The Difference Between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor

Portrait of traditional Chinese physician
A traditional Chinese physician. ViewStock/Getty Images

Do you know the difference between a naturopath and a naturopathic doctor? If you have interest in complementary or alternative approaches (CAM) to health or medical treatment, and you live in the right location, you may have access to both. Knowing what these titles and their underlying credentials mean will help you make smart decisions about whether these providers can help you – or not.

A Naturopathic Physician or Doctor - NMD or ND

A Naturopathic Doctor or Physician has earned an ND or NMD degree from a naturopathic medical school.

He or she studies all the basic medical coursework an MD would study, plus the more “natural” sciences including nutrition, botanical medicine (herbals), and mental health studies like psychology or counseling.

ND = Naturopathic Doctor and NMD = Naturopathic Medical Doctor. Both these names and abbreviations mean the same thing. An individual who has earned this title usually chooses the one he or she prefers based on where they received their medical education.

NDs may take regular MD board certification exams to become licensed as general practice (primary care) doctors. Their practices are usually integrative, meaning they offer mainstream Western medical advice as well as CAM.

Naturopathic doctors are not licensed in every state or province in the United States and Canada. As of 2015, there are 17 states plus DC, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands where a patient can find a licensed ND.

Find a list of states here. In Canada, citizens may find an ND in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

If you are looking for a doctor who will treat you by selecting from either or both the allopathic/Western world or with a more natural, CAM approach, then an naturopathic doctor may be the right choice for you.

Here’s a link to find a naturopathic doctor near you.

A Naturopathic Practitioner or Naturopath

There are a handful of careers that are called “naturopathic” that are not physicians or doctors. Smart patients understand the differences between these naturopaths and real, medical, naturopathic doctors.

These non-physician naturopathic careers have titles like Holistic Health Practitioner or Naturopathic Practitioner. They study in non-medical schools and universities that may have “nature” or “naturopathy” in their titles. While those schools may have excellent curricula (this is not a judgment on whether that’s true or not), their coursework does not lead to a medical degree that is accepted or licensed as a doctor.

Since naturopaths are not medical doctors their services may not be covered by your health insurance. However, not all states recognize naturopathic doctors with licensing, therefore, not all NDs are covered by insurance either.

The Differences between NDs and Naturopaths

Therefore, the differences between the services you can receive from the two boil down to the type of education and licensing each receives.

If you want to be sure your new integrative doctor has a medical education and license on which to base his or her advice to you, then look only for a naturopathic doctor. If you’re interested only in the natural side of treatment advice, to the exclusion of medical knowledge, then a naturopath’s skills may suffice.

Learn more about CAM and Integrative Medicine:

Alternative, Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Therapies

Controversy Over Alternative Medicine

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Alternative Medicine

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