Naturopathic Medicine Career Info and Education Requirements
Naturopathic medicine applied modern science to traditional healing methods and practices. It focuses on procedures that emphasize the body's ability to heal itself and minimize the potential for harm through invasive testing and toxic therapies. A naturopathic doctor (ND) takes a holistic approach to medicine, stressing disease prevention and educating patients on self-care.
Naturopathic Medicine Career Info
Naturopathic doctors work in hospitals, clinics, private practices and community health centers. Some also become natural pharmacists, health care advisors, research scientists, public health administrators or insurance company consultants. They use a variety of treatment therapies and techniques, including homeopathy, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.
Naturopathic doctors diagnose and treat diseases and conditions based on patients' symptoms, health history and test results. As part of a holistic approach to healthcare, they pay attention to psychological states when documenting a patient's symptoms and medical history. NDs also conduct physical exams and physiological function tests, and may order other diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, ultrasounds, mammograms or bone density tests. They may prescribe medications or use natural remedies in their treatment plans. NDs also counsel their patients regarding lifestyle changes by advising exercise or nutrition regimens.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary for naturopathic physicians in 2008 was $65,880. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates an average job growth of 7-13% for this occupation from 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov).
Admission to most naturopathic medical schools requires a bachelor's degree in science and completion of pre-medical studies. Organic chemistry and biology, math, physics, psychology and biochemistry are common prerequisites. Potential students should check with individual schools to verify admissions requirements.
The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) accredits 4-year schools in the United States and Canada that offer ND degrees (in the U.S.) or diplomas (in Canada). They also accredit postgraduate residency programs. Completing studies at a CNME-approved school is a prerequisite for taking professional board exams in states and provinces that license NDs (www.cnme.org).
For the first two years of schooling, those who wish to be naturopathic doctors follow traditional medical school curriculum. Common subjects include human physiology and pathology, anatomy, microbiology and pharmacology. In addition to standard medical lessons, aspiring NDs may also choose to study holistic and nontoxic therapies such as botanical medicine, nutrition and psychological counseling. In their third and fourth years of study, medical students undertake clinical internships that are supervised by licensed physicians. These can be tailored to specialized naturopathic interests.
All accredited naturopathic colleges offer students clinical experience in the third and fourth years of study. However, most students opt to complete additional 1- or 2-year residencies upon graduation.
After graduation from medical school, the next step for someone who wants to be a licensed ND is to take the 2-part Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX). The first section of the exam covers biomedical sciences, such as biochemistry and genetics, pathology and anatomy. The second part consists of clinical exams to assess whether an applicant has the knowledge and diagnostic skills to safely practice medicine. The North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners administers the NPLEX.
Fifteen U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands currently license naturopathic doctors. Common licensing requirements are graduation from an accredited 4-year naturopathic residential medical college and passage of the NPLEX. Individual states or jurisdictions determine a naturopathic doctor's scope of practice as a primary care physician, and also set continuing education requirements for maintaining licensure.
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