Monday, July 15, 2013

Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor, which is right for you?

Medical Doctors and Naturopathic Doctors are both highly trained professionals, whose job it is to treat illness. There are many similarities and differences between the two. Of course, there are other types of doctors, but MD's and ND's are both considered the general practitioners of their field.

The objective of this article is to give a balanced look at the main differences and similarities between ND's and MD's, so that you can weigh them and decide which type of doctor is right for you. It is not meant in any way, to favor one type over the other, just to enlighten and help bring a little understanding. Both types of doctors are necessary and beneficial.

I think there are some misconceptions about both types of doctors. One of the biggest of these, I feel, is that Naturopathic Doctors have less schooling, or are less trained to treat medical conditions. Although their schooling differs, this is just not true. Bellow is a graph that compares credit hours between MD students attending the University of Washington, and ND students attending Bastry University. Students at Bastry put in an average of 1.5 more credit hours than students at Washington. (Graph obtained from


As you can see, about the same total credit hours, but variations in hours spent in each subject.

Also below a comparison of education requirements.

Medical (Allopathic) Doctor
Naturopathic Doctor
-Basic science prerequisites to apply for medical school.
- Basic science prerequisites to apply for medical school.
- 4 years at a medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
- 4 years at a graduate level naturopathic medical school accredited by the US department of education (ED). Individual programs must also be accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).
- Residency program: 3-7 years.
- Residency not required (except in Utah) but many choose to shadow another professional for 1000-1500 hours of direct patient contact.

This is a very simplified comparison. There are many rigorous tests and trials not listed that both types of students will be put through in order to practice medicine. Both are required to learn and know the body systems thoroughly. One big difference is how these body systems are learned. Allopathic students will learn each body system as a separate entity. On the other hand, naturopathic students will learn the body systems as if they where one. Meaning, if an illness that affects the vascular system is being treated, they will be taught to take into consideration other systems and how they may or may not be part of the issue. Also, ND schooling will include many types of alternative medicine such as herbal, acupuncture, ayurvedic, homeopathy and nutritional therapies. MD schooling will focus more on treating symptoms head on through pharmaceuticals and/or surgical procedures.

When choosing which type of doctor to see for a specific condition, it's good to take all these things into consideration. There are many illnesses that can be treated well with a less invasive, more natural approach. Also, there are conditions better treated with traditional western medicine. An ND is just as qualified to prescribe pharmaceuticals as an MD, and if they come across a condition they feel is better treated by an MD, or a specialist in the medical field, they are trained to refer a patient.

We should learn to use both of these medical fields to find the most affective way to treat illness with the fewest side effects and the best outcome, shouldn't this be our ultimate goal? My hope is that this information will help you to make informed decisions concerning your health and to know your options.

A special thanks to Doctor Lissa McNiel, who spent an hour of her time doing a phone interview with me, so that I could get a better understanding of these two medical fields. She has given me a wealth of information concerning this article and my own health.