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  • Dr. Melyssa Hoitink, ND

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic Medicine is a form of medicine that aims to treat the root cause of health conditions, rather than just relieving symptoms. The goal in Naturopathic Medicine is to stimulate the healing power of the body, in the most natural way possible. Naturopathic Medicine takes into account all aspects of an individual’s health, including physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Treatments could include diet and lifestyle changes, botanical medicine, supplementation, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, physical medicine, including cupping therapy. Each treatment plan is tailored to the individual, taking into account personal treatment preference, safety, medications that could interact with natural products, and scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the treatment. Both acute and chronic conditions in people of all ages can be effectively treated with Naturopathic Medicine.

What training do Naturopathic Doctors have?

Naturopathic Doctors must obtain a 4 year Bachelor’s Degree, including education in basic sciences, prior to completing a 4 year degree in Naturopathy. There are currently 7 accredited schools of Naturopathic Medicine in North America. Through the 4 year Naturopathy degree program, Naturopathic Doctors are trained as Primary Health Care Providers. This means that they are trained like Medical Doctors and Registered Nurses in basic medical and clinical sciences, diagnosis, and assessment. Naturopathic Doctors also receive a significant amount of training in natural therapies and safety of natural therapies when used with pharmaceutical medications. Naturopathic Doctors receive over 1000 hours of clinical training throughout the Naturopathy program, spending 12 months in a clinical internship seeing patients under the supervision of a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.

Naturopathic Doctors are part of a licensed profession in Ontario. The College of Naturopaths of Ontario is the body that regulates the practice of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario to ensure the public is safe and has access to highly trained professionals. To become licensed, Naturopathic Doctors must have graduated from an accredited school, completed several exams and show competence in practicing Naturopathic Medicine safely.

The first exam is a written exam that is completed in two parts, called the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (also known as NPLEX). This exam is a standard exam completed across North America. The College of Naturopaths of Ontario also requires that Naturopathic Doctors complete a practical exam, called the Ontario Clinical Examinations. This exam requires the performance of physical exams, acupuncture, and Naturopathic manipulation (similar to techniques Chiropractors are trained in). The final examination a Naturopathic Doctor must complete prior to becoming licensed is the Jurisprudence Exam. This exam tests the Naturopathic Doctor’s knowledge of the laws and standards surrounding the practice of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario. Only when an applicant has successful completed all required examinations can they be licensed to become a Naturopathic Doctor.

What is the Difference between a Nutritionist and a Naturopathic Doctor?

Nutritionists complete a Diploma program of varying length (typically 1-2 years) in which they are educated in nutrition and supplementation. Nutritionists in Ontario are self-regulated, meaning there is no governing body to monitor the practice of Nutritionists. Unlike Naturopathic Doctors, Nutritionists are not trained as Primary Care Providers. They do not receive training in basic medical and clinical sciences.

Naturopathic Doctors receive extensive education in nutrition and supplementation, as well as other modalities, including Botanical Medicine (also known as Herbal Medicine), Traditional Chinese Medicine including Acupuncture, Physical Medicine including Cupping, Homeopathy, Lifestyle counselling, and Hydrotherapy (use of water to heal). Naturopathic Doctors must complete a 4 year Bachelor’s Degree as well as a 4 year Doctor of Naturopathy Degree, including over 1000 hours of hands-on clinical training. Through this education, Naturopathic Doctors are trained as Primary Care Providers, meaning they study the same basic medical and clinical sciences as Medical Doctors and Registered Nurses. The final difference between Nutritionists and Naturopathic Doctors is that Naturopathic Doctors are regulated by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario. As described previously, Naturopathic Doctors must complete the required licensing exams to obtain a license to practice.

Naturopathic Doctors also must complete Continuing Education regularly to stay up-to-date in their skills and knowledge. The College ensures Naturopathic Doctors are complying with laws, regulations, and standards to ensure public safety.

What is a Visit with a Naturopathic Doctor like?

Visits with Naturopathic Doctors are often quite different from visits with other Health Care Professionals. You will fill out a detailed intake form prior to your first visit. At your first visit, your Naturopathic Doctor will review your intake forms and ask your more questions. Many people indicate that they have never been asked some of these questions by other Health Care Professionals before. This is how your Naturopathic Doctor gets a full picture of all aspects that could be affecting your health. Your Naturopathic Doctor may perform physical exams or request lab work, either from your Medical Doctor or by sending you to the lab, depending on your medical concern. You and your Naturopathic Doctor will then discuss your treatment options. Treatment options could include a number of options from any of the modalities Naturopathic Doctors are trained in, including:

1. Nutrition and lifestyle counselling, which could include avoiding or including more of a specific food, discussions on exercise, sleep, and stress

2. Supplementation with natural health products, such as vitamins, minerals, or other nutritional components

3. Botanical medicine in supplement, tincture, or tea form

4. Traditional Chinese Medicine, including Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

5. Physical medicine, including Cupping therapy

6. Homeopathy, which involves using very dilute remedies made from plant, animal, or mineral products

7. Hydrotherapy, which involves the application of water in different ways to heal and relieve symptoms (Example: Epsom salt baths to relieve muscle tension or use of steam to relieve congestion)

Your Naturopathic Doctor will check for interactions between medications and natural health products, as well as any nutrient depletions that may occur as a result of any medications you are on.

Where can I find more information?

College of Naturopaths of Ontario: http://www.collegeofnaturopaths.on.ca/

Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: https://www.cand.ca/

Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors: https://oand.org/


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