At its roots, Naturopathic medicine is the practice of restoring health. Many people tend to get caught up in the therapies that naturopathic doctors use—nutrition, counseling, homeopathy, botanicals (herbal medicine), various physical or hands-on medicines, hydrotherapy (water as medicine), and the use of natural vitamins, minerals and supplements—but anybody can use any of those therapies in a conventional medicine way. It’s the thought process, the “why,” that makes naturopathic medicine different.

It can be confusing to understand the difference between online credentialed naturopaths vs licensed naturopathic doctors. Both typically use the ND abbreviation after their name, but the online naturopaths are not accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), the authoritative credentialing body for all North American naturopathic educational programs, meaning they are not licensable in any state. This becomes an issue when our society has become so mobile.

I’m a licensed naturopathic doctor in Washington state, which means I graduated from a CNME-accredited school, Bastyr University, and passed all licensing exams. But this varies state to state. For example, in my home state of Virginia, where I continue to keep my pharmacy license current, neither naturopaths nor naturopathic doctors must be licensed.

So, if an Army personnel from Ft. Lewis, WA gets transferred to Ft. Lee, VA, there’s potential for great confusion when encountering a “naturopath.” How was this practitioner trained? Was it a weekend seminar, an online program, a purchase from someone selling degrees with no training of any kind (this does happen)? Or was it a 4-year (or 5, or 6-year in my case) program in-person with clinical training over the last half of the very expensive, grueling educational process? There can be a vast difference in training.

The Philosophy of Naturopathic Medicine

Now, let’s take it one step further and throw Vitalism into the conversation. There’s a growing group of CNME-accredited, licensed naturopathic doctors getting an extra credential through the Naturopathic Medicine Institute to set us apart from the rest of the CNME-accredited, licensed naturopathic doctors trained in North America.

Just like the osteopathic doctors (DO) went the way of the conventional medical doctor (MD) in the 1950s, so seems to be the trajectory for naturopathic doctors (ND) today.

Here’s a chart to differentiate us:

What Is ND chart.png

To sum up, the primary role of a physician (MD, DO and too many NDs, in my opinion) is the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Theirs is a “disease-focused” or “pathology-focused” practice. Vitalistic Naturopathic Medicine holds that the primary role of the physician is to restore health. Ours is a “health-focused” or “physiology-focused” practice. The Naturopathic Medicine Institute (of which I am a proud member!) considers this a foundational distinction for our profession and for healthcare consumers.