Naturopaths Can Fill Shortage in Primary Care

Most people agree, the shortage in primary care doctors is a real problem. Here are some statistics from a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News:

  • Two to 4 million Californians, and 32 million people nationally, will obtain insurance in 2014 under the national health reform law.
  • The nation will need 45,000 additional primary care doctors within 7 years, including 2,000 or more in California.
  • Nearly one-third of all physicians are expected to retire in the next decade, just as more Americans seek care.
  • Only about 20 percent of American medical students go into primary care, according to the Council on Graduate Medical Education.

So, what can we do about this? How about making it possible for a group of licensed doctors, already trained in primary care and excited be in this role, to gain the legal recognition necessary to fulfill this need on a national level. There are perhaps 400-500 naturopaths graduating every year from accredited schools, but most graduates end up moving to one of the 17 states where naturopathic doctors are currently licensed. By creating legal recognition on a nationwide scale, naturopathic doctors would be able to spread out and help meet the need for primary care doctors throughout the nation. If your state does not already license and regulate naturopathic medicine, contact your legislators and let them know you want access to licensed Naturopathic Doctors.

Additionally, the Affordable Care Act states that insurance companies must allow you to choose to receive medical services from any practitioner licensed to provide that care. Many insurance companies are still not following the law. If your insurance company does not cover naturopathic services ask them why they are not following the Affordable Care Act. You can also find out more about legislative advocacy by going to the website of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

A Look at Naturopathic Education

I find that many people are surprised that Naturopathic Doctors go through a full four years of medical training. Although there are many differences between Naturopathic and Medical Doctors, our basic education is actually very similar. Naturopathic Doctors go through thousands of hours of basic sciences, medical sciences, and clinical training, along with extra training in nutrition, herbal medicine, and homeopathy, all so that we can provide the best possible care for our patients.

The charts below compare the clinical and basic science educations of various practitioners. number of educational hours students receive at various accredited naturopathic and medical colleges. It also compares the differences in education of Naturopathic Doctors who attend accredited medical schools and unlicensed naturopaths who attend two-year vocational schools. There are currently six accredited naturopathic colleges in the U.S. and two in Canada. In states that do not license and regulate naturopaths, the difference can be quite confusing! If you live in a state that does not currently license naturopathic medicine and you are in doubt, you can always ask your naturopath about their education and credentials.

You can also find listings of licensed Naturopathic Doctors in your area by checking out the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. If you would like to see Naturopathic Doctors licensed in your state, write your legislators and let them know this is an important issue to you.

Here’s how the schools measure up:

Comparing Educations Hours and NDs and MDs
This chart compares two accredited Naturopathic colleges (NCNM and Bastyr), three allopathic medical schools (Yale, Jogns Hopkins, Medical College of Wisconsin), and two vocational schools for naturopaths (Trinity and Clayton).
Compare Medical Education Hours
Total Educational Hours by Practitioner Degree

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

echinaceaNaturopathic medicine is a distinct system of medicine that supports the body’s ability to heal itself using natural, safe, and effective remedies. The roots of naturopathy reach all the way back to Hippocrates, whose philosophy was based on vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature. Naturopathy has been influenced by homeopathy, traditional western herbalism, the nineteenth-century nature cure movement, and the Eclectic movement. It beautifully blends traditional healing practices with modern diagnostics and evidence-based medicine.

Licensed naturopathic doctors study at accredited four year medical schools that cover the same type of basic sciences, specialties, and clinical sciences that medical doctors study. In addition, they also study clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, psychology, and physical medicine, all with an emphasis on disease prevention.

Naturopaths have an exceptional array of powerful tools with which to treat their patients. In many states naturopaths can order labs and x-rays, perform minor surgery, use manipulative therapies to realign the musculoskeletal system, and prescribe herbs, supplements, homeopathic remedies, and some pharmaceuticals.  Naturopaths are taught to treat patients using a specific therapeutic order, using the safest and most effective treatments possible in order to minimize side-effects and unnecessary suppression of body processes.

Naturopaths also believe in the importance of preventative care and are trained to optimize wellness as well as to treat disease. They are thus uniquely able to treat many of the chronic conditions that are common today, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, and autoimmune disease. Rather than simply palliating symptoms, naturopathy seeks to find the underlying physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances that brought about the disease.

Uncovering the true root of disease can take time and naturopaths typically spend forty-five minutes to an hour with their patients during each visit. Naturopathy looks at the whole person, seeing each person within the context of their families, communities, and unique life experiences to offer truly individualized care. Through counseling, nutrition, and lifestyle changes, the body can regain its vitality and return to a state of health.

For More Information:

Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians