The Differences Between NDs and MDs
A patient who comes to a naturopathic physician is seeing a very well trained doctor who has a keen insight into learning how to best help the patient recover and maintain their health. In Arizona, their ND can order labs, write prescriptions, and refer to MD specialists. However, patients are excited to learn NDs also do alternative tests and analyses not generally done by standard care physicians, which oftentimes helps uncover why the patient is ill. In removing those obstacles, the patient is then taught how best to engage in a healing protocol which will enable them to return to the fullest health possible.
It is helpful, though, to know more specifically, how NDs are educated to give a patient the highest level of confidence that an ND is the best way to go for themselves and their family and frends.
Naturopathic Physicians (ND) and Medical Doctors (MD) are both very valuable professions in the field of medicine. Naturopathic physicians are general practitioners, along the equivalency lines of Family Practice in standard care and refer to specialized medical doctors when necessary to ensure their patients are diagnosed and treated safely and effectively. Overall, the combination of both fields of medicine working smoothly together is an ideal situation for all patients.
MD’s excel in trauma medicine, diagnostic medicine, surgeries, acute life-threatening care. However, their chronic care philosophy is oftentimes treat symptoms to suppress them with drugs or surgery. While that may enhance quality of life, it does not usually lead the patient to truly heal from their condition, and prescription drugs can cause many side effects, some quite serious.
NDs are trained as primary care physicians. They are excellent at treating acute illnesses and also have a philosophy when working with chronically ill patients of trying to uncover the obstacles to cure and then give treatments which allow the body to heal.
Before medical school Naturopathic Doctors must have attained bachelor’s degree and taken all the prerequisite medical school courses, similar to conventional medical schools, both allopathic and osteopathic.
NDs and MDs education process is very similar. Both of their medical schools are accredited by the Federal government. We share similar courses especially in the first 2 years of medical school, when education is focused on basic and clinical sciences–anatomy, human physiology, biochemistry, embryology, pathology, pharmacology, lab diagnosis. The second 2 years are focused on clinical training both in the classroom and clinic settings. Students are taught how to take a comprehensive patient intake, do an appropriate physical exam, analyze the patient, do lab work, make a diagnosis, initiate treatment, and do necessary follow-up. The total hours of education received in both of these branches of medicine are comparable, with the ND schools having more hours as compared to some MD schools and less than others as you can see in this comparison chart http://www.scanp.org/nd-md-curricula-comparison/
Throughout their education Naturopathic doctors are trained both in standard Western Care and pharmacology as well as natural therapeutics. As a result of pharmacology classes, and since naturopathic physicians in many states are licensed to prescribe most medications, naturopathic physicians are well trained in the proper and safe use of drug therapy. Probably the most common medications naturopathic physicians prescribe are thyroid medicine, antibiotics, diabetic medications, and antihypertensives.
However, most naturopathic physicians do not wish to write prescriptions very often and instead wish to help the patient heal from their condition naturally, removing obstacles to cure and supporting the body’s capacity to heal and regenerate.
This philosophical difference is focused upon in the last 2 years of education. The course of study during that time is primarily focused on natural therapies: Clinical Nutrition, Botanical Medicine, Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Lifestyle Counseling, Naturopathic Physical Medicine, and Hydrotherapy.
Unlike MD students, who see hospital based patients in their educations, naturopathic students see patients in out-patient clinic settings, both associated with a naturopathic medical school and also in “off-sites” located around their medical school, or further away.
Graduation and CMEs
Degree — Naturopathic Doctors are required to graduate from an accredited 4 year Naturopathic Medical School. Graduates of a naturopathic medical school must also pass a licensing exam called the NPLEX, Naturopathic Physicians Licensing EXaminations, to be licensed as primary care physicians and continue with their medical education to maintain a license. It is a rigorous exam that takes several days to finish. MDs are also required to pass intensive medical board exams..
After graduation, MDs are mandated to do a residency. There are no such requirements for NDs upon graduating. The opportunities for residency are, however, growing for ND students; all the schools offer a residency program and there are a great deal of other clinics and centers which sponsor residencies.
Continuing medical education (CME)—NDs and MDs must continue their medical education post-graduation to continue to be licensed. This varies from state to state as to the requirements such as number of hours for general information, for pharmacological information, and for the types of sources allowed to meet the requirements. In Arizona, NDs are required to complete 30 hours of continuing medical education a year, with 10 hours of those being in pharmacology (safe drug prescribing).
States Licensing: There are 17 states, the District of Columbia, and US Territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with licensing or regulation laws for Naturopathic Physicians. The scope of practice is determined by the individual state’s law.