Naturopathic Medicine-The Basics
Naturopathic Medicine is a unique and distinct system of health care that emphasizes the use of preventive and natural therapeutics. The doctors who practice naturopathic medicine, called naturopathic doctors (NDs), are trained to serve as primary care general practitioners who are experts in the prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of both acute and chronic health conditions.
Naturopathic doctors are trained at accredited, four-year, graduate, residential naturopathic medical programs. The training consists of comprehensive study of the conventional medical sciences including: anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, clinical and physical diagnosis, laboratory diagnosis, cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology, etc, as well as detailed study of a wide variety of natural therapies.
Naturopathic doctors are guided by six principles: First, Do No Harm; The Healing Power of Nature; Find the Cause; Treat the Whole Person; Preventive Medicine; and, Doctor as Teacher. This set of principles, emphasized throughout a naturopathic doctor's training, outlines the philosophy guiding the naturopathic approach to health and healing and forms the foundation of this distinct health care practice.
Naturopathic doctors use a variety of natural and non-invasive therapies, including clinical nutrition, homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physical medicine, and counseling. Many naturopathic doctors have additional training and certification in acupuncture and natural child birth. Naturopathic treatments are effective in treating a wide variety of conditions without the need for additional intervention. Naturopathic doctors are also able to function within an integrated framework, and naturopathic therapies can be used to complement treatments used by conventionally trained medical doctors. The result is a patient-centered approach that strives to provide the most appropriate treatment for an individual's needs.
In the United States, the naturopathic medical profession's infrastructure includes accredited educational institutions, professional licensing, national standards of practice, peer review, and a commitment to state-of-the-art scientific research.
A Little History
Naturopathic medicine in the United States came into existence just over 100 years ago, developed by a man named Benedict Lust in New York state. While the profession by name is just a century old, the natural therapies and philosophy on which naturopathic medicine are based have been effectively used to treat diseases since ancient times. The use of herbal remedies, dietary interventions, hydrotherapy, and lifestyle changes have been used throughout history and in nearly every culture to inhabit the Earth. Hippocrates, a Greek physician who lived 2400 years ago, first formulated the concept of vis medicatrix naturae -- "the healing power of nature". This concept has long been at the core of medicine in many cultures around the world and remains one of the central themes of naturopathic philosophy today.
Naturopathic medicine was popular and widely available throughout the United States well into the early part of the 20th century. In 1920, there were many naturopathic medical schools, thousands of naturopathic physicians, and scores of thousands of patients using naturopathic therapies around the country. But by mid-century the rise of "technological medicine" and the discovery and increased use of "miracle drugs" like antibiotics were associated with the temporary decline of naturopathic medicine and most other methods of natural healing.
By the 1970's, however, the American public was becoming increasingly disenchanted with what had become "conventional medicine." The profound clinical limitations and its out-of-control costs were becoming obvious, and millions of Americans were inspired to look for options and alternatives. Naturopathy, and all of complementary and alternative medicine, began to enter an era of rejuvenation.
Naturopathic Medicine Today
Today, more people than ever are seeking naturopathic medical care and naturopathic medical schools are growing at record rates to accommodate the increased demand for naturopathic education. Presently, there are four accredited four-year naturopathic medical programs in the United States, and two programs in Canada which are candidates for accreditation. Naturopathic medicine has an independent accrediting agency, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), which is the recognized authority for establishing and maintaining the educational standards for the profession. A nationally standardized licensing exam (NPLEX) is used in nearly all of the states which currently license NDs. Currently, sixteen states license NDs (as does Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces). In these states, NDs practice as independent primary care general practitioners, with the ability to diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform physical exams, and order laboratory testing. In these states, many health care consumers specifically choose NDs as their primary care providers.
The national organization representing naturopathic doctors, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), is the driving force for the development of the profession. The AANP is instrumental in the development of the profession’s educational and practice standards, and to expanding awareness of the vital role naturopathic medicine has to play in the future of the health care system in the United States.
Today, naturopathic doctors are experiencing greater recognition as health care practitioners who are experts in the field of natural and preventive medicine, providing leadership in natural medical research, enjoying increasing political influence, and looking forward to an unlimited future potential. Both the American public and policy makers are recognizing and contributing to the resurgence of the comprehensive system of health care practiced by NDs.