Sofia Health


    Stay up to date

    Stay up to date

    Health Mental Wellbeing Wellness

    What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

    Picture of Sofia Health Staff
    By Sofia Health Staff on June, 21 2022
    What is a Naturopathic Doctor

    Naturopathic medicine is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that focuses on natural therapies and treating the whole person. Many professionals use the title naturopath, though they don’t all have formal medical training or a medical license. Knowing the difference in titles is important for choosing the right healthcare provider. 

    What Is a Naturopathic Doctor?

    Naturopathic doctors are licensed primary healthcare providers who diagnose, treat, and prevent illness using natural medicine. They approach healthcare by blending ancient and traditional knowledge with science and natural therapies. 

    The goal of naturopathic medicine is to stimulate the body in such a way that it can heal itself and repair the underlying cause of a disease. 

    Naturopathic doctors use non-drug and non-surgery methods to restore the body’s natural functions rather than only focusing on symptoms. The goal is not just the absence of disease, but the presence of full physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. 

    Naturopathic Physician or Doctor: What Is the Difference?

    A naturopathic physician and a medical doctor can have similar training, but they follow different healthcare models. 

    Do Naturopathic Doctors Go to Medical School?

    Yes, a naturopathic physician is a doctor who has completed medical school. After getting an undergraduate degree, they complete a four-year medical degree that combines regular medical sciences and training plus the study of natural therapies. 

    The naturopathic medicine model includes education in physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, genetics, assessments, diagnostics, and treatment planning. Their treatment methods focus on addressing an underlying root cause or dysfunction in the mind and body and restoring the body’s natural state. 

    Naturopathic doctors study and use core treatment methods like:

    • Clinical nutrition
    • Botanical medicine
    • Traditional Chinese medicine
    • Acupuncture
    • Hydrotherapy
    • Homeopathy
    • Lifestyle medicine
    • Counseling

    Medical doctors (MD) also attend a four-year graduate medical school program and residency, but the healthcare approach is different. Education covers the same clinical sciences, but the perspective is disease-specific. A medical doctor focuses on biology, the mechanisms of disease, testing, diagnosis, and treatment of either a symptom or a progressing disease. Therapies include, but are not limited to, medication and surgery.

    Both professions participate in clinical rotations and deliver supervised treatment as medical students. However, where medical doctors attend a mandatory post-graduate residency program, there are only a few clinical residencies available for naturopathic doctors, so they are optional. 

    Like medical doctors, a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) must pass a national exam called the Naturopathic Physician Licensing Exam (NPLEX). Depending on the state, naturopathic doctors must also pass a jurisprudence exam and maintain mandatory continuing education. 

    Is an ND Similar to an MD?

    Both doctors can diagnose, treat, and prevent disease, but they go about healing in different ways. For example, say that a patient has osteoarthritis. Where a medical doctor might prescribe pain medication, injections, or joint replacement surgery as treatment, a naturopathic doctor might use diet and herbs to lower inflammation. They might also use acupuncture to stimulate tissue repair and relieve pain. 

    In both professions, doctors must work within their scope of practice, their training, and their license. If they believe a patient needs help beyond their training and licenses, they are bound by law and ethics to refer patients to a practitioner who can help. While they have different approaches, they work alongside each other with the same goal of helping patients feel better. 


    Curious what the difference is between MD vs DO vs Naturopathic Physican? Check out our article here. 

    Can a Naturopathic Doctor Prescribe Medication?

    In some states, naturopathic doctors also have a license to prescribe medication. However, since their care model is to address root causes and use the most natural and least toxic therapy first, they often won’t prescribe medication at the first sign of symptoms.

    What’s the Difference Between a Naturopath and a Naturopathic Doctor?

    Sometimes, healthcare practitioners use the term “naturopath” or “naturopathic,” but they aren’t licensed naturopathic doctors. Those occupying these non-physician roles are often called holistic health practitioners, naturopathic practitioners, or traditional naturopaths. 

    These careers have a similar ethos as that of naturopathic doctors: to treat the whole person and to use the power of nature and the body’s own ability to heal to promote health. However, a naturopath doesn’t go to an accredited medical school and doesn’t have a medical degree that leads to a recognized license. 

    While a naturopathic practitioner might coach people on healthy living, they don’t necessarily have the advanced medical skills, training, or legal privileges to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease. 

    Bottom Line

    A naturopathic doctor is a licensed practitioner with advanced medical training. While they use a different healthcare model than a conventional doctor, they can help patients manage acute and chronic diseases. Finding the right provider, though, is important. Using online resources like Sofia Health can help ensure you get the right care from the right provider with the credentials, certifications, and philosophies you need.  

    Check out this article for the Top 5 Reasons to See a Naturopathic Physician


    We put together a few of the top frequently asked questions.

    What Is an ND or NMD?

    A naturopathic doctor (ND) and a naturopathic medical doctor (NMD) mean the same thing. They are licensed doctors that diagnose, treat, and prevent disease using natural medicine. 

    What Is Naturopathy?

    Naturopathy is another name for naturopathic medicine. It is a medical system that focuses on self-healing and prevention through natural therapies like herbs and nutrition. 

    What Is a Holistic Doctor?

    A holistic doctor is a healthcare practitioner who considers all elements of a person’s health from physical symptoms to emotional and social factors. A medical doctor with a conventional medical degree can be a holistic doctor if they use a mind-body-spirit approach. 

    What Is a Traditional Naturopath?

    A traditional naturopath is a non-physician healthcare practitioner who uses natural remedies to promote health. They don’t have a medical license and can’t diagnose and treat patients. 

    What Is a Holistic Health Practitioner?

    A holistic health practitioner uses a whole-body approach to promote health and wellbeing. Many standard health professionals, like a surgeon or a nurse, can qualify as holistic health practitioners if they use a whole-body approach.

    Is a Naturopathic Doctor a Real Doctor?

    Yes. Naturopathic doctors are medically trained and licensed and can diagnose and treat patients. They simply use a different healthcare model.

    How to Find a Good Naturopathic Doctor? 

    With so many confusing titles, it’s important to verify practitioner licensing. Resources like Sofia Health provide transparency and convenient online booking. Quickly review a naturopathic doctor’s education, certificates, and licenses, then book a virtual appointment. 

    Find a naturopathic doctor on Sofia Health.



    Recommended Articles

    - September 16, 2022
    - September 6, 2022

    Recommended Articles

    Recommended Articles

    Be the first to receive exclusive content delivered to your inbox.