How are Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) and Medical Doctors (MDs) alike?

NDs and MDs are both required to study biomedical sciences at a four-year accredited graduate medical school.  Included in this rigorous curriculum are anatomy, physiology, neurology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, minor surgery, and others.  Both MDs and NDs can diagnose a disease, predict its course and prescribe treatment.  NDs are primary healthcare practitioners, which means that they can treat the same conditions as a family medical doctor, including both acute concerns and chronic health conditions.  Similar to MDs, if a ND is unable to treat your condition, they will refer or direct you to the most appropriate person or organization.

How do NDs differ in their clinical perspectives from MDs?

The primary differences between NDs and MDs are the philosophical approach and the therapies used.

Naturopathic doctors frame health and wellness in ways that differ from mainstream medical doctors. From a clinical perspective, this results in differences on the following levels: treatment paradigm, treatment strategies and goals, practice milieu and frequency and length of visits.

We live in a culture where health is both a precursor and consequence of wellness. It is instrumental to bringing about personal growth and opportunities in life. Whereas medical doctors believe health is an absence of disease, naturopathic doctors append that a positive psychosocial state, in addition to biological balance, is needed to achieve an optimal state of health. Naturopathic doctors strive to promote, maintain and restore health on the micro-, meso-, and macro-level. On the micro-level, are personal relationships; meso-level, school and place of employment interactions; macro-level, community relations.

In light of the medical model, the MD makes a diagnosis, and then prescribes a treatment to maximize the patient’s benefits and minimize their harm. NDs attend to the patient, utilizing the patient’s expert knowledge of their own symptoms, and further examine the context of these symptoms in light of the patient’s lived experiences of their illness. The ND-patient relationship is viewed as being interactive, as they discern together, the best possible solutions to cope, manage and rehabilitate imbalances in the patient’s life that impede health and optimal functioning.

Conventional medicine uses a disease paradigm that focuses on the use of therapeutics and pharmaceuticals to eradicate or halt the cause of disease. From a clinical perspective, treatment strategies are to ameliorate the body’s physical maladies. Medical doctors are licensed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. These visits average approximately 7-8 minutes. In Canada, medical attention is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, and as a result of this, this treatment option is viewed as the most accessible choice for a large number of patients. Medical doctors’ practices are run out of hospitals and independently owned clinics.  There are medical doctors that have an interest in providing advice on natural therapies.  However, these doctors would not be considered Naturopathic Doctors and do not have the specialized training in each and all of the disciplines of Naturopathic Medicine.

In contrast, naturopathic medicine is holistic, attending to the well-being of the entire person, and not merely addressing patient symptomology. Whereas patterns of conventional medicine use is to combat disease, naturopathic medicine capitalizes on the promotion of wellness in addition to correcting the disturbances in health before the advent of a disease. Naturopathic physicians are licensed by the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapies – Naturopathy. Naturopathic medicine use is not confined to a specific segment of the population. The patient’s first visit is usually a lengthy one and is needed to discern the nature of the patient’s history and identify the factors necessary to ensure the patient is on the road to healing and optimal health.

Naturopathic medicine is renowned for empowering the patient and for acknowledging the patient’s values and rights. The growing corpus of literature reveals it is imperative to develop a health care paradigm empowering both the physician and the patient, to ensure the best possible provision of healthcare services.

What is the difference between a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and a Homeopath?

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are general family practitioners of natural medicine. They are trained to treat ailments using clinical nutrition, acupuncture, botanical medicine, physical medicine, lifestyle counselling and homeopathy. Homeopaths, on the other hand, are trained to practise in one discipline – homeopathy. So while a homeopath would prescribe a homeopathic therapy, a Naturopathic Doctor would use any of the approaches listed above, including homeopathy, in their treatments. In addition, homeopathy is not a regulated or licensed health profession in Ontario. Naturopathic Medicine is regulated and licensed in Ontario.

What diagnostic methods do NDs use?

The foundation of naturopathic diagnosis is a detailed patient history, physical examination, review of medications and evaluation of appropriate laboratory tests and diagnostic imaging. Naturopathic doctors use the conventional medical diagnostic framework, but are also trained in Chinese medical diagnostic skills and spend time looking for contributing factors in patient’s lifestyle, habits, attitudes and constitution.

Do Naturopathic Doctors have specialties?

NDs may have ‘special interests’ in health conditions in which the ND has had extensive treatment experience or holds keen interest, or a modality used preferentially with a high degree of success.  NDs do not refer to these as specialties, as this implies that the ND has special training in a particular area.  At present, there are no specialist-level educational programs for NDs provided by naturopathic colleges, although NDs may have special training beyond their training at a naturopathic college (for  example in parenteral therapy).  Although an ND may have a special interest in a specific disease or treatment modality, naturopathic care is always holistic in nature, highly individualized and unique to each patient.

Do Naturopathic Doctors collaborate with other members of my healthcare team?

Yes.  NDs are trained to refer patients to other healthcare providers such as medical doctors (MDs), chiropractors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychotherapists, social workers etc. when it is necessary. Most naturopathic practices have extensive cross-referrals with other practitioners.

Is naturopathic medicine covered by insurance?

Yes.  Many insurance carriers cover naturopathic medicine in their extended healthcare packages.  Since NDs use alternatives to costly techniques and drug therapies, more insurance companies are beginning to investigate expanding coverage of this cost-effective healing method.

Is naturopathic medicine scientific?

Yes.  Naturopathic medicine is based on a solid body of knowledge that has evolved and been refined over centuries.  It continues to grow and incorporate scientific advances.

What can I expect from my first visit to a Naturopathic Doctor?

Most first visits with a naturopathic doctor average one hour or more in length. The goal of a naturopathic doctor is to understand the patient and the factors that impact on his/her life.  A very intensive history is taken from the patient (eliciting information about physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health), and a physical exam may be performed.  The ND may then suggest further specialized testing.  With the patient’s input, a personalized treatment plan will be proposed to help facilitate achieving their health goals.

How can I tell if someone is qualified as a Naturopathic Doctor?

In Ontario, the public can call the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy-Naturopathy (BDDT-N) at (416) 866-8383 to verify that a Naturopathic Doctor is registered to practise in the province.

The BDDT-N is the regulatory body that registers Naturopathic Doctors to practise in Ontario.  In addition, the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors only accepts registered Naturopathic Doctors as members and can also be contacted to verify if an ND is licensed.  The OAND may be reached at (416) 233-2001.

The naturopathic licensing boards of Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are responsible for ensuring that all licensed naturopathic doctors follow the naturopathic standards of medical practice and ensure patient safety.

What is the status of naturopathic medicine in other countries?

Many of the modalities used in naturopathic medicine are widely used and supported by foreign governments and insurance companies, especially in the United States, Europe and Asia. In Europe, Naturopathic Medicine is the preferred method of treatment.

For more information, please visit:

Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) at www.cand.ca  Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors (OAND) at www.oand.org 
College of Naturopaths of Ontario at https://www.collegeofnaturopaths.on.ca/.