where natural health and fashion merge

What is the difference between a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D) And An M.D?


What is the difference between an ND and an MD?  Well, there isn’t a big difference in the classes but there is quite difference is how we view the patient and the disease.

ND’s like MD’s are both required to have an undergraduate degree in premedical studies while maintaining an excellent GPA.  They both take hundreds of credit hours in all the core sciences (anatomy, cadaver lab, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, neurology, pharmacology…) and both have to take 2 rigorous board licensing exams. The graph below provides an excellent comparison between Bastyr University (which I attend) to the University of Washington medical school.


(Dr. Erika Krumbeck ND created this wonderful graph)

Click on the links to check out Bastyr’s ND Curriculum & the University of Washington Medical School 1st year and 2nd year curriculum.

Upon graduation a naturopathic doctor will have completed over 310 doctorate level credit hours and over 1500 clinical hours seeing a minimum of 350 patients and 144 preceptorship hours (with our choice of an MD, ND, DC, or DO).  Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary care physicians from the first day of medical school which is much different than M.D’s which choose a speciality upon completion of school.

The residencies offered for naturopathic doctors are highly competitive and are focused on primary care medicine with specialties in family medicine, pediatrics, physical medicine, and oncology which take place either in a hospital or clinic setting.  The clinical training after successful completion of the academic program is ongoing and residencies for naturopathic doctors is expanding rapidly.

Naturopathic doctors differ from allopathic medical doctors by addressing the patient from a holistic perspective.  ND’s believe in treating the cause rather than the symptom.  Sure, we have pretty much the same rights as MD (diagnosing, treating, prescribing ability) but our goal is to find out the root of the problem.

These are the principles of Naturopathic Medicine

˜˜  The Healing Power of Nature  Vis Medicatrix Naturae

Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in the body that is ordered and intelligent.   Naturopathic Physicians act to identify and remove obstacles to recovery as well as to facilitate and augment this healing ability.

˜˜  First Do No Harm  Primum Non Nocere 

Naturopathic medicine follows three principles to avoid harming the patient:  (1) Utilize methods and medical substances that minimize the risk of harmful side effects (2) Avoid, when possible, the harmful suppression of symptoms (3) Acknowledge and respect the individual’s healing process, using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat illness.

˜˜  Find the Cause  Tolle Causum

Underlying causes of illness must be identified and removed before complete recovery can occur.  The Naturopathic Physician seeks to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness, rather than to eliminate or merely suppress symptoms.

˜˜  Treat the Whole Person  Tolle Totem

Naturopathic Physicians treat each individual by taking into account physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors.  Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development.

˜˜  Doctor as Teacher Docere 

The original meaning of the word “doctor” is teacher.  One of the main objectives of naturopathic medicine is to educate the patient and emphasize self –responsibility for health.  Naturopathic physicians also acknowledge the therapeutic value of the doctor - patient relationship.

˜˜  Prevention 

Naturopathic Physicians emphasize disease prevention, assessment of risk factors and hereditary susceptibility to disease and making appropriate interventions to prevent illness.Naturopathic medicine strives to create a healthy world in which humanity may thrive.

˜˜  Wellness 

Wellness follows the establishment and maintenance of optimum health and balance.Wellness is a state of being healthy, characterized by positive emotion, thought and action.  Wellness is inherent in everyone, no matter what dis-ease(s) an individual might experience.  If wellness is truly recognized and nurtured within that individual, he/she will more quickly heal, as compared to their healing with direct treatment of the dis-ease alone.  (This principle was adopted by Bastyr University and added to the original six principles.)

The biggest issue that ND’s face is credibility, NOT because of their training but due to other people calling themselves a “naturopathic doctor” or “naturopath” who have no real training. Surprisingly, there are many people in the U.S who use the initials ND behind their name who barely graduated high school! So, if a person finds an “naturopath” with no real understanding of science or diagnoses and actually gets harmed in the process this creates a sigma for all ND’s.

How can this happen? Well, there are several schools that are not accredited and do not even require an undergraduate degree to attend that teach “natural medicine”!  Clayton college and many others somehow allow graduates to call themselves “doctors” but they have never seen a patient or even finished an undergraduate degree.

When looking for a naturopathic doctor please make sure that they meet the following:

1. They must have attended one of these 7 doctorate level accredited medical universities:

  •  Bastyr University
  • National College of Natural Medicine
  • National University of Health Sciences
  • Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • University of Bridgeport
  • Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • Boucher University

The graph below reveals the training from an accredited medical school versus a unaccredited school.  What a huge difference!


If they attended another school, runaway now!!!

2. If their training was only online that is pretty scary.  How can you learn 900 level biochemistry online or understand doctorate level human anatomy without cadaver lab?

3. Make sure that they are a board licensed naturopathic physician. This means they have passed both the basic science boards and the clinical training board exams.

4. Finally, make sure you connect with your doctor since they are going to be working closely with you on your personal journey to health.

All board certified ND’s have been working tirelessly to be nationally recognized so more people will not be harmed from untrained naturopaths attempting to mislead patients.  In the mean time, just ask what school they attended and what credentials they have.

Want to make a difference today!  Donate $5 to help fund ND students to travel to Washington DC  and get more states licensed.


10 Responses to “What is the difference between a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D) And An M.D?”

  1. mburklund

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thank you so much for your comments:) I love this article which does a great job at further explaining what we do and how there can be some confusion about credentials: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-stanclift-nd/naturopathic-doctors_b_1923371.html

    Here are some more resources that further describe our training:

    Here is some information on the 2 board exams that we must take. The first one is very similar to the USMLE and we use the same study materials and this exam occurs after our 2nd year of core sciences but the 2 board exam is based on clinical reasoning which is different than an MD or DO:

    In order to be licensed as a primary care, general practice physician by a state or jurisdiction which requires licensing, one must:

    Graduate from a four-year, professional-level program at a federally accredited naturopathic medical school. (See Selecting an ND School.)
    Study a curriculum which includes current medical science and traditional naturopathic theory.
    Take and pass national board exams: Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX). This rigorous exam covers basic sciences, diagnostic and therapeutic subjects and clinical sciences.
    Candidates for full licensure must also satisfy all licensing requirements for the individual state or province in which they hope to practice. Most of the states and provinces that license naturopathic physicians also have health care systems which allow patients to use naturopathic doctors as their primary care physician.

    Licensed states and provinces

    Currently, 17 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands all have laws regulating naturopathic doctors (NDs). In these states and provinces, naturopathic doctors are required to graduate from a four-year, residential naturopathic medical school and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination (NPLEX) in order to receive a license.

    Licensed naturopathic physicians must fulfill state- or province-mandated continuing education requirements annually, and have a specific scope of practice defined by the law in their state or province.

    …And don’t think we don’t love MD’s and DO’s!!! I think that is a common misconception in our field. A well trained ND from an accredited university understands the standard of care and knows when each type of medicine is appropriate.We have MDs teaching specific classes at our school (example: pharmacology, neurology, sports medicine…), PhDs teaching classes (physiology or anatomy, nutrition), and DOs & Chiropractors teaching classes in physical medicine, not just NDs. My goal in writing this article was to inform the lay person about the extensive training an ND must go through and to watch out for “naturopaths” trying to treat patients without appropriate training. It’s kinda scary that these people are out there and most people don’t understand the huge difference.

    Hope this helps!,

  2. bhmassage

    Reblogged this on A Touch of Healing and commented:
    Detailed information on education requirements for Naturopathic Doctors. Not all states regulate all forms of alternative care and, unfortunately, there are those that fancy themselves providers of some kind without proper education and training. I feel this gives the realm of alternative care as a whole a bad wrap, as one bad experience spreads like wildfire among a community. If we hope to have alternative care accepted by the health community and covered by insurance we must be willing to put the work into knowing our craft. You as the client/patient deserve the best care available, regardless of what realm of care you choose. Please do your homework when looking into any alternative care to ensure you are receiving care by a qualified provider.

  3. Matt

    Nice Post Michele! This is getting posted on my Facebook wall. I want to correct one thing though. Boucher in Vancouver is an accredited ND school, so there are 7 accredited ND schools in total.

  4. Samantha

    Naturopaths who take the board exams are not “board certified” unless they take the specialty boards for oncology or pediatrics. Also, passing the board exams does not make you “board licensed”, you still need to apply for a license through the state department of health. Just FYI.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,007 other followers

%d bloggers like this: