Naturopathic physicians are medical doctors whose training is both similar to and different from the training traditional doctors receive. The focus of naturopathic medicine is to help the body heal itself. To that end, physicians identify barriers to healing -- such as poor dietary practices -- and may prescribe alternative treatments such as acupuncture, herbs and massage. Students attend college and medical school, pass licensing exams and are authorized to practice medicine. Each state regulates naturopathic doctors individually, however, and their scope of practice may be different from one state to another. It takes eight years to become a naturopathic doctor.
A Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a naturopathic physician. Although you are not required to obtain a degree in a particular major, naturopathic schools may have prerequisites you must meet. For example, the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, requires the one mathematics course, which can be algebra, calculus or math-based statistics; two courses each in general chemistry and general biology, with labs; two courses in organic chemistry or one course each in organic and biochemistry; physics; two courses in in humanities; and two courses in social studies. You must also complete the Medical College Admissions Test. Some schools ask that you submit an essay on your life experiences, why you chose naturopathic medicine and the role you expect to play in health care.
Naturopathic Medical Schools
Choose a training program accredited by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. While allopathic -- or traditional -- medical schools are found throughout the United States, naturopathic medicine candidates have five options in the United States and two in Canada, as of 2014. Four of the schools are located in the West and two in the East. Bastyr University has two campuses, one in Washington and one in California. The other schools are the National College of Natural Medicine in Oregon; the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona; the National University of Health Sciences in Illinois; and the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. The two Canadian schools are the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario and the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in British Columbia.
What You'll Learn
Your first two years of study are very similar to those of students in a traditional medical school. The focus is on basic and clinical sciences, such as biochemistry, human anatomy and physiology, macro- and microbiology, human pathology or disease, neuroscience, pharmacology and the study of the immune system. You learn to use conventional diagnostic tools such as lab tests, X-rays and other imaging studies. In addition to training in conventional science and medical diagnosis, you study clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, Oriental medicine, lifestyle counseling and massage. For example, you might learn to manage allergies through a combination of nutritional counseling, homeopathic remedies and herbal tinctures, rather than antihistamines and allergy injections. You might use massage or hydrotherapy to stimulate healing in patients with musculoskeletal problems. In the last two years, you begin to see patients under the supervision of licensed physicians.
After graduation, you must pass the NPLEX, or naturopathic physicians licensing examination, to practice. Not all states recognize or license naturopathic physicians, and they may only practice in states that recognize the specialty. Those that do define the scope of practice, which may vary from one state to another. Naturopathic physicians could become licensed in 17 state, as of 2014. States dictate requirements for licensing exams, continuing education and other issues. For example, in Arizona, naturopathic physicians must be board-certified to prescribe medications, even if they already have a medical license. Check with the licensing board in your state.