What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

January 22, 2020

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

I’ve been in practice for nearly fifteen years and my training was done in Seattle where naturopathic doctors are plentiful. However, upon moving to the East Coast I had a lot of conversations like this when I was asked, “What do you do?” to which I replied, “I’m a naturopathic doctor”:

“What kind of doctor?”

“Naturopathic. I am an ND or NMD”.

“Is that like a massage therapist?

No, NDs are  primary care doctors that use a more holistic approach.

“But it’s not like you had to go to school for that…did you?”

Yes, when it was all said and done, I went to school for nearly 12 years – after I went to pharmacy school.

“So was it like…um, a real medical school?

In most ways, yes very similar. We learned both conventional and alternative treatments as well as all the standard primary care diagnostics, etc. I went to Bastyr University in Seattle, you should check it out”.

“Is that a good school?

This is like telling someone you went to Harvard Law and they mutter back, “Huh, never heard of it.”


Then I tell them I practice functional medicine and specialize in women’s hormones and it gets even more confusing. 


Education for Licensed Naturopathic Doctors

I graduated from Bastyr University which is one of 6 accredited naturopathic medical schools in the US and it’s well respected in both medical and research circles, but what a naturopathic doctor does is still not popular knowledge.

Bastyr and other naturopathic schools offer post-graduate training for primary care doctors with a naturopathic foundation and perspective. Students learn to do what any family practice doc does: check-ups, yearly Pap smears, and management of any condition that brings you into the doctor’s office from allergies to fibromyalgia to IBS. Referrals are made for imaging, further testing or to a specialist when warranted – just like your family doctor would do.

You must have a bachelor’s degree and a satisfactory GPA to apply and many applicants have a background in other medical careers as well. I came from pharmacy and there were chiropractors as well as MDs in my program.


What makes NDs different? 

It’s not that they dose St John’s Wort vs. Prozac for your depression, it’s that they look at you in entirety – as a whole person. An ND will help you see how your breakouts, PMS, digestive upset and tendonitis are connected and then treat the cause.  

Treatment ranges from more conventional approaches like prescription drugs to more natural treatments like nutrition and botanical or herbal medicine – and often a combination of the two, but in any case the following principles are upheld:

Tolle Causum Naturopathic physicians aim to find and treat underlying causes and appreciate that merely treating symptoms will be unsuccessful and real health can’t be achieved unless the root issue is addressed. Rather than suppress or mask symptoms, they seek to find and resolve the cause and build you up from there

Primum Non Nocere First, Do No harm. Naturopathic physicians follow three precepts to ensure their patients’ safety:

Use low-risk procedures and healing compounds—such as dietary supplements, herbal extracts and homeopathy—with few or no side effects.

When possible, do not suppress symptoms, which are the body’s efforts to self-heal. 

Customize each diagnosis and treatment plan to fit each patient. We all heal in different ways and the naturopathic physician honors that.

Docere Be a teacher and guide to the patient, basically walk their talk. As well they are educators, teaching their patients how to eat, exercise, rest, manage stress and nourish themselves both physically and mentally. To me, this principal means you and I are in it together. 

Tolle Totum Treat the whole person. We each have a unique make-up genetically, mentally, environmentally, socaly, spiritually, etc. Naturopathic doctors aim to help patients tend to all aspects of health and because of our vast differences individual, tailored treatment strategies are given as no two patients are exactly alike. 

Prevention. The naturopathic ideal is to become more healthy, rather than less ill. Proactive approaches to health ultimately save time, money, energy and discomfort. Naturopathic physicians evaluate your unique susceptibility, risk factors, genetics, etc. for illness and help you take a powerful stance in your future. 

In short, licensed NDs promote self-healing by helping maintain balance in the various systems of the body—hormonal, immune, nervous, elimination, etc and while licensed NDs rely heavily on natural and nutritional therapies, they are also skilled in conventional diagnosis and treatment, meaning that your health is still in medically trained hands.

The following are the only four year, resident, graduate level naturopathic medical schools in North America: Bastyr University, University of Bridgeport College of Natural Medicine, National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, and Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. 

I can attest first hand that my education at Bastyr was less like Hogwort’s and more akin to any other medical education. I too was just a touch disappointed….

Graduates from these fully accredited medical schools must also pass two levels of board exams to become eligible for licensure, supervised by a state agency such as the board of health. The minimum of four year post graduate education, completion of clinical internships and residency, as well as extensive postdoctoral board certification and completing continuing education to maintain their license to practice differentiates licensed NDs from unlicensed practitioners that unfortunately often us the title ND or naturopath – which indeed makes it difficult and confusing for the public, and frustrating for licensed NDs.

All this to say, licensed NDs are not the same as MDs or other medical professionals. We are a unique system of health but we do have high level medical training and professional standards and regulations, which is not the case with unlicensed NDs or other vague terms used by various experts such as “doctor of natural medicine” – which isn’t a real title or designation.


What Does Licensure Mean?

In these states that have licensure (which unfortunately does not include all 50 – yet!) again, those using the title naturopathic doctor, ND or NMD are required to graduate from an accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical school and must pass their NPLEX board exam. It also means that individuals calling themselves naturopaths who have not undergone the necessary training and examination may not practice as naturopathic physicians. In this way, state licensure helps protects the public from being deceived by an individual who may be falsely representing themselves as a doctor.


Where Are Naturopaths Licensed?

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • United States Territories: Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands


Becoming Dr Brooke 

These days I do not work as a primary care physician. My post graduate studies in Functional Medicine and over a dozen years of clincial expereince have led me to work with women to sort out their hormonal issues, better manage their stress and how they need to eat, exercise and live to feel their best and at home in their bodies. Many of them have struggling with issues such as PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, menopause, thyroid issues, autoimmunity or stress of many sorts. 

As a young woman I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and was simply handed the birth control pill (which made me gain weight and feel like a crazy person), told I would probably never be able to have a baby, would likely always struggle with my weight and end up with diabetes.

What I was not given was one single tool to know how to eat for this condition, how to care for myself with this issue or anything that gave me an ounce of power in my situation so I continued to struggle with the pill and live in fear of what this condition meant for me.

Fortunately, as I was mired in the conventional medical model during pharmacy school I got fed up enough to seek out an ND. I was skeptical for sure, but hopeful that there may be something there.

This woman changed my life – with what I know now to be very simple suggestions. After working with her over the course of a year I knew I wanted to do what she did. Help women understand and work with their hormones, instead of being at their mercy  or in an all out fight with them.

So I changed teams so to speak and have never looked back. I was accepted at Bastyr into the naturopathic medical program and the rest is history!

In my work over the last several years, my naturopathic foundation has been enhanced by studying exercise science, psychology and mindset techniques and gaining further training in functional medicine.

Functional Medicine describes itself as integrative, science-based healthcare. Docs practicing FM are trained to look at a complex web of interactions in your history, genetics, physiology and lifestyle with the goal of overall wellness not just management of a disease. As a former pharmacist, it was the perfect blend of traditional, Western medical practices with “natural medicine”. It defines “integrative medicine” and is ideal for treating chronic illness vs. acute conditions such as a broken leg or serious infection, where Western medicine really shines. 

Curious how working with me, a licensed ND can help you thrive? Let’s talk.

Dr Brooke Kalanick, ND, MS, LAc

Dr Brooke Kalanick is a naturopathic and functional medicine physician specializing in thyroid issues, autoimmunity, histamine intolerance, and women's hormone issues including PCOS, perimenopause, endometriosis and infertility. She is the best selling co-author of HANGRY: Balance Your Hormones & Restore Your Joy in 5 Simple Steps. She is also the co-host of the Sarah & Dr Brooke Show podcast. To learn more about Dr Brooke click here.

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