Difference Between a Naturopath and Naturopathic Doctor

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Do you know the difference between a naturopath and a naturopathic doctor? If you have an interest in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) approaches to health or medical treatment, and you live in the right location, you may have access to both. Knowing what these titles and their underlying credentials mean will help you make smart decisions about whether or not these providers can help you.

Naturopathic Physician or Doctor

Naturopathic doctors or naturopathic medical doctors earn ND or NMD degrees from a naturopathic medical school. Both names and abbreviations mean the same thing, but the individual selects the title based on educational institution, state practiced in, or personal preference. They study all the basic medical coursework an MD would study, plus the more “natural” sciences including nutrition, botanical medicine (herbals), and mental health studies like psychology or counseling.

In addition to a standard medical curriculum, schools require their graduates to complete four years of training in disciplines such as clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, physical medicine, IV nutritional therapies, and counseling.

NDs have their own licensing exams, which they can take upon graduating from a 4-year accredited institution. However, they may choose to train and take regular MD board certification exams to become licensed as general practice (primary care) doctors, but this is not common. Their practices are usually integrative, meaning they offer conventional medical advice as well as CAM.

Naturopathic doctors are not licensed in every state or province in the United States and Canada. As of 2019, there are 22 states plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands where a patient can find a licensed ND. In Canada, citizens may find an ND in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

If you're looking for a doctor who will treat you by possibly combining allopathic/Western therapies with a CAM approach, then a naturopathic doctor may be the right choice for you.

Naturopathic Practitioner or Naturopath

There are a handful of careers that are called “naturopathic” that aren't physicians or naturopathic doctors. These non-physician naturopathic careers have titles like "Holistic Health Practitioner," "Naturopathic Practitioner," or "Traditional Naturopath." They study in non-medical schools and universities that may have “nature” or “naturopathy” in their titles, but this coursework doesn't lead to a medical degree that's accepted or licensed as a doctor. Most of the coursework is also online for these schools, sometimes entirely.

Since naturopaths are not medical doctors their services may not be covered by your health insurance. However, not all states recognize naturopathic doctors with licensing, therefore, not all NDs are covered by insurance either.

A Word From Verywell

The differences between the two boil down to the type of education and licensing each receives. If you want to be sure your new integrative doctor has a medical education and license on which to base his or her advice to you, then look only for a naturopathic doctor. If you’re interested in the natural side of treatment advice—excluding medical knowledge—then a naturopath’s skills may work well for you.

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Article Sources
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  1. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. Naturopathic doctor licensure.

  2. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. The difference between a traditional naturopath and a licensed naturopathic doctor in North America. 2019.