What to Expect from a Naturopathic Doctor

by Dr. Alison Chen ND | Follow on Twitter

Every ND should have this article on their blog or website.

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VISITING YOUR FAMILY MEDICAL DOCTOR IS NOT the same as seeing a Naturopathic doctor (ND).

The medical models of care that MDs and NDs use to treat their patients can be very different. MDs tend to focus on reactive healthcare; utilizing pharmaceutical prescriptions or surgeries when appropriate. Reactive healthcare is imperative in emergent, life threatening or severe physical injuries or poisonings. We need Medical doctors for this type of care.

However this type of medicine supports our current reactive healthcare system and puts a massive burden on our hospitals and emergency departments. (TWEETABLE)

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) on the other hand are primary care physicians who specialize in preventative healthcare, chronic disease management and optimal living strategies. We are detectives for your health, combining your history, symptoms, lab tests and physical examinations to understand the patterns of imbalance

NDs are health detectives to understand the patterns of imbalance <– TWEET THIS.

Where reactive care can no longer safely suppress symptoms or cut out a diseased organ, we can provide empowering lifestyle changes to reverse the cause of distress and improve quality of life. We give patients back autonomy and responsibility for their health.

But this is more challenging than we thought. Lifestyle changes take time and effort. Unfortunately, many people are not ready for this.

Tweetable --> Naturopathic doctors give patients back autonomy and responsibility for their health.

What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is the merging of Western science with Eastern traditional philosophies to promote healing of the whole person (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) from the root of the issue. Naturopathic medicine supports the body to heal itself, not suppress symptoms –> Click to TWEET.

The body is capable of healing itself given the proper support and removing obstacles to heal. Naturopathic doctors call this the vis – the body’s innate ability to cure and maintain homeostasis (balance). The vis is the foundation for the 6 Naturopathic principles:

  1. First to do no harm – Minimizing risks of harmful side effects and using the least force necessary to diagnose and treat while respecting the individual’s self-healing process.
  2. Identify and treat the cause – Rather than merely eliminating or suppressing symptoms, NDs seek to identify and treat the causes of illness.
  3. Doctor as teacher – Patients are encouraged to take responsibility for their own optimal health through knowledge and empowerment.
  4. Treat the whole person – A person’s health status must address his or her physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social support to truly understand all contributing factors.
  5. Emphasize prevention – Preventative health is the only sustainable health model. NDs are leaders in prevention of disease by assessing risk factors, heredity and susceptibility to illness.
  6. Supporting the healing power of the body – Naturopathic medicine recognizes an order and intelligence to the self-healing process inherent to every living creature.

Whether or not you believe in a spirit, energy force or vis, isn’t the point.

Our bodies are complex. Our physical, emotional and mental well-being are interconnected with our internal and external environment. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves into symptoms. We are affected by everything we consume, interact with and experience. Energy and the conversion into various forms of energy is the foundation of science.

Naturopathic medicine is founded upon medical sciences. NDs take great pride in studying Western medicine and applying the science of natural remedies to heal the body:

  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology and Immunology
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology (NOTE: NDs are training in pharmacology and understand drug interactions)
My 98 year old geriatric patient getting acupuncture and his blood pressure taken

A 98 year-old geriatric patient getting acupuncture and his blood pressure taken

Accredited Naturopathic medical schools train their physicians to use the following tools:

  • Dietary nutrition and supplementation
  • Lifestyle counseling (exercise, stress management, new habit formations)
  • Botanical medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Health psychology
  • Physical manipulation and adjustments
  • many are trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture
  • Additional training: IV therapy, physical therapies (ultrasound, laser therapy, trigger point dry needling), pharmaceutical prescriptions, prolotherapy, reiki, crano-sacral therapy, touch therapy, bioenergetic medicine, etc.

With all of our tools, most patients Naturopathic doctors will tell you there is nothing more valuable than having someone listen to you with an empathetic ear and give you actionable and practical health advice to build into your daily life. Nowhere else can you find an evidence-based practitioner with extensive safe and effective tools who practice patient-focused healthcare.

NDs are evidence-based practitioner with extensive safe and effective tools for patient-focused healthcare. <TWEET this.

Naturopathic doctors pride themselves on their high standards of patient quality care, medical responsibilities and ethical conduct.

Who are Naturopathic Doctors?

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are also sometimes referred to as Naturopathic medical doctors (NMDs). Regardless of their title, make sure they have a license displayed in their office from one of the following accredited medical schools:

Click here to see what you ought to know about Naturopathic doctors.

Click here to see what you ought to know about Naturopathic doctors.

Having this license ensures that the ND has the following education:

  • University undergraduate degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Medical prerequisites for biology, biochemistry, chemistry, organic chemistry, and psychology
  • Completion of more than 4,500 hours of Naturopathic doctor training and 1,500 hours of supervised clinical experience
  • Successfully completed a 4-year full-time Naturopathic medical program at one of the accredited schools above.
  • Successfully passed the 2-part NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination) board exam series regulated by NABNE (North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners):
    • Part 1: Biomedical Science
    • Part 2: Core Clinical Science
    • Part 2: Practical Clinical Exam
    • Part 2: Jurisprudence and Jurisdiction Exam
  • Annual Continuing Medical Education (CME) required credits as per provincial and state regulations.

Some health practitioners call themselves “Naturopaths” or even “Naturopathic doctors” without this extensive training. Even if they are effective at what they do, remember that they are not primary care physicians.

Accredited Naturopathic doctors are regulated by a governing body for the public’s safety. Always ask about the education of your doctor before booking in your first appointment.

Because Naturopathic doctors work synergistically with MDs, I don’t encourage an either/ or approach. Our skills compliment each other. Having both an ND and an MD who can work together to provide holistic medical health care is ideal.

How Should I Choose My ND?

  • Research: Visit your local “Association of Naturopathic Doctors” and read up on the ND’s of interest. Visit their websites and see if they may be the right fit.
  • What are you looking for?: Ask yourself if you have specific preferences of care, based on:
    • your condition or age
    • modalities of choice (ie. energetic, botanical, acupuncture, homeopathy)
    • gender preference
    • specific lab tests required
  • Testimonial: Many ND’s don’t have testimonial on their websites because it may not be allowed by their governing body. This doesn’t mean they aren’t good or don’t get patient results. There are some forums and practitioner websites that people can write about their experience either anonymously or without the ND knowing.
  • Style: ND have different styles of practice and if you’ve consulted with one whom you didn’t have a good fit with, that doesn’t mean you cannot find one that does. That goes the same for if you’ve read an article or watched a webinar from an ND whom you disagree with. We are not all the same, just like our patients are not the same.
  • Consultation: Many ND’s give a complimentary 15-minute consultation to ensure the right fit of the patient and doctor. Having mutual respect and trust is important to foster a healthy relationship.
  • Clinic location: You may require weekly visits with your ND, so check how far the clinic is from your home to ensure easy transportation. If you require wheelchair accessibility, please check with the clinic first before booking. Some ND’s offer home visits if you are unable to travel to the clinic.

What Can I Expect From an Initial Visit?

  • Duration: Initial visits range from 60-120 minutes depending on the clinic, practitioner and type of concerns. When booking your appointment ask about the duration of the visit ahead of time.
  • Intake: Naturopathic doctors are unique in our intake assessments. We are detectives who are thorough in our approach to seeking the root of your imbalance, illness or medical condition. Be prepared to be asked a wide range of questions that you may or may not think are relevant to your case. At any time, you can choose not to answer the questions, but it is in your best interest to be as thorough and honest.
  • Focused physical: ND’s are trained to do physical examinations. Upon your first visit, you will have you vitals taken (blood pressure, temperature, pulse and breath rate) and a focused physical done for your specific concerns.
  • Lab work and assessments: Laboratory work-ups are often requested to identify a cause for your concern and to track progress. Naturopathic doctors are trained to read blood work and assess common lab reports. In the case of specialized medical attention, your MD is required to make a direct referral.
  • Treatments: Depending on your concerns, in-office treatments may be performed in your first visit (ie. acupuncture, B12 IM shot) or prescribed (ie. supplements, botanicals, homeopathics, diet recommendations). In some unique cases, your ND may not prescribe anything if they feel they have not gathered enough information or there is a more serious underlying condition that required further investigation.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs: It is standard practice that the doctor who has initially prescribed your medications is the one that should be monitoring and making any alterations to that prescription. If you would like to have your medication dosages changed, ensure that both your MD and ND have given consent and are working together to monitor your progress.
  • Expected number of visits: The number of visits to expect varies depending on the person and condition. Naturopathic medicine is not about “quick fixes” or suppressive treatments. Healing from the root of the cause takes more time and effort than the conventional reactive model, but it is sustainable and preventative for future ailments.
    It’s often estimated that for ever year you’ve had a condition or symptom, it will take approximately 1 month to reverse. For example, someone suffering from headaches for 5 year may take 5 months to clear. However, sometimes the correct diet and lifestyle change can remove a symptom almost immediately. Always stick to your treatment protocol for at least 1 month before deciding if it is helping or not.
Botanical medicine, including teas and tinctures, is a common treatment from Naturopathic Doctors

Botanical medicine, including teas and tinctures, is a common treatment from Naturopathic Doctors

How Should I Prepare for My First Visit?

  • Timing: It is common courtesy to show up for your visit on-time (or early). Many clinics have education rooms for reading health info, meditation or relaxation. If you arrive late, your appointment may be cut short and it may make the next appointment tardy as well. Please be understanding if your ND runs late from time-to-time as unexpected things may have happened with a previous patient.
  • Duration of visit: Ensure that you know how long your first visit will be so that you are not rushed or run out of parking time.
  • Consent and intake forms: Each clinic will have their own consent and intake forms. Make sure to fill them out before going to your appointment or arrive at least 15 minutes early to fill them out. These forms are often very thorough and much longer than an average medical form.
  • Diet and lifestyle diary: Your ND may ask you to track your diet for 1 week after your first visit, however if you can do this ahead of time (using this chart), you will save yourself and your doctor time. Diet is a major contributor of health and disease. Knowing what you are eating and how it affects your body, mind and energy can be life changing.
  • Supplements and medications: If you are currently taking any supplements or medication, bring them in with you to your first visit and ensure you have the correct dosages and duration for taking each. If you’ve taken any medication in the past for a significant amount of time, it is also important to list what it was, the dose and when you were on it.
  • Medical history: Past and current family and personal history will be important to note in your intake forms or during your visit. Look into this information before your first appointment.
  • List of your concerns and conditions: If you have many concerns and conditions, it’s important to note them down, especially if poor memory or dementia is a complaint. Past conditions and their timeline are also important to note along with the types of treatments tried (successful and not helpful).
  • Insurance coverage: Check to see if your insurance company will cover Naturopathic medical visits. Some companies specifically allocate health insurance for ND’s while others give a broad “alternative” or “complementary” health category. If you are at all unsure, call up your insurance company and ask.

It’s important to enter your ND appointment with an open mind. Many patients have seen multiple practitioners without success. Naturopathic doctors are different. We are evidence-based practitioner with extensive safe and effective tools who practice patient-focused healthcare. We have a holistic approach and empower our patients to take back control of their health.

Your health is a process and a journey. It requires your time and effort to get the greatest results for preventative medicine. You are worth the time, energy and commitment.

You are worth the time, energy and commitment to your health. <-- TWEET THIS
About the Author
Dr. Alison Chen ND

Dr. Alison Chen ND graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) and was the recipient of the humanitarian award. Her background in competitive gymnastics, personal training, and volunteer work in Africa gives her a well-rounded view to living well.   Since graduating Alison has traveled the world exploring different ways to think and teach about healing. She believes that education should be consumable and fun, so she created theNDDC and wrote an illustrated rhyming book about poo. Seriously, check out the poo book on Amazon here.