Naturopathic Physician: What they do and How to Become one
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Naturopathic physicians are trained as primary care providers who diagnose, treat and manage patients with acute and chronic conditions, while addressing disease and dysfunction at the level of body, mind and spirit.
They concentrate on whole-patient wellness through health promotion and disease prevention, attempting to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition. They provide individualized, evidence-informed therapies that balance the least harmful and most effective approaches to help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health.
Naturopathic physicians care for patients of all ages and genders. Naturopathic physicians tailor their treatment protocols for each patient, placing a strong emphasis upon prevention and self-care. Naturopathic medicine is based upon six fundamental principles:
- First, do no harm: Utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies.
- The healing power of nature: Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
- Identify and treat the causes: Look beyond the symptoms to the underlying cause.
- Physician as teacher: Educate patients in the steps to achieving and maintaining health.
- Treat the whole person: View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions.
- Prevention: Focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention.
Naturopathic physicians collaborate with all other branches of medical science, referring patients to conventional health care practitioners for diagnosis or treatment when appropriate.
You may find this field intriguing, but how can you be sure that naturopathic medicine is the right career for you? These are some commonalities that naturopathic medical students share. Do you see yourself in these traits and interests?
- Academically successful and grounded in the sciences
- Prefer a holistic approach to patient care
- Recognize the role of nutrition and lifestyle in health care
- Have a background in volunteerism
- Good communicators with a pleasant bedside manner
- Inquisitive, like to get to the root of the problem
- Measure personal success in terms of impact, not status
- Respectful of the environment
- Socially concerned
- Understand the art and the science of medicine
Some naturopathic physicians establish and operate their own private practices, while others choose to work for an integrative medical clinic. Others become research scientists, natural pharmacists, public health administrators, consultants to industry or insurance companies or advisors to other health care professionals. The work environments and professional options are as wide-ranging for naturopathic physicians as they are for any allopathic or osteopathic physician.
Job satisfaction is high among naturopathic physicians. More than 90% of practicing naturopathic physicians enjoy professional and career satisfaction.
Salary Range and Outlook
The prospects for making a prosperous living in this field are excellent for the foreseeable future. Naturopathic medicine continues to gain acceptance and recognition throughout the United States and Canada. The income range for naturopathic physicians varies widely.
Established naturopathic physicians who run large busy practices or partner with others to run practices make an average estimated net income of $80,000 to $90,000 per year—and may make upwards of $200,000. A beginning naturopathic physician just starting up his or her practice, working part-time or building a staff, generally earns less than these averages for the first years of practice. Early residency positions reflect incomes between $20,000 and $30,000 per year.
A resurgence of interest in naturopathic healing in North America in the 1970s resulted in the rapid growth and maturation of the naturopathic profession to the point it is today. As of 2014, there are seven accredited naturopathic medical programs at eight campus locations in North America. The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) is the accrediting body for these programs.
Graduates of CNME-accredited naturopathic medical institutions are eligible to sit for the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination. Only graduates from naturopathic medical schools accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education are eligible to sit for the professional board exams in states that require them. Graduates from accredited schools are eligible to practice in any state in which they meet the licensing or state requirements. In some states, graduates are required to pass rigorous professional board exams in order to be licensed as primary care general practice physicians.
Licensed naturopathic physicians attend four-year programs being educated in the same basic sciences as allopathic and osteopathic physicians. The curriculum is comparable to that of any major allopathic or osteopathic medical school. In fact, some naturopathic medical schools require more hours of basic and clinical science than do top allopathic or osteopathic medical schools.
In evaluating candidates for naturopathic medical programs, admissions counselors look for students who want to be challenged academically, yet feel comfortable relying on their own intuition and creativity. They look for high-level critical thinkers who are flexible enough to deal with the challenge of formulating personalized treatment plans. Applicants must demonstrate that they possess the internal qualities essential to becoming naturopathic physicians, including concern for others, integrity, curiosity, motivation and a strong belief in the efficacy of natural medicine.
Prior to admission into a naturopathic medicine program, the typical student has completed three years of pre-medical training and earned a Bachelor of Science degree. While no specific major is required for admission, students are expected to have completed courses in English and the humanities, as well as math, physics and psychology, with a strong emphasis on chemistry and biology. Courses that will help prepare students for the naturopathic course of study include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, botany and developmental psychology.