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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ni Li, ND MSc

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

What is a naturopathic doctor?
(TM: Trademark of Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors)

More and more people are becoming interested in natural medicine and natural treatments. However, many don’t know much about naturopathic medicine and naturopathic doctor. I have been asked quite often about it, like what is a naturopathic doctor (ND), what NDs do, and what the difference is between an ND, a medical doctor (MD), and a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. Are NDs real doctors? I’m glad people are asking these questions, and I will try to provide answers here.

Table of Contents

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

First, Naturopathic Doctor or Naturopathic Physician is a medical profession emerging in North America. NDs need to attend an accredited four-year post-graduate ND program. After successfully obtaining Doctor of Naturopathy degree, they must pass the licensing examinations before they can practice and use a Doctor title. In North America, NDs receive the same basic medical training as MDs. In addition, they learn intensively about nutrition, lifestyle medicine, TCM and acupuncture, herbal medicine, health psychology, etc.

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

In the East, we have integrated TCM and Western medicine to benefit from each other's strengths. The integration also happens in the West. That is today's naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic medicine originated in Europe in the 19th century and came to North America in the early 20th century. It adopts natural, safe, effective, and low-toxicity and side-effects therapies, and advocates the principles of supporting self-healing and immunity, preventing diseases, and treating the whole person. It matches well with the therapeutic principles of TCM. Therefore, in addition to integrating traditional medicine in Europe and other regions, modern naturopathic medicine also integrates many TCM principles and therapies. So, don't be surprised when an ND talks about TCM and acupuncture.

What is the difference between an ND and an MD or a TCM practitioner?

NDs receive training in both Western medicine and TCM, so they understand the strengths and weaknesses of the two. It helps them to decide when it is time for TCM or other natural treatments, and when it is time for Western medicine (pharmaceuticals and surgeries). In some provinces and states in Canada and the US, NDs can also prescribe pharmaceutical drugs. This makes it easier for patients to fully enjoy integrative care's benefits without going back and forth between NDs and MDs.

The consultation sessions of NDs are also relatively long. The initial visits are often 90 minutes, and the follow-ups are usually 30-60 minutes. It is to do a thorough investigation of a person's conditions and medical history and to make an individualized treatment plan. NDs are usually not covered by government insurance plans like OHIP in Ontario, but most private or company medical insurances have ND coverage.

What is the difference between an ND and a naturopath or a natural therapist?

You may also have seen titles like naturopath, natural therapist/healer, homeopath, and holistic therapist/healer. In North America, the title "Doctor" is strictly regulated. As I mentioned earlier, a person must pass all the required education and training, exams for the safe practice of medicine, and reviews of ethics and conducts to obtain a doctor's license and use the title "Doctor". However, there is no such regulation when using titles like natural therapist or holistic healer etc. which means anyone can call themselves that.

Using the term "Naturopath" is a bit complicated. Because many NDs refer to themselves as naturopaths, however, the title "Naturopath" is not regulated in many places, which means anyone can use it. So, if you see someone claiming to be a Naturopath, that person may or may not be a naturopathic doctor. If the person is outside of North America, they are more likely not to be.

I hope this helps you to get a better understanding of naturopathic medicine and naturopathic doctors. If you have any questions, please leave comments below. I will be more than happy to answer them.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational/informational purposes only, and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Learn more.


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