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What is naturopathic medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a system of healthcare—an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. Naturopathic medicine is defined by the principles that underlie and determine its practice rather than by the specific substances or techniques used. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes natural, effective holistic medicine.

What is a naturopathic doctor?

Naturopathic doctors, also known in some states as naturopathic physicians, (NDs) are licensed healthcare providers who have undergone rigorous professional training at an accredited school of naturopathic medicine. They are trained to provide primary care and/or specialty care. A naturopathic doctor’s diagnostic and therapeutic techniques include both modern and traditional. Naturopathic methods incorporate the scientific and empiric, and therapies range from the most fundamental (“nature cure” and “food as medicine”) to conventional treatments. Infused in this practice is a profound respect for the art of medicine, reverence for the wisdom of nature and application of the latest scientific research, all applied to promote optimal patient outcomes.

In some states, there are individuals who call themselves ‘naturopaths’ who have training that is significantly different than that of naturopathic doctors. They are not eligible for licensure and typically get their training from online or correspondence courses. Only individuals who have attended an accredited naturopathic medical school and passed national board exams are able to apply for a license in the states where NDs are regulated. Asking for a license number is a good way to be sure you are seeing a qualified ND.

What kind of training must naturopathic physicians undergo?

Naturopathic doctors undergo training that is similar in structure and scope to that of allopathic physicians (MDs) and osteopathic physicians (DOs). Naturopathic medical colleges are four-year graduate schools with rigorous admissions requirements comparable to other medical schools. The Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) degree is awarded after classroom, clinical and practical study.

Naturopathic doctors are trained in standard medical sciences including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, embryology immunology, clinical and physical diagnosis, pharmacology, cardiology, neurology, radiology, minor surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics and dermatology. The training also includes extensive study of naturopathic philosophy and therapeutics including clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine, hydrotherapy and counseling.

Like many states and provinces, Washington’s laws require graduates of naturopathic medical schools to pass rigorous board examinations in order to qualify for licensure. Washington NDs must also complete annual continuing education training to maintain their licenses.

What is the scope of practice for naturopathic physicians?

Naturopathic doctors are trained to provide primary care and/or specialty care in outpatient settings. NDs see patients with acute and chronic conditions and employ all standard conventional diagnostic tools including physical examination, laboratory tests and imaging. The full range of lab tests and physical exams (including PAP smears) is an essential part of ND training and practice. NDs may use additional physical and laboratory procedures to assess nutritional status, metabolic function and/or toxic load, while considerable time may also be spent assessing mental, emotional, social and spiritual status to assure that any treatment plan is comprehensive.

NDs use a variety of therapies to promote health and treat disease, including dietetics, clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, physical medicine, naturopathic manipulative therapy, lifestyle counseling, exercise therapy, homeopathy and hydrotherapy. NDs can perform minor office procedures appropriate to a primary care setting, administer vaccinations and prescribe most standard drugs when indicated. Like other primary care doctors, NDs delegate to nurses and medical assistants, and they refer to specialists when appropriate.

Are naturopathic physicians’ services covered by health insurance plans?

This varies by state, but increasingly, health insurance plans cover naturopathic care. In some states, such as Washington, state-regulated healthcare plans are required to cover naturopathic physicians. Check with your health plan for eligibility and benefit information.

What are the principles of naturopathic medicine?

The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae)

The healing power of nature is the inherent self-organizing and healing process of living systems. Naturopathic medicine recognizes this healing process to be ordered and intelligent. It is the naturopathic physician’s role to support, facilitate and augment this process by identifying and removing obstacles to health and recovery, and by supporting the creation of a healthy internal and external environment.

Find the Cause (Tolle Causam)

Every illness has an underlying cause, often in aspects of the lifestyle, diet or habits of the individual. A naturopathic physician is trained to find and remove the underlying cause of a disease.

First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)

Naturopathic physicians use methods and medicinal substances that minimize the risk of harmful effects, and they apply the least possible force or intervention necessary to diagnose illness and restore health. Whenever possible, the suppression of symptoms is avoided, as suppression generally interferes with the complete healing process.

Treat the Whole Person

Health or disease comes from a complex interaction of mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, dietary, genetic, environmental, lifestyle and other factors. Naturopathic physicians treat the whole person, taking these factors into account.

Preventive Medicine

The naturopathic approach to healthcare can prevent minor illnesses from developing into more serious diseases. Patients are taught the principles with which to live a healthy life and, by following these principles, they can prevent major illnesses.


Wellness is a subjective state of being healthy that goes beyond an absence of symptoms. It suggests the full expression of the individual and is inherent in everyone, whether disease is present or not. Naturopathic medicine seeks to recognize and mobilize this inherent quality in a way that positively impacts health and healing.

Doctor as Teacher (Docere)

The original meaning of the word “doctor” is teacher. A principal objective of naturopathic medicine is to educate the patient and emphasize self-responsibility for health. Naturopathic physicians also recognize and employ the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship.