Naturopathic Medicine: Program Structure and Career Options
The practice of naturopathic medicine or “naturopathy” is centuries old. This alternative wellness system is built on the belief that the body can heal itself. It combines modern medical methods with a broad range of natural therapies to aid recovery, prevent illness, and boost overall health. Massage, herbs, exercise, nutritional counseling, and acupuncture all fall under the umbrella of naturopathy. If you’re interested in studying this fascinating field, you’re in luck.
There are lots of degree options to choose from. You could specialize in a particular aspect of naturopathic medicine, like homeopathy or hydrotherapy, for example. Or you could keep things broad, pursuing more generalized studies. Whatever direction you choose, you’ll learn to respect these basic tenants of naturopathic medicine:
- The healing power of nature: naturopathic practitioners believe that people have a natural, inherent ability to heal themselves.
- Rather than treating or suppressing the symptoms of disease, naturopathy aims to identify and treat the causes.
- First do no harm: like medical doctors, naturopathic physicians aim to minimize risk when diagnosing and treating patients.
- Doctor as teacher: naturopathy is built on a premise of educating patients so that they can take responsibility for their own health.
- Naturopathy aims to treat the whole person by considering the mental, emotional, physical, social, and environmental aspects of wellness.
- Prevention: the practice of naturopathy is focused on preventing illnesses and injuries before they occur.
In the US for example, there is only one path to becoming a licensed naturopathic doctor: completing a doctor of naturopathy. But as you’ll see below, there are lots of other naturopathic medicine degrees to choose from, each of which comes with its own unique advantages.
1. Naturopathic Certificate Program
Most certificate programs in naturopathy take about one year to complete, but this can vary from school to school. Many of these programs provide a basic introduction to the field, offering hands-on training in topics like acupuncture, nutrition, and homeopathy. Others are completed after or during a doctor of naturopathy, offering students focused training in a naturopathic specialization of their choice.
2. Specialized Bachelor of Science
Although a few universities offer bachelor’s programs in naturopathic medicine, none are currently accredited by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Instead, students interested in getting an undergraduate degree in this field usually pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in alternative medicine, integrated health sciences, or a related specialization.
These four-year programs combine general educational requirements like math, biology, and English with coursework in a naturopathic specialization of the student’s choice. These degrees prepare students for entry-level jobs in wellness centers, spas, rehabilitation clinics, and other alternative medical facilities. However, a Bachelor of Science degree alone does not enable you to become a licensed naturopathic doctor.
3. Master’s in Alternative Medicine
Master’s programs in naturopathic medicine go by many different names, depending on the student’s specialization. Master’s of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Master’s of Naturopathy and Parapharmacy, and Master’s of Aesthetics and Wellness are just a few common options. These programs provide students with advanced theoretical and practical training in natural therapeutic techniques; however, just like bachelor’s degrees, they do not provide students with the education needed to become certified NDs.
4. Doctor of Naturopathy (ND)
All licensed NDs are required to complete an accredited Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program. These graduate degrees typically take four years to complete after a bachelor’s degree. They follow a similar educational approach as conventional medical school programs, pairing coursework in basic science subjects with hands-on training in holistic medical treatments.
Students learn in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in a clinical practice, combining formal training with first-hand experience. Most include coursework in topics like anatomy, biochemistry, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), naturopathy history, and patient counseling. Typically, the last two years are spent working with and learning directly from practicing naturopathic doctors.
Careers Options Available with Naturopathic Medicine Degree
As you can see, naturopathy degrees encompass a broad range of topics, approaches, and techniques. The in-depth scientific knowledge you’ll gain in one of these programs prepare graduates for a wide range of careers. Here are just some of the directions a naturopathic medicine degree can take you:
- Clinical: As a licensed ND, you can pursue a range of clinical careers, providing natural therapeutic care to patients of all kinds. You could practice general medicine in a family clinic, treating common ailments like colds, flues, or allergic reactions. You might end up working in a specialized area, helping patients recover from sports injuries, dietary issues, or heart disease, for example.
- Administrative: If you’re organized and systematic, you might enjoy a more administrative role. Management positions exist in every corner of the wellness industry, including in community health, non-profit organizations, and even corporate health. Some of these positions will require an advanced degree or extensive experience. They can include everything from receptionist work to top managerial positions.
- Research: Doctoral degrees in naturopathic medicine provide extensive training in research. With this degree, you can use that training to advance the future of the field. For example, you could become a research scientist or research director in a clinic, a natural health company, or an academic institution.
- Communication & Outreach: Health communication is another exciting career area to consider. Positions in public speaking, writing, and advocacy are all possibilities for a naturopathy graduate. In one of these roles, you’ll use your naturopathic knowledge and your communication skills to help people discover the benefits of natural remedies. You might run a blog sharing helpful nutrition tips, work as a freelance health coach, or try something else entirely.
- Herbal Pharmaceuticals & Supplements: If you love herbs and tinctures, a career in herbal pharmaceuticals might be for you. You could find employment at a health food store, working as a natural products specialist. Or, you might end up at an herbal pharmacy, distributing natural remedies to clients of all kinds. If you’re more entrepreneurial, you could even start your own dietary supplement business.
- Education: Interested in a teaching career? With your Doctorate of Naturopathy, you can help educate the next generation of NDs. One route is to become a faculty member at a university, community college, or an accredited ND school. But other options, like tutoring high school science or becoming a corporate wellness educator, are also worth consideringRead less