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Careers: Naturopathic Medicine

Plant in a bottleNaturopathy is a holistic system of medicine. Practitioners, called naturopathic physicians (N.D.s), believe that body, mind, and spirit interact to generate overall health. Imbalances in any system can disturb homeostasis (internal equilibrium) and create disease. Correcting the imbalance often allows the body to heal itself. The goal of treatment is to address the root of the illness rather than suppress symptoms using a unique combination of modern medical science and traditional natural medicines. Treatment is custom-tailored to meet the needs of the individual.

To maintain health and manage disease, naturopathic physicians employ a variety of nontoxic, noninvasive therapies such as a healthful diet, exercise, water therapy, body work, herbs and other nutritional supplements, and homeopathy. In some states N.D.s are licensed to prescribe some classes of pharmaceuticals.

History

Naturopathic medicine officially began in the early 1900s when a German physician named Benedict Lust moved to America importing a European system called the “Nature Cure” which relied upon good diet, exercise (especially outdoors), hot baths, and other nontoxic means to restore health. Later, Lust began calling his system of medicine “Naturopathy.” In 1905 he founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York. Naturopathic schools proliferated. However, after the 1930s several factors led to a decline in naturopathy. Examples include the advent of potent drugs such as penicillin, changes in requirements at medical schools, and pressure from the American Medical Association and government agencies.

The 1970s saw a resurgence in the popularity of the holistic model. People recognized the value of taking responsibility for personal health and wanted their healthcare practitioners to help them achieve optimal health through nontoxic means. Today seven holistic schools are accredited in the United States and Canada. More information on the history is available on web sites such as Naturodoc and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Training

Naturopathic physicians complete a four-year graduate program. In many ways, the curriculum is similar to that of conventional medical schools. Students study basic sciences such as biochemistry, human anatomy and physiology, histology, embryology, neuroscience, infectious disease, pathology, clinical diagnosis, and pharmacology. In addition, they learn about the history of naturopathic medicine, botanical medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, counseling, physical manipulation, and more.

Prerequisites for application usually include coursework in math, biology, and general and organic chemistry. Some institutions also require physics, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, psychology, and other relevant classes. In addition to academic achievement, personal qualities such as maturity, creativity, curiosity, compassion, and commitment to healthcare matter.

The Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program at MSU Denver puts students in good stead for graduate work in naturopathy. Furthermore, Dr. Steve Rissman has a Pre-ND Club. Interested ITP majors can contact Dr. Rissman (srissman@msudenver.edu). For specifics about undergraduate prerequisites visit the web sites of the individual naturopathic medical schools to which you plan to apply.

Note: While online and correspondence courses exist, such training does not qualify an individual to engage in clinical practice. Furthermore, graduates of such programs are not qualified to sit for the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations and therefore never become licensed.

The faculty at MSU Denver's Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program strongly encourages students interested in becoming naturopaths to attend one of the seven accredited naturopathic medical colleges in North America. The following North American schools are members of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges:

Naturopathic Colleges
CollegeLocation
Bastyr University Seattle, Washington
Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (BINM) Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) Toronto, Ontario, Canada
National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) Portland, Oregon
National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) Chicago, Illinois
Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (SCNM) Phoenix, Arizona
University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM) Bridgeport, Connecticut

Other resources:

Licensure & Average Income

Thirteen states in the U.S. license naturopathic doctors: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Utah. The District of Columbia also licenses N.D.s, as do the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Canada, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan license N.D.s.

According to a 2004 survey by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, 14 percent of N.D.s practice in unlicensed states. In Canada, 12 percent practice in unlicensed provinces. That same survey found that the profession had tripled over the intervening decade.

Most naturopaths are self-employed and income hinges on how busy the practice is. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, the average annual income for a naturopathic doctor is $80,000 to $90,000. Those working in large, established practices may make up to $200,000.

Author Information

Linda B. White, M.D. is a freelance writer, the coauthor of The Herbal Drugstore and Kids, Herbs & Health and is an affiliate professor in the Integrative Therapeutic Practices Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver.