It’s really common that people use the terms Naturopath and Naturopathic Doctor interchangeably, when in fact, these are two rather different professions. In this video, Dr. Lauren Hacker and Dr. Kelsey Asplin break down the difference between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor.
Naturopaths are lay people who have or think they have obtained some additional knowledge surrounding human health and natural healing modalities. Some Naturopaths may have attended a 2-year learning program that emphasizes this approach, but these are not nationally accredited programs. Many of the programs are a distance learning format, which does allow attendees to learn from their own living room but that also means they lack hands-on, clinical based education. A person who attends one of these schools may call themselves a Naturopath, but is not awarded any credentials that would allow them to practice as or hold themselves out to be a Naturopathic Doctor. They are able to consult with clients on their health and discuss research related to various health topics, but they are not allowed to draw lab work, refer for imaging, interpret labs, diagnose, or treat.
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) have other, more specific qualifications. They must attend a 4-5 year graduate level Naturopathic college or university* that is nationally accredited and based in clinical experiential learning – this means they have to complete over 1200 hours in face-to-face patient care, under the supervision of a credentialed practitioner. Their schooling includes the same biomedical sciences as conventional MD students (including pharmacy training) and also encompasses all the naturopathic specialities (herbal medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, nutrition, lifestyle counseling). Naturopathic Doctors have to pass two sets of national licensing exams before they can qualify to apply for licensure or registration in each state. While scope for Naturopathic Doctors varies some state by state, they are legally allowed to practice as doctors and use the credentials ND or NMD or RND (Registered Naturopathic Doctor). These providers can, depending on the state they are in, order lab work and imaging, interpret results, diagnose and treat, provide physical and annual exams, prescribe nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, perform minor surgery, and provide IV therapy.**
If you are interested in seeking guidance from a natural health provider, make sure you understand what qualifications matter to you, and ask your provider questions to make sure they have the training you would expect.
* There are currently 7 nationally accredited Naturopathic Colleges/Universities in North America. They are: Bastyr University, National University of Naturopathic Medicine, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, National University of Health Sciences, University of Bridgeport – College of Naturopathic Medicine, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine
** As of 2019, Colorado NDs are not able to prescribe pharmaceuticals, perform minor surgery, or provide IVs without having a MD or NP performing or overseeing, and writing off on these procedures. Scope varies state by state so be sure to ask questions or contact someone from your state naturopathic board for guidance on choosing the right person for you.