirements and basic science curriculum are very similar to their Medical and Osteopathic counterparts, they have additional training in therapeutics that are not well explored in other clinical programs. Some of these modalities include nutrition, botanical medicine, physical medicine, homeopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, dietary, and lifestyle counseling. States with full licensure for Naturopathic doctors expand their scope to common diagnostic procedures, minor office procedures, prescription medications when needed, and psychological counseling.
Notably, Naturopathic doctors on average spend more time with their patients compared to primary points of care, with a focus in complete history taking, thorough diagnostic assessments, evaluation of lab work and management of multiple points of care. They place care and importance in getting to know each and every one of their patients intimately, in order to accurately evaluate and support the needs of each unique healing journey.
The principles of Naturopathic medicine are applied in a dogmatic way with each patient, with the intention of minimizing harm and optimizing healing. They strive to act in cooperation with the healing power of nature, address the fundamental causes of disease, heal the whole person through individualized treatment, and teach the principles of healthy living and preventive medicine. This means that Naturopathic doctors rarely treat to ameliorate symptoms alone. More importantly, they turn their attention to repairing imbalances that may be causing symptoms to arise in the first place.
In some cases, removing obstacles to one’s health and using natural therapies may not fulfill all of an individual’s health care needs. This is where additional medically relevant training comes into play. ND’s are trained to prescribe medications, write referrals, and communicate with other health care professionals. This ensures that if natural therapies are not enough, or when there are medical emergencies/critical conditions that need to be managed, a Naturopathic doctor has been trained, and has the ability, to act as a true primary point of care (although not currently recognized by all pre-licensed states).
Although ND’s are trained as comprehensive primary care physicians, ND’s may commonly choose to specialize their medical practice as many MD’s do. Specialty associations currently exist for Endocrinology, Environmental Medicine, Gastroenterology, Parenteral Therapies, Pediatrics, Primary Care Physicians, Psychiatry, and Oncology.
What Is the Difference between a Naturopathic Doctor, a Naturopath, Homeopath and a Functional Medicine Doctor?
There are many misconceptions about the entity of Naturopathic doctors.
Naturopathic Doctors are commonly mistaken for Homeopaths, Naturopaths, or Functional Medicine Doctors. Often, they are called “quacks”, by those who are poorly informed on the training a Naturopathic Doctor receives and the standard of care that they provide.
A few key differences:
Naturopathic doctors/physicians - 4 year federally accredited medical school training with a curriculum focus in natural therapies and integrative medicine. Serve as primary care physicians in many states.
Naturopaths - Commonly mistaken for a Naturopathic Doctor. Naturopaths complete online coursework ranging from a few weeks to months. Non-accredited, non-licensed certified Naturopaths are NOT medically trained professionals. Naturopaths do not = Naturopathic doctors.
Homeopaths - although ND’s are trained to utilize homeopathy in cases with a unique psychological or emotional process, Homeopaths are not always ND’s. There are separate programs designed for Homeopathy alone. This again is another common misconception between professions and the ND community.
Integrative/Functional Medicine Doctors - Practitioners may call themselves functional medicine doctors with the completion of a series of functional or integrated medical conferences. Although these doctors are much more well equipped to manage individual’s health care, they do not operate from the same principles of an ND and lack much of the training in natural therapeutics.
A distinctive aspect of the naturopathic training is mastering biochemistry, as it pertains to herbology and pharmacology. This unique training fosters the intimate understanding of how herbs and drugs work in your body. With this knowledge, NDs are able to properly guide patients with regard to how their prescription drugs may interact with certain herbals, supplements, dietary changes, or general lifestyle choices, as well as the possible consequences that may ensue if not done properly.
Being true integrated medical practitioners, ND’s recognize that they are many alternate effective modes of healing, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and ayurvedic methods. Their exposure to many of these therapeutics allow them to discern, on an individual need basis, which of these would best support their patients. They also are able to provide feedback on medical grade supplements and proper dosing for disease processes. This means that they can look at the whole picture of your medical care, understand where the missing pieces may arise, and provide insight when needed.
Finally, many ND’s are using their core knowledge of herbology to translate concepts, pertaining to CBD and hemp, into useful knowledge for the public. Many ND’s have pursued further training in the Cannabis/Hemp world and can provide guidelines and counseling for individuals looking to utilize Cannabis/Hemp in their self-healing practices.
If you feel like you are not experiencing the desired effects from these herbs, there may be other factors at play. Plants affect every individual in a unique manner based on their genetics, diet, toxic load, disease process, and much more. ND’s will help patients understand what may be hindering the effects of cannabis such as poor gut absorption, lack of blood flow to distant tissues in regard to the heart, or inability to utilize cannabinoids in organs throughout the body.
Written By: Dr. Thomas Macsay and Dr. Caileen Vermilyea