How to Become a Naturopathic Doctor
Naturopathic doctors are licensed medical doctors who integrate the best of conventional medicine with botanical, nutritional and homeopathic therapies. They assess not only their patients’ physical health but their emotional, mental and spiritual health as well, informed by the philosophy of treating the whole person and not just the symptoms. Naturopathic doctors use conventional and alternative treatments to complement each other, giving them a toolkit that is considerably more diverse than that of traditional doctors. They experience the satisfaction of helping patients overcome their immediate health issues while also addressing the behaviors and belief systems that underlie the symptoms at hand. Naturopathic doctors help their patients recover today and prepare for a healthier tomorrow.
Naturopathic doctors work in hospitals, community health centers, private practices and clinics. Working as a doctor typically brings long, irregular and overnight hours, and requires periods of being “on-call.” To be "on-call" means to be available overnight and on weekends to answer patient and nurse calls, prescribe medications, and make emergency office or hospital visits when necessary.
A four-year graduate degree from a medical school is required to become a naturopathic doctor. It is important to find an accredited naturopathic program, for example Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington and San Diego, California. Naturopathic doctors are trained in traditional medical subjects such as physiology, anatomy, neurology, radiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pediatrics and gynecology. Additional alternative subjects (that a traditional MD does not study) include acupuncture, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, botanical and nutritional medicine, and more. The Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree (ND) requires passing practical exams in addition to classroom study and clinical experience.
Similar to a medical doctor, a naturopathic doctor will dedicate the first two years of medical school to classroom study, and the last two years to hands-on training. The training, in the specialty area of medicine that the doctor would like to pursue, is supervised by licensed doctors.
Licensing and/or Certification
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require naturopathic doctors to be licensed. These states require that the doctor attend an accredited four-year naturopathic medical school and pass a postdoctoral board exam, the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX).
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Doctors must be patient, empathetic and able to make quick decisions. They need to work well with others, and enjoy hard work. The specialty of naturopathy requires a passion for the “whole body” philosophy as well as an interest in balancing traditional and alternative medicines and trying new therapies.
Opportunities for Advancement
Moving up within the field of naturopathic medicine can mean moving up to supervisor or management positions within a doctor’s office or hospital. Becoming a professor is another advancement opportunity.
The salary for a naturopathic doctor ranges from $40,918 to $96,469, depending on the experience, area of study and the location of the job. For example, working in a major, private hospital will earn a doctor more than at a government-run clinic.
As with most health-related careers, the future appears bright. Due to an aging population, as well as increased interest in alternative medicine, naturopathic doctors can expect a 35% increase in job growth over the next ten years.