Have you been thinking about seeing a naturopath?

by Dr. Jill Kazuk

Did you know there is a difference between a ‘naturopath’ and a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND)?

Oftentimes these terms are used interchangeably because:

  1. it’s faster to say naturopath than naturopathic doctor
  2. different jurisdictions (provinces, states, and countries) have different licensing regulations
  3. social media and hashtags are now a thing (or so I hear)
  4. most people don’t know there is a difference

The thing is, there is a measurable difference between a naturopath and a licensed naturopathic doctor, from medical philosophy to education to scope of practice. Understanding these variations will help you seek out the level of medical care most appropriate for you.

I always ask my patients if they have seen a naturopathic doctor when we first meet because I want to know what they know. Many who say yes have actually seen an individual who has given the impression they are practicing naturopathic medicine by prescribing dietary changes and natural remedies or supplements.

I don’t like this ambiguity for several reasons, but most notably because it is confusing (and potentially harmful) for patients, and it dilutes our rich medical philosophy and reputation as a profession.

The term ‘naturopath’ is a generalized term which is often used loosely by the public to identify individuals who have completed online trainings, oftentimes by correspondence, of varying credibility and duration with no standardized curriculum or regulation/licensure. As naturopathic doctors in Manitoba and British Columbia we have strict licensing regulations to ensure we are providing the best care to our patients and the term ‘naturopathic doctor’ is protected by law for that reason.  

Naturopaths and Naturopathic Doctors have very different education and training 

As licensed naturopathic doctors in these provinces we must complete an undergraduate degree (minimum 3 years), including pre-medical sciences, prior to attending a 4-year full time doctorate program in an accredited school of Naturopathic Medicine in Canada or the United States. I graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon – the oldest naturopathic university in North America and one of the oldest institutions of doctorate level study of natural medicine. There are currently five accredited naturopathic medical schools in the United States and two in Canada. If you have never been to Portland, Oregon I highly recommend adding it to your travel list – not just because my school was there but because it’s a really fun place to explore!

Upon graduation we are required to sit for the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) – North American board examinations – as well as the corresponding provincial licensing examinations in Manitoba and British Columbia. We maintain licensure through the completion of continuing education requirements legislated by the Manitoba Naturopathic Association and College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia. My provincial and national governing bodies are the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia, Manitoba Naturopathic Association and Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

As a naturopathic doctor, I received rigorous training in biomedicine as well as comprehensive training in naturopathic philosophy and therapeutics. Students complete a minimum of 4,600 hours of class and clinical training, including over 1,200 hours of hands-on, supervised, clinical training. Since coursework in natural therapeutics is added to a standard medical curriculum, naturopathic doctors often receive significantly more hours of classroom education in these areas than the graduates of many leading medical schools. In British Columbia, naturopathic doctors can work as primary care doctors and in Manitoba we are considered adjunctive care.

 Licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND)‘Naturopath’
Completed pre-medical studies and undergraduate degreeYesNo
TrainingAccredited naturopathic medical school (only 5 schools in US and 2 in Canada)Non-accredited naturopathic training, often completed online and by correspondence
Duration of training4-year full-time study3-12 months
Licensed and regulatedYesNo
Complete North American board exams through NPLEXYesNo
Licensed to order and interpret labs and diagnoseYesNo
Continuing Education requiredYesNo
Malpractice insurance requiredYesNo

As a patient, it is really important to know that the terms ‘naturopathic doctor’ and ‘naturopath’ are often used interchangeably by the public and other medical professionals. Stay informed and educate your loved ones so you know the type of care you are seeing.