Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care – an art, science, philosophy and practice of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. Naturopathic medicine is distinguished by the principles which underlie and determine its practice. These principles are based upon the objective observation of the nature of health and disease, and are continually reexamined in the light of scientific advances. Methods used are consistent with these principles and are chosen upon the basis of patient individuality. Naturopathic physicians are primary health care practitioners, whose diverse techniques include modern and traditional, scientific and empirical methods
MDs and NDs have some areas of common ground, namely their education. MDs are trained in basic sciences and clinical sciences to prepare them for the various illnesses and emergencies they will face during their practice. NDs are also well trained in all these sciences in their education. As with all physicians today, Naturopathic doctors are trained at accredited, four to five-year, post-graduate, medical institutions. But, unlike MDs they are also trained in a variety of traditional natural therapeutics, including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and naturopathic manipulative therapies. “The first two years are virtually the same as any medical school: anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, etc. They are taught at the same level as any other medical school. If you look at the number of hours in our classroom situation, you’ll find in most cases the number of hours we spend exceeds most medical schools.” Dr. Zeff adds, “We are required fifteen hundred hours of clinical education as a minimum to graduate from the school. This is under the supervision of naturopathic doctors.” Medical educators and legislators have been impressed with the high standard of education required of naturopathic physicians. NDs learn how to integrate this diverse knowledge by combining their conventional medical education with the goal of providing optimal health care in their practices. They weave their conventional medical knowledge with the principles of naturopathic medicine and its treatments to create a natural health care program tailored for each individual patient.
A naturopathic physician takes rigorous professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician. Naturopathic medicine has an independent accrediting agency, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), which is the recognized authority for establishing and maintaining the educational standards for profession. A nationally standardized licensing exam (NPLEX) has been established, which is used in nearly all of the states which currently license NDs. Currently, eighteen states license NDs (as does Puerto Rico and four Canadian provinces). In these states, NDs practice as independent primary care general practitioners, with the ability to diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform physical exams, and order laboratory testing. In these states, many health care consumers specifically choose NDs as their primary care providers.