Naturopathic Medicine 101

Most people haven’t heard of naturopathic medicine, especially in New York. That may not be surprising, considering that New York does not currently offer licensure to doctors of naturopathic medicine. Ironically, the first school of naturopathy in the United States was founded in New York City, and graduated its first class in 1902. Since then, many time-tested healing traditions have been pushed aside in favor of drugs and surgery. Now naturopathic medicine is regaining popularity as people demand disease prevention and holistic health care.

A Different Kind Of Doctor

Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine, or NDs, are general practitioners trained as experts in natural therapies. Patients of all ages consult licensed NDs for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of almost all acute and chronic conditions. These include allergies, arthritis, anxiety, depression, diabetes, respiratory infections, menstrual problems, menopausal symptoms, digestive disorders and weight loss. 

What makes naturopathic doctors different from their conventional counterparts is their approach to patient care. They typically spend an hour or more with new patients during initial consultations, investigating the underlying cause of illness and promoting wellness in body and mind, rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment. They educate their patients about their health and encourage self-responsibility in healing.

Using the least invasive treatments to minimize side effects, NDs typically recommend natural therapies such as nutrition, botanical (herbal) medicine, counseling, homeopathy, exercise therapy and manipulation of bones and muscles. For example, as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy for managing menopausal symptoms, NDs may prescribe dietary modifications, therapeutic exercise and botanicals like Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh).

Under their full scope of practice, licensed doctors of naturopathic medicine write prescriptions when necessary and perform minor surgery and IV therapy. Those with additional training may also offer acupuncture, oriental medicine and natural childbirth.

Naturopathic doctors work in cooperation with all branches of medicine to provide the best patient care. When illnesses require pharmacological and/or surgical intervention, naturopathic medicine can offer recommendations to decrease adverse effects and speed recovery time.

Education and Licensing

Licensed doctors of naturopathic medicine attend a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school. These schools have admission requirements and coursework comparable to those of conventional medical schools, including standard medical curriculum and two years of internship. Additionally, NDs are extensively trained in natural therapeutics.

There are four accredited naturopathic medical schools in the United States and one in Canada. The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education is the only accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education.

Fifteen states currently license naturopathic doctors, including Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Licensure requires NDs to graduate from an accredited school and pass national board exams. They are also subject to review by a State Board of Examiners. Insurance companies in these states commonly cover naturopathic care because it reduces the incidence of chronic conditions and decreases health care costs.

Why Not New York?

Licensing efforts are active in the state of New York. Health care consumers should be concerned because licensure would distinguish properly trained doctors of naturopathic medicine from lesser-trained individuals who may present a danger to the public. For the most up-to-date information on current licensure efforts, contact the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

You can support NDs in New York by joining the NYANP as a supporting member and making a small contribution. You can also tell your legislator that you want licensure for doctors of naturopathic medicine in New York. The NYANP website has links to the names of your senators as well as their biographies and contact information.