The topic of legitimacy has been coming up on a fairly regular basis in my office lately. Determining whether a practitioner is a professionally trained ND or what we jokingly refer to as "uNDs" or fake NDs can be difficult when a potential client lives in a state that doesn't regulate or license the field of naturopathic medicine.
Search "naturopathic/holistic/alternative medicine" within 20 miles of your house and a veritable cornucopia of websites will be presented to you, variously owned by people on a spectrum from actual naturopathic doctors to individuals who took an 8 week online "naturopathic medicine" course. Since the term naturopathic doctor and ND is not currently protected in the state of Illinois, ANYONE can call themselves an ND, regardless of whether or not they attended an accredited naturopathic medical school. Just as troubling (albeit slightly less scary) are other medical professionals, such as MDs, DOs, and DCs who claim to practice naturopathic medicine but have no formal training in the field.
Before you make your first appointment with someone claiming to practice naturopathic medicine, ask yourself the following questions and confirm that the healthcare practitioner you have chosen meets these criteria.
1. Are you looking for a lifestyle-based approach to your health?
First, let's ensure that you fully understand the implications of a truly naturopathic approach to health. Naturopathic medicine can be an incredibly effective way to address symptoms that result from chronic illnesses, from hypothyroidism to IBS to type 2 diabetes. However, our philosophy DEPENDS on client willingness to make significant changes to diet, exercise, sleep, stress, hydration, and other deeply ingrained habits, and acknowledgement that these changes take time. If your desire is to take control of your own health by implementing these changes, naturopathic medicine is exactly what you are looking for.
2. Ensure you understand what naturopathic doctors ARE, as well as what they are NOT.
In order to call oneself a doctor of naturopathic medicine, or ND, an individual MUST have completed the following steps:
A. Obtained a bachelor of science degree from an accredited university
(4 years of undergraduate level training)
B. Attended and graduated from a 4-year, post-baccalaureate naturopathic medical school
(4 years of professional training in basic and clinical sciences including internship)
C. Received a license from a state that regulates naturopathic medicine or currently be in the process of obtaining one
In order to be sure that your naturopath is a true "ND" and not an "uND," request to see his or her diploma. (A professional will usually have their diploma hanging somewhere in their office.) In the United States and Canada, there are a total of 8 accredited naturopathic medical schools, which are listed below. If you are seeing an ND in a state that licenses and regulates naturopathic medicine, their professional license or registration will also be on display. If you don't see a diploma, or if the diploma belongs to a school not listed below, the person you are seeing hasn't been professionally trained in naturopathic medicine. Period.
National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM)
National University of Health Sciences (NUHS)
Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM)
University of Bridgeport-College of Naturopathic Medicine
Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM)
Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine
3. Ensure you understand the difference between naturopathic medicine and other holistically-oriented fields.
While there is often overlap among the disciplines, naturopathic medicine is not the same as functional medicine, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, or acupuncture. In the same vein, functional medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and conventional medical doctors who claim to practice naturopathic medicine are NOT naturopathic doctors unless they hold the title ND. Again, this is an area where you need to be sure that the approach you are seeking is the best possible fit for YOUR individual needs. For example, if you want an alternative approach that emphasizes lab results and musculoskeletal or neurological interventions, a chiropractor who practices functional medicine might be the best fit for you.
4. Confirm willingness to collaborate with the conventional approach.
It is a common misconception that naturopathic, holistic, and alternative medicine and conventional medicine are mutually exclusive, or that you must choose "one or the other." If you get the sense that your naturopathic doctor or other alternative healthcare provider is averse to conventional interventions like pharmaceuticals, you should be highly suspicious of their legitimacy. Professionally trained naturopathic doctors are taught to take an individualized approach to health that emphasizes lifestyle interventions, but to also recognize that drugs, when prescribed by your primary care physician or a specialist, are a safe and essential component of your overall treatment plan. The best approach is what is most effective for you, and sometimes that includes drugs!
5. Trust your gut.
If you get the feeling from a healthcare practitioner that they are more concerned about your wallet than your health, that they don't take enough time with you or answer your questions, or claim to practice holistic medicine but don't emphasize diet....RUN! We encourage our new clients to explore our website and blog, and call or email us to get any questions answered before making an appointment. Having a good relationship built on mutual respect is essential to the overall success of the naturopathic approach.
Got questions? ANW has answers! Give us a call at 847-744-8484, or email us at email@example.com