My Journey on Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor

Updated: Jun 27



Hey you!


If you're reading this, it means you have started the process of researching on how to become a naturopathic doctor! Congratulations on considering this very real possibility for a future career for yourself.


I am here to share my experiences with you.


WHY I WAS INSPIRED TO BECOME A NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR


I loved how wide the scope of practice is. A naturopathic doctor (depending on the state or province they are practicing in) can use any type of extra training to create their own career in the field of medicine. Areas you can practice in on a daily basis or specialize in:

- Counseling and mind -body medicine

- Acupuncture

- Botanical medicine

- Physical medicine which includes manipulative techniques on joints and muscles.

- Functional medicine - Maternity & Pediatrics

- Midwifery - Nutrition - Weight loss - PRP, Prolotherapy, dry needling


I also love that you can be your own boss and have a privatized healthcare model for your patients, so you are not limited to time restrictions, unlike MDs. It is important to note that unlike the U.S., in Canada you cannot be both an MD and an ND. You must choose one. Furthermore, MDs cannot step out of MSP and charge cash like NDs can.


Not to mention you can create classes once you gain more experience in an area to educate other students or practitioners and use many avenues to add to your income.


The following information has been derived from multiple resources as references and I have put it all together for you as a full resource of all the pertinents.


PREREQUISITES FOR NATUROPATHIC MEDICAL SCHOOL


Though the requirements differ slightly from school to school, all AANMC member schools require an undergraduate degree; have minimum GPA requirements; and academic prerequisites, encompassing biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, psychology, social sciences, and humanities. AANMC


EXAMS DURING NATUROPATHIC MEDICAL SCHOOL


  • CLINIC ENTRY EXAM

  • NPLEX I (can be done at any time, but most tend to do it after year 2).

  • NPLEX II (you want to do this pretty much as soon as you graduate, and once you pass, you can start practicing)

  • Elective Acupuncture and Elective Minor Surgery Examinations.

  • CLINIC EXIT EXAM

  • BOARD EXAM (BC only)

  • Jurisprudence exam for the state or province you are getting your license in.

  • PRESCRIPTIVE AUTHORITY (Canada)

  • DEA license (US only, optional)

Resources people use to study for examinations:


THE CURRICULUM


Licensed and licensable (from accredited institutions) naturopathic doctors (ND) are educated in all the same biomedical sciences as a medical doctor (MD). NDs study holistic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. Naturopathic medicine students learn to treat all aspects of family health and wellness, from pediatrics to geriatrics. Clinical exposure with patient interaction is essential to naturopathic medical education – so much so that clinical training is now being introduced during the first and second years of education at most AANMC-member schools.


In both MD and ND schools, the first two years focus on biomedical science, clinical sciences, and diagnostics, including:


  • Anatomy

  • Immunology

  • Biochemistry

  • Embryology

  • Human physiology

  • Histology

  • Human Pathology

  • Microbiology

  • Neuroscience

  • Pharmacology


The early years of naturopathic medical school also include introduction to naturopathic modalities, such as homeopathy, nutrition, and botanical medicine. ND students emerge from the first two years of training with a strong foundation in physiology, pathology, and diagnosis. They use the Western medical sciences as a foundation on which to build a thorough knowledge of holistic, non-toxic therapies, and to develop skills in diagnosis, disease prevention, and wellness optimization. AANMC

The third and fourth years of training distinguish naturopathic medical programs from traditional medical schools in several ways. Much of the ND curriculum is devoted to non-pharmaceutical/non-surgical approaches to managing patient conditions, and students spend significant time studying lifestyle counseling, nutrition, and health promotion. In addition to the biomedical and clinical sciences, ND students are extensively trained in:


  • Botanical medicine

  • Clinical nutrition

  • Counseling, including behavioural change

  • Homeopathy

  • Laboratory, including clinical diagnosis

  • Minor surgery

  • Naturopathic physical medicine

  • Nutritional science


Notably, ND students in U.S. naturopathic medical schools average approximately 150 hours of nutrition training and over 1,330 hours of clinical training. (Source: AANMC Member Survey, 2017). Third and fourth year ND students have increasing opportunities for hands-on clinical training and practice, often at their schools’ teaching clinics and off-site clinics, which offer diverse patient populations. As a result, ND students graduate prepared to begin practice and to diagnose and treat patients in ambulatory settings.
All ND students attending AANMC member schools receive over 4,100 contact hours of instruction over four or more years, including a minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training. AANMC

Where NDs Excel: Preventative Care, Primary Care, Chronic Care

NDs’ education teaches them to focus on root cause; their philosophy embraces prevention, a wide range of therapies, the interconnectedness of bodily systems, and the human body’s inherent ability to self-heal, given the proper tools. NDs are primary care physicians trained to be prevention and chronic care specialists. ND students emerge from their programs as experts in preventative care, primary care, and chronic care. AANMC


THINGS TO CONSIDER

Things to consider when choosing which accredited naturopathic medical school to apply and go to:

  1. Where will you ultimately practice? Maybe you don't know right now, as you might be married in 5 years and living near your in-laws; I get that, but its important to commit to a state or province so you can be aware ahead of time. The reason this is so important, is for you to become familiar with your scope of practice as a naturopathic doctor there. If you find out that all you can do in that state is consultation, you might consider another career choice like holistic nutrition or dietician. Though it is not the same thing, you need to be realistic. This type of education can get pricy, especially if you are relocating. You don't want to put in all this hard work, only to call yourself a health coach and not a doctor and make the same income as a personal trainer.

  2. Exchange rates: As a Canadian studying in the US, the exchange rate kicked my butt. It was something I definitely underestimated. If you happen to go to an institution in the same country as you reside and your loans are from, then you're all set.

  3. Loans: Many people have a hard time paying for school tuition, let alone living costs with just their government student loans. You have to have a secondary loan from a bank, for which you will need a co-signer. For Bastyr, you are looking at on average $35000 US per year plus the cost of living for 4 years minimum on just the naturopathic degree. Keep in mind bank loans accrue daily interest. Government loans in Canada for example do not accrue interest for up to three 6 month terms after graduation. Many people I went to school with had accumulated $400,000 in debt upon graduation. Yes, you read that right. I was lucky to have my parents support and was able to get $17,000 a year from Canada student loans and did not end up getting a bank loan.

  4. Different institutions charge different prices. Although all accredited schools are considered private, which mean that no matter where you are a citizen of, you pay what everyone else pays, they all charge different fees. The cost of living in that city also becomes a factor, although I would argue that California, Oregon, British Columbia, Ontario and Washington all have similar living costs. Bastyr University is by far the most expensive, you have to decide whether this is worth it for you. Some love the atmosphere and the name of the school, some don't care and just want their degree. Also consider that their acupuncture program is a separate entity and will cost you an extra year and more $$.

  5. Be realistic: I am trying to nail this one in because I would hate for anyone to go through this whole journey as an idealist when you should really be pragmatic about the whole thing. If you find yourself continuing to fail classes, and you can't seem to remedy it. Stop. Reconsider. Anyone who keeps pushing you to go along with it is doing you a huge disservice. Not everyone is cut out for this job, it comes with hard work that never ends and a lot of criticism from the world. It isn't cheap and since you aren't guaranteed a job right off the bat, you don't want to end up with no job and a huge debt to your name. It takes entrepreneurial leadership skills, possibly marketing and business to make it after school. Many places that will offer you a job, may help to refer some clients to you but expect you to put in your share of marketing work. Starting a social media account early and being active with your experiences will also help you market yourself once you graduate.


LIMITATIONS ON NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE AS A CAREER

It's important to keep in mind that once you graduate, residencies are limited and if you're lucky to get the right one, then you are looking at a small salary which will hopefully grow if you and the clinic decide you are the right fit. With that being said, once you graduate you will need all the tenacity and drive that is left within you to apply entrepreneurial skills to market yourself, start with telemedicine and actively look for a job. With the amount of debt you are going to be putting yourself in, unless you come from wealth, no one starts off with buying their own clinic; and if you do, the clinic will be slow for a little while.


AFTER GRADUATION

After graduation, depending on the state or province, you will have to apply and pay for your license and malpractice insurance along with any membership fees which will basically be mandatory. The total for this for me in Washington was around $2500 US the first year and around $4500 CAD in BC.


Be sure to check out my upcoming post on resources for naturopathic and medical doctors!


Thanks for reading, I wish you the best in your endeavours. If you have any questions, comment below!


Watch my 2 part Youtube Video on this topic:


Part I

Part II





RESOURCES

https://aanmc.org/resources/comparing-nd-md-curricula/


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