It is often asked if a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) is qualified to practice as a primary care physician. The simple answer is yes.

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct and comprehensive system of health care that combines a variety of natural medicines and treatments with conventional medical diagnostics and standards. Naturopathic doctors seek to restore health and promote wellness using the safest, most effective and least invasive therapies available. ND’s primarily use a wide range of natural therapies, but also write prescriptions for pharmaceutical medications when appropriate. Naturopathic Doctors work with and refer patients to conventional medical doctors and specialists, as well as complementary health care providers, such as Acupuncturists and Chiropractors. ND’s are uniquely qualified to expertly prescribe both conventional and alternative care programs.[sup]1[/sup]

Naturopathic doctors are trained at federally accredited, four-year, post-graduate, residential naturopathic medical programs. The North American governing body that accredits schools is the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), part of the U.S. Department of Education.[sup]2[/sup] Currently, there are 7 schools in North America with accredited programs.

The California Naturopathic Doctors Association announced in August 2010 that it partnered with Bastyr University to start an approved four-year Naturopathic Medical School in California with a target launch of fall 2012. The specific location has not yet been released. Bastyr University is a school of Naturopathic Medicine and was named by The Princeton Review as one of the 168 best medical schools in the country.[sup]3[/sup]

Graduation from a naturopathic medicine program that is accredited or is a candidate for accreditation guarantees eligibility to sit for the industry’s extensive postdoctoral board examination called the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX), the passage of which is required to obtain licensure.

Licensed naturopathic physicians must also fulfill annual state-mandated continuing education requirements, and have a specific scope of practice defined by their state’s law. Currently, 20 states, the District of Columbia and the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors.[sup]1[/sup]

In California, the Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine was established within the Department of Consumer Affairs to administer the Naturopathic Doctor’s Act of 2004. This law specifies various standards for licensure and regulation of naturopathic medicine within the state.[sup]4[/sup]

It is interesting to note that although all graduates from accredited naturopathic medical schools may use the academic title “Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine” there is no standardized professional title in use in North America.[sup]5[/sup] As such, the use of the term ‘naturopath’ is not protected nationally and may be used by anyone practicing the art of healing. Regulations on this vary from state to state.

So, simply put, Naturopathic Doctors are qualified to practice as primary care physicians. If you choose to seek care from a naturopathic doctor–or any health care practitioner–you are right to ask about his/her credentials and seek personal and professional references. Armed with this knowledge, you may make an educated decision about which health care provider is best for you.

Sources: 1) American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2) Association of Accredited National Medicine Colleges 3) Bastyr University media release, August 2010 4) California Dept of Consumer Affairs–Naturopathic Medicine Committee 5) “2008 Sunrise Review: Naturopathic Physicians”

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