The Naturopathic Difference

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I grew up the daughter of two pharmacists and was well-versed in the “here, take this” approach to medicine. Even at a young age, I was skeptical of this approach and thought to myself, “There must be more.” There must be a way to honor how brilliant the body is in its ability to heal and recover. There must be a system of medicine that takes into consideration diet, lifestyle, and contributing factors from the environment. Enter naturopathic medicine!

What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

What’s the difference between a naturopathic doctor and your regular MD? Just like your family physician, a naturopathic doctor (ND) attends a four-year graduate level (naturopathic) medical school and learns all of the same basic science, including clinical, laboratory, and physical diagnosis. But a naturopathic doctor’s studies go one step beyond. In addition to the standard medical curriculum, they are required to complete four years of training in a wide variety of natural and holistic disciplines like nutrition, homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, and more.

What to Expect From a Naturopathic Doctor

According to a recent survey conducted by Medscape, the average allopathic doctor spends less than 15 minutes with each patient. Unless you’re in for a routine checkup, your visit typically focuses on your current complaint and a treatment (usually a prescription) designed to alleviate your symptoms.

A naturopathic doctor, on the other hand, takes a more in-depth approach, focusing on the whole person—not simply the immediate problem at hand. That includes the patient’s physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and spiritual health. Instead of simply treating symptoms, a naturopathic doctor recognizes the body’s inherent ability to heal itself when the conditions are right. They will work with the patient to remove any obstacles to this self-healing capability so that the underlying cause of the illness is identified and removed.

Naturopathic doctors also acts as a teacher, educating patients not only about their diagnosis, but also about lifestyle changes they can make to support healing and good health. These include diet, exercise, stress reduction, and more. These changes can help the patient get well and stay well, as prevention is a critical principle of naturopathic medicine. It also makes the patient a true partner in their health care. This difference supports a key tenet of the naturopathic doctor’s oath to “first do no harm,” and to respect and work with an individual’s self-healing process.

A Variety of Modalities

Just like your internist or general practitioner, a naturopathic doctor can perform clinical, laboratory, and diagnostic testing. They can also prescribe medication and perform minor surgery. However, a naturopathic doctor is also educated in acupuncture, botanical medicine, counseling, homeopathy, hygiene, intravenous/injection therapy, naturopathic obstetrics, nutrition (unlike NDs, MDs only get four hours of nutrition training in medical school!), physical and manipulative therapy, and public health measures. With all of these modalities in a naturopathic doctor’s toolkit—and with their commitment to the body’s intrinsic ability to self-heal—naturopathic medicine may be the best path to help you achieve lasting health.

Finding a Qualified Naturopathic Doctor

Currently, 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands recognize licensure for naturopathic doctors. To find one near you, check the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians online search engine at

– Holly Lucille, ND, RN


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