Naturopathic Medicine Gaining Acceptance and Momentum
What’s the difference between an ND and a MD? A licensed naturopathic physician (ND) attends a four-year graduate level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of the same basic sciences as an MD, but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness.
In addition to a standard medical curriculum, the naturopathic physician is required to complete four years of training in clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, psychology, and counseling (to encourage people to make lifestyle changes in support of their personal health). A naturopathic physician also takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician.
Is this a new kind of doctor? Yes and no. Although naturopathic medicine has been around for over 100 years, it is just now gaining recognition across the country. Naturopathic medicine flourished in the early part of the 20th century, but its popularity waned during the post-WWII era.
In fact, until 1952, National University of Health Sciences had a naturopathic medicine program. Chicago was once a major hub for naturopathic medicine. One of its most famous practitioners, Dr. Henry Lindlahr, had a medical center and health spa at locations in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois.
- During the last 30 years, interest in natural therapies and preventive approaches to health care has increased dramatically, sparking a resurgence of interest in naturopathic medicine.
- There are currently six naturopathic medical school programs in North America that are recognized by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, which in turn is recognized by the US Department of Education.
- Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington) and four provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan) allow the practice of naturopathic medicine. Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have licensing laws for naturopathic doctors.
- In a number of states and provinces where there is not yet professional licensure, naturopathic medical associations are actively engaged in legislative initiatives to pass licensing laws – including Illinois.
The scope of practice (meaning what naturopathic doctors are allowed to do) varies from state to state and province to province. In states and provinces without naturopathic licensing laws, many who hold the ND degree also hold other credentials such as the Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Chiropractic, or Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine, and they practice under licenses for those professions. Others offer services such as consulting that do not violate their states’ medical practice acts.
But the ND profession is quickly gaining momentum with new doors opening every year. Choosing an ND as a primary care family doctor may soon be a viable option for health care consumers.
For example, as of October 1, 2007, all private insurers in Vermont, as well as Vermont Medicaid and the Vermont State Employees insurance, must cover naturopathic physicians at the same level of reimbursement as other covered physicians. This is currently the best insurance law for naturopathic physicians in the country. Under the new law, benefits cannot be limited by condition and insurance companies cannot cap reimbursement, nor restrict the number of NDs allowed onto plans in any way that differs from other covered physicians regulated under the state’s health insurance laws. What’s more, the new law designates NDs as “primary care physicians.”
“Our aim as a profession is to earn licensure and full scope of practice across the North American continent and beyond,” says Fraser Smith, ND, dean of naturopathic medicine at National University of Health Sciences. “Today’s naturopathic students will be the forerunners of a growing profession that’s just now coming into wider public awareness and will soon be a full player in the national health care market.”