What is a Naturopathic Degree?

Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

A naturopathic degree is a post-graduate credential that allows one to practice naturopathic medicine and use the title ND, naturopathic doctor, or NMD, naturopathic medical doctor. There are approximately nine traditional schools of naturopathy and seven accredited schools in the U.S. and Canada. Admission to accredited residential naturopathic degree programs requires a bachelor's degree; admission to a traditional school of naturopathy, however, may only require a high school diploma. During the four-year course of study, one takes classes in conventional medical sciences, such as anatomy and biochemistry, in addition to learning alternative and holistic techniques.

Most naturopathic medical programs begin the first year with a standard medical science curriculum that includes the body's systems and how they work. One also learns about the history of naturopathic medicine, its philosophy, and some of the basic treatment modalities. More schools are incorporating clinical training into their degree programs, and the first year of naturopathic training may include shadowing practicing naturopaths.

In the second year of coursework, training in medical sciences continues. Students learn about diseases and how they impact the body over time. Students also learn about diagnosing disease through lab work, physical examinations, and clinical tests during. Further study into naturopathic modalities, such as homeopathy and hydrotherapy, is also explored in the second year.

In the third and fourth years of study, the students begin more intensive clinical work with patients. Students may also study pharmacology and practice minor surgical techniques at this point in their training. When classes are completed at the end of the fourth year, the program culminates in a comprehensive examination.

Once the student has completed all of the required courses, clinical work, and passed the exam, he or she is granted the naturopathic degree. Unlike conventional medical doctors, naturopathic doctors are not required to complete a residency between graduating and beginning practice in most U.S. states, although other jurisdictions may impose different regulations. Even so, about 5% of new U.S. naturopathic doctors pursue residencies on their own.

Physicians who are interested in both alternative and conventional medicine may also want to consider earning a naturopathic degree in addition to their standard medical degree. This will allow the doctor to work as a primary care physician, a faculty member at a naturopathic college, a research scientist, and in many other areas of medicine. A naturopathic degree earned from an accredited college, followed by a residency, may provide a healthcare professional with the widest possible career options.

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