by Dr Lucas MacMillan
As a naturopathic physician, I am often asked what my training consists of, and how it compares to other healthcare professionals. This is a valid question, and I felt it was important to address it in a broad sense, and to provide some information on other allied health professions to highlight some similarities and differences; the better we understand the training of each, the easier it is to decide who can serve us best. The simple answer is that naturopathic physicians have a minimum of 7 years of post-graduate level education (most have 8 or more years), which can then be supplemented by an optional residency of 1 to 2 years; some NDs have this residency training, some don’t.
The more complex answer involves a professional comparison. When comparing education, the first aspect that comes to mind is the hours spent in total, which provides a basic overview of the depth of training that each profession has in their respective field. We must keep in mind that there is great overlap in most healthcare fields, especially when approaching the “doctor” level of training. For example, when comparing the education programs of doctors of chiropractic (DCs), doctors of osteopathy (DOs), and both medical doctors (MDs) and naturopathic doctors (NDs), the total number of academic hours spent is very similar. Specifically, 4614 hours for DCs, 4600 hours for ODs, 4800 hours for MDs, and 4748hrs for NDs. This can be contrasted by doctors of physical therapy (DPTs) who have 2667 hours, and registered massage therapists (RMTs) who have 2751 hours of academic training. Note that these numbers were collected in the year 2016 from top ranked programs in North America. This information was compiled by ProHealthSys, and more detailed comparisons of each of these professions and their respective hours spent in individual sectors such as anatomy, nutrition, and physiology can be found by clicking here: https://prohealthsys.com/medical-education/what-everyone-ought-to-know-about-doctors/. Further, links to the respective educational institutes are also provided to allow for independent verification, so feel free to compare yourself.
Given the similarity of total training hours between DCs, MDs, NDs, and DOs, the specific differences can be accounted for by looking at the relative role of each healthcare provider. For simplicity sake, the remainder of this article will focus on comparing medical and naturopathic physicians. For example, a medical doctor (especially in hospital) is better equipped and trained to respond to emergency situations such as severe life-threatening trauma or stroke. Their education is geared to better prepare for these cases, which leads them to spend more of their educational hours discussing surgery, radiology and other forms of medical imaging, and emergency medicine. Conversely, naturopathic physicians are trained to recognize emergencies and provide supporting care until an ambulance or other emergency healthcare providers arrive to take over. These differences allow more time to be spent in other areas, including nutrition, botanical medicine, and human physiology. This basic shift in training focus makes naturopathic physicians especially well suited to care for non-emergent and chronic issues, as the training emphasis is on health fundamentals such as nutrition and human physiology that are critical to the long-term component of healthcare.
Of course, there is great overlap in training of healthcare professionals, and the differences between them doesn’t place one form over another; rather, it helps to delineate the relative role that each can play in the greater scheme of healthcare. As naturopathic physicians, our training and focus surrounds lifestyle and nutrition changes that are aimed at your personal needs. We aim to provide answers to your health concerns that are research based, effective, and worthwhile. Aside from lifestyle, diet and targeted nutrition options, we also treat using botanical medicine, physical therapies, pharmaceuticals (to address acute care needs or restore functional physiology that cannot otherwise be addressed by non-pharmaceutical therapies), intravenous nutrient therapies, bioidentical hormones, and more, depending on the details and necessity of your case. We establish a personalized treatment strategy by applying our unique clinical training and expertise to perform a comprehensive clinical assessment that includes using standard or specialized tests to gather insightful action-forward data. Most importantly, this plan has YOU at the center – meaning, your personal preferences for treatment and the goals you would like to achieve, play an important role in directing your care.
While many healthcare providers have a great deal of overlap in training and function, the differences can help us decide who will serve us best given our current needs. Naturopathic physicians offer functional and integrative medicine, with a focus on diet and lifestyle, and offer a wide range of integrated treatment options such as targeted nutrition, botanical and occasional prescription medicines, physical therapies, and more. Our training focuses on the fundamentals of health first, and uses supplements and biological medicines to augment the healing process, aiming to achieve your goals, prevent disease and maximize health outcomes – with both your present and future health in mind.
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