Anyone interested in becoming a naturopathic doctor must complete a comprehensive and rigorous education and training program. It is very similar to that of conventional medical doctors. Naturopathic medical students learn through classroom work and in clinical settings under the strict guidance and supervision of licensed professional naturopathic doctors.
Like a medical student, the education of a naturopathic medical student consists of three parts: pre-med education, medical school and supervised clinical training.
To enroll in an accredited naturopathic medical school, a student must first complete a full three years of pre-medical training. They must also earn a bachelor of science. Course work in math, English, psychology and the humanities are also integral parts of the undergrad education to earn a place in a naturopathic medical school.
Naturopathic medical schools offer four-year medical programs that include classroom study and clinical training. Accredited naturopathic medical schools require at least 4,100 hours of class work and hands-on practice. Students learn:
- Biomedical science
- Natural approaches to therapy
- Current scientific advances
- Disease prevention
- Clinical techniques
The general program of the medical school follows that of conventional medical schools. Year one focuses on biomedical sciences. Year two moves into diagnostic sciences and efficacy evidence, ie., evidence-based medicine. Years three and four feature supervised clinical practice supported by classroom study. In addition to this standard medical school course work, most naturopathic medical students must also study areas such as botanical medicine, homeopathic medicines, clinical nutrition, counseling and even acupuncture.
The combination of a typical medical school course load and studies in natural medicine are required to give naturopathic medical students the ability to identify and address the cause of disease and illness rather than simply treating symptoms. This approach reinforces the “Therapeutic Order”, an approach that seeks to promote health while limiting the potential damage of side effects.
Most accredited naturopathic medical schools have teaching clinics or associations with off-site clinics for students to do their clinical work. Although the classroom study is vital to establish the foundation on medical knowledge needed to practice, hands-on experience and practice is essential for naturopathic medical students. As the naturopathic doctor does not want to simply address symptoms of illness, but seeks to prevent illness, clinical experience is essential for students to learn the real-world way symptoms, and in some cases even chronic conditions, relate to an underlying disease or illness.
Becoming a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor
At the end of study at an accredited naturopathic medical school, the student must pass a two-part exam. In the U.S., the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners administers the exam which is only available to graduates of accredited institutions. Successfully passing this exam is necessary to get licensed to practice.
Many licensed naturopathic doctors work as primary care physicians for their patients. Some choose to specialize just like conventional doctors might. Many work with conventional medical doctors, to help support each other with complementary care the other may not provide.
Patients seeking naturopathic care should always look for a licensed naturopathic doctor. This guarantees a healthcare provider with full medical training and prepared to address the unique needs of the individual.