Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between a naturopathic physician (ND) and a conventional medical physician (MD)?
- What education and training do naturopathic physicians have?
- Can naturopathic physicians prescribe drugs?
- Do you work with other health professionals?
- How are naturopathic physicians regulated?
- Is naturopathic medicine covered by MSP?
- How does a naturopathic physician differ from a homeopath?
- What exactly is homeopathy?
- What about supplements? Will they be expensive?
- Do naturopathic physicians treat ___________?
NDs and MDs are primary care physicians. They both undergo extensive amounts of education and training, beginning with several years of university before completing their medical training at an accredited medical school. Both study basic medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, and microbiology; as well as clinical sciences (differential diagnosis, pharmacology, physical and clinical diagnosis), and an internship. Both systems of medicine are supported by scientific research drawn from peer-reviewed journals.
The main difference is one of philosophy and treatment. Western medicine focuses on using pharmaceuticals and surgery to alleviate symptoms and treat certain conditions. Often, the cause of illness is not addressed. For example, drugs are given to lower blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes, anti-inflammatories are given to reduce the pain of arthritis, and medications are widely prescribed to patients with high cholesterol and blood pressure. The symptoms are addressed, however, the disease process continues. They are very proficient at treating acute and emergency conditions. They are also covered by MSP, which unfortunately creates time constraints and hinders their ability to spend much time with each patient.
Naturopathic physicians, while able to treat acute conditions, excel at treating chronic disease. This is due to their ability to address the physical, lifestyle, environmental, and mental-emotional aspects of heath, on a very individual basis. Creating health in an individual is very different than treating a disease state, and involves a great deal of patient education, motivation and involvement. Naturopathic physicians are trained to address the cause of illness, rather than focus on removing symptoms. They are dedicated to helping you reach and maintain your optimum level of wellness, as well as preventing future health concerns.
Naturopathic physicians have a minimum 7 years post-secondary education. Just like a conventional medical doctor or dentist, they complete pre-medical studies at university, often completing a bachelor degree. They then enter a rigorous, four-year, full-time medical program at an accredited school of naturopathic medicine (http://www.cnme.org/links.html).
Training includes over 3300 hours of classroom training and over 1200 hours clinical experience. In the first two years, curriculum is very similar to that of a conventional medical school, focusing on basic medical sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, pathology, differential diagnosis, laboratory diagnosis, and physical and clinical diagnosis. Throughout the four years, there are is also study of naturopathic medical therapeutics, including clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, psychology and physical medicine. The last two years prepare candidates for primary care and are spent focusing on clinical sciences such as pharmacology, advanced medical diagnostics, dermatology, gynecology, obstetrics, pediatrics and minor surgery. Students also spend over 1200 hours in the teaching clinic, treating patients under the supervision of a licensed naturopathic physician.
Yes. In the fall of 2010, naturopathic doctors in BC were granted prescribing authority. This provided access to a wide range of therapeutics previously limited by prescription (this includes hormones, certain herbs, amino acids and high dose vitamins). While prescribing medication is often seen as a last resort, there are many instances where it is appropriate and necessary. In addition, for patients seeking to come off their current medication, it allows a safe tapering to occur while transitioning to alternative treatments. For patients with hormonal imbalances, prescribing rights have enabled NDs to use safer and more effective hormone therapies that are customized to the patient's needs.
In an ideal healthcare system, health professionals would work as a team to provide the best care possible. Different medical professionals have specific areas of expertise and naturopathic physicians are trained to refer patients where appropriate. I would be pleased to work with your medical doctor, specialist, chiropractor or other health professional at your request.
To obtain a license to practice naturopathic medicine in BC, you must:
- Complete at least 3 years liberal arts or sciences at a university; including prerequisites in biology, general chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, psychology and the humanities.
- Graduate from a recognized college of naturopathic medicine which requires a least 4500 attended hours over 4 years.
- Successful pass two sets of rigorous professional board exams (http://www.nabne.org/)
- Have your application accepted by the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia (http://www.cnpbc.bc.ca/).
As of January 1, 2002, naturopathic services are no longer covered under the medical services plan of BC. You may be eligible for partial coverage for up to 10 visits a year if you qualify for premium assistance.
Many extended health insurance plans cover naturopathic services. Please contact your employer or insurance plan provider to check your coverage.
There are three main areas of difference: licensure and regulation, training, and treatments employed.
Naturopathic physicians are licensed primary care providers; they are the equivalent of a GP in the realm of alternative medicine. They are regulated just as MDs, nurses and other health professionals are licensed and regulated. Homeopathy is not currently a licensed and regulated profession in BC.
With respect to education, naturopathic doctors receive a minimum of 7 years full-time training at university and accredited naturopathic medical school. Homeopathic education ranges; it is not standardized. Programs can be several years long, and often involve correspondence components with 10-18 weekend courses per year. They do not receive training in the medical sciences or diagnostics.
As far as treatment is concerned, homeopaths would only prescribe homeopathic medicines, while a naturopathic physician may use any combination of botanical medicine, nutritional supplementation, homeopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine or physical medicine to treat a patient.
Homeopathy is a 200 year-old practice that involves using infinitesimally small amounts of animal, plant and mineral substances to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms. When these medicines are carefully matched to the symptom picture of the patient, there is a subtle shift in the body’s vital force that allows for a gentle, long-lasting return to health, with few side effects. Homeopathy is used to treat acute and chronic disease, and is often very effective in conditions that do not respond well to conventional medicine.
Supplements may be prescribed depending on the individual treatment plan for each patient. Just as some medications are prescription-only, some herb and nutrient supplements are only available to health professionals and are of pharmaceutical-grade quality. This system is in place to protect the general public from self-treatment; just because a treatment is “natural”, does not mean that it is safe or effective, particularly if taken with other medications/supplements. Other supplements may be purchased at your local health food store. While they may be necessary to restore health, supplements are not meant to replace drugs and you will not be required to take them the rest of your life. It is my utmost goal to make health sustainable, which will involve work and change on your part, but should not mean lifelong supplementation.
The simple answer to whether we can treat a given condition is “yes”. As a primary health care provider focusing on family practice, I treat a myriad of conditions (see: Philosophy). More importantly, I focus on treating people, not diseases. There is rarely one single medication or treatment that is effective for a particular condition, because each individual case is different – all factors contributing to illness need to be addressed. In each case, obstacles to health are removed while therapies that aid in the body’s self-healing mechanisms are chosen.