Naturopathic physicians are NOT:
1. Doctors who prescribe herbs instead of drugs. Naturopathic medicine is not about using a natural substance in place of a medication. True naturopathic medicine is based on a philosophy that the human body is capable of healing itself, given the proper environment. In order to facilitate healing we use a range of therapies, anything from lifestyle changes (on one end of the spectrum) to drugs and surgery (on the other end), and many things in between. For more about naturopathic philosophy, see some of my other posts (here and here).
2. Homogenous. Naturopathic physicians, though we are all trained in primary care medicine, have a variety of sub-specialties, niches, and treatment approaches. Some ND’s focus on treatment of musculoskeletal compaints and practice similarly to a Chiropractic doctor. Some of my colleagues specialize in mind-body medicine and use counseling, psychotherapy, or biofeedback as their primary treatment approach. Some practice conservatively, giving mostly medications. All of the above are therapies or modalities that we learn in naturopathic medical school. Other naturopathic doctors use esoteric therapies they learned outside of school. [Unfortunately, there is a huge double-standard in the medical world when it comes to judging our profession – a medical doctor who practices a bizarre, unproven therapy would be labeled a “rogue MD,” whereas a naturopathic doctor who does the same would be automatically lumped with the rest of the profession.]
3. Dreadlocked hippies who couldn’t make it into medical school. While some of my colleagues do have dreadlocks, and I suppose we are all somewhere on the “hippie” spectrum, all of us chose naturopathic medicine not because it was “easier” than medical school but because we believe it has the greatest potential to help people. Perhaps in Bastyr’s 30 year history there has been a student who couldn’t make it in allopathic medical school – but personally I know of not a single one. Many of my friends were pre-med/biology/chemistry majors, some who were already accepted (and granted scholarship!) to well-known medical schools. A few of my student-colleagues actually transferred out of an allopathic program to escape the corrupt, hierarchical structure that characterizes many medical schools. Many students end up in naturopathic medicine after years in another career path, some with advanced degrees already. Since we end up taking the same, or more credits than a medical school, going to Bastyr isn’t exactly an “easy” option either!
4. Against conventional medicine. Though we prefer to use natural therapies to prevent and treat diseases, our naturopathic medical training tells us when it is appropriate to refer to conventional specialists. Dr. Bastyr himself, the namesake of our university, said “Give the patient what the patient needs.” For most this will be nutrition, exercise, sunshine, counseling and perhaps some herbs or a manipulation. For some patients this will be major surgery or chemotherapy. Naturopathic physicians are uniquely suited to meet the patient where they are at.
5. The same as MD’s. I consider medical doctors to be my professional colleagues, but not my equals. I fully recognize that medical doctors have training that exceeds my own in many areas, just as my training in natural therapies exceeds theirs. Naturopathic physicians are not trying to be medical doctors – we have our own set of professional and philosophical guidelines which inform our practice. We are naturopathic primary care specialists, nothing more and nothing less.