What is a Naturopathic Medicine Degree?

Are you interested in health and wellness? Do you believe in the healing power of nature? If so, a degree in naturopathic medicine might be for you.

The practice of naturopathic medicine or "naturopathy" is centuries old. This alternative wellness system is built on the belief that the body can heal itself. It combines modern medical methods with a broad range of natural therapies to aid recovery, prevent illness, and boost overall health. Massage, herbs, exercise, nutritional counseling, and acupuncture all fall under the umbrella of naturopathy.

If you're interested in studying this fascinating field, you're in luck. There are lots of degree options to choose from. You could specialize in a particular aspect of naturopathic medicine, like homeopathy or hydrotherapy, for example. Or you could keep things broad, pursuing more generalized studies. You could study part-time or full-time, in a formal institution or in your own time. You could even apprentice, learning your craft through hands-on experience.

Whatever direction you choose, you'll learn to respect these basic tenants of naturopathic medicine:

  • The healing power of nature: naturopathic practitioners believe that people have a natural, inherent ability to heal themselves.
  • Rather than treating or suppressing the symptoms of disease, naturopathy aims to identify and treat the causes.
  • First do no harm: like medical doctors, naturopathic physicians aim to minimize risk when diagnosing and treating patients.
  • Doctor as teacher: naturopathy is built on a premise of educating patients so that they can take responsibility for their own health.
  • Naturopathy aims to treat the whole person by considering the mental, emotional, physical, social, and environmental aspects of wellness.
  • Prevention: the practice of naturopathy is focused on preventing illnesses and injuries before they occur.

If these naturopathic concepts appeal to you, read on. In this article, we'll cover the following:

  • What kinds of naturopathy degrees are there?
  • What's the difference between studying naturopathic medicine and going to medical school?
  • What will you learn in a naturopathy degree?
  • What can you do with a degree in naturopathic medicine?

Program Options

In the US, there is only one path to becoming a licensed naturopathic doctor: completing a doctor of naturopathy. But as you'll see below, there are lots of other naturopathic medicine degrees to choose from, each of which comes with its own unique advantages.

Naturopathic Certificate Program
Most certificate programs in naturopathy take about one year to complete, but this can vary from school to school. Many of these programs provide a basic introduction to the field, offering hands-on training in topics like acupuncture, nutrition, and homeopathy. Others are completed after or during a doctor of naturopathy, offering students focused training in a naturopathic specialization of their choice.

Specialized Bachelor of Science
Although a few universities offer bachelor's programs in naturopathic medicine, none are currently accredited by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Instead, students interested in getting an undergraduate degree in this field usually pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in alternative medicine, integrated health sciences, or a related specialization.

These four-year programs combine general educational requirements like math, biology, and English with coursework in a naturopathic specialization of the student's choice. These degrees prepare students for entry-level jobs in wellness centers, spas, rehabilitation clinics, and other alternative medical facilities. However, a Bachelor of Science degree alone does not enable you to become a licensed naturopathic doctor.

Master's in Alternative Medicine
Master's programs in naturopathic medicine go by many different names, depending on the student's specialization. Master's of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Master's of Naturopathy and Parapharmacy, and Master's of Aesthetics and Wellness are just a few common options. These programs provide students with advanced theoretical and practical training in natural therapeutic techniques; however, just like bachelor's degrees, they do not provide students with the education needed to become certified NDs.

Doctor of Naturopathy (ND)
All licensed NDs are required to complete an accredited Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program. These graduate degrees typically take four years to complete after a bachelor's degree. They follow a similar educational approach as conventional medical school programs, pairing coursework in basic science subjects with hands-on training in holistic medical treatments. Students learn in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in a clinical practice, combining formal training with first-hand experience. Most include coursework in topics like anatomy, biochemistry, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), naturopathy history, and patient counseling. Typically, the last two years are spent working with and learning directly from practicing naturopathic doctors.

Degrees Similar to Naturopathic Medicine

The training needed to become a naturopathic doctor (ND) closely resembles that of conventional medical doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs). All three degree programs begin with a first year of basic biomedical science education. They then dive into a year of diagnostic sciences, followed by two years of hands-on training and practice. All three provide students with an understanding of topics like human anatomy, disease, injury, and more.

But although these three educational paths overlap, they differ in key ways. Here's what sets naturopathic medicine apart:

Naturopathy vs Medical School
After their fourth year of medical school, all aspiring MDs complete a medical residency. Residencies provide hands-on training in a specialization of the student's choice, like surgery or gynaecology. They can take place in hospitals, doctor's clinics, or other medical facilities, and usually take about three to five years to complete. Unlike MDs, NDs do not need to complete a residency in order to become licensed. Instead, many naturopathy students gain hands-on experience by shadowing an experienced ND after graduation.

Naturopathic medicine programs also differ from conventional medical school in terms of their focus and techniques. Naturopathy offers training in wellness therapies that aim to boost the body's natural healing systems. These therapies are usually less invasive than conventional medical treatments, like prescription drugs or surgery. They also tend to focus more on the underlying cause of a patient's symptoms, rather than the symptoms themselves.

Naturopathy vs Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathy is a special branch of medicine that relies on Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)—a hands-on tool for diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness and injury. Like naturopathic medicine, osteopathy prioritizes disease prevention and holistic healing. And just like NDs, DOs aim to treat the "whole person," taking factors like diet and lifestyle into consideration.

But unlike NDs, all licensed osteopathic practitioners are also medical school graduates. That means they've completed a medical residency, can prescribe drugs and other medications, and even perform surgery.

Skills You'll Learn

Whatever degree you choose, your education will blend intuitive, patient-centered healing techniques with insights from modern medical science. In addition to developing a rich background in the health sciences, you'll also gain a deeper understanding of the human body and the natural systems that keep it running smoothly. Along the way, you'll build up key transferable skills, such as:

  • Active listening: Because of naturopathy's holistic approach to wellness, you'll practice having in-depth conversations with your patients about all aspects of their health and lifestyle. You'll develop skills to help them feel heard and acknowledged.
  • Communication: To be an effective practitioner, you'll need top communication skills. As a naturopathy student, you'll learn to explain complex diagnoses and treatments in language that any patient can understand.
  • Critical thinking: Making an appropriate diagnosis takes excellent analytical skills. In your degree, you'll learn to explore all aspects of a patient's well-being to determine the most appropriate treatment.
  • Hands-on treatment: Most naturopathy degrees include at least some practical experience component. For example, you might complete a residency in a naturopathic clinic or shadow a homeopath for a few months.
  • Research: Especially in more advanced degree programs, you'll learn to read and understand the latest in naturopathic research—as well as conduct some of your own.

What Can You Do with a Naturopathic Medicine Degree?

As you can see, naturopathy degrees encompass a broad range of topics, approaches, and techniques. The in-depth scientific knowledge you'll gain in one of these programs—paired with the valuable transferable skills listed above—prepare graduates for a wide range of careers. Here are just some of the directions a naturopathic medicine degree can take you:

Clinical
As a licensed ND, you can pursue a range of clinical careers, providing natural therapeutic care to patients of all kinds. You could practice general medicine in a family clinic, treating common ailments like colds, flues, or allergic reactions. You might end up working in a specialized area, helping patients recover from sports injuries, dietary issues, or heart disease, for example.

Administrative
If you're organized and systematic, you might enjoy a more administrative role. Management positions exist in every corner of the wellness industry, including in community health, non-profit organizations, and even corporate health. Some of these positions will require an advanced degree or extensive experience. They can include everything from receptionist work to top managerial positions.

Research
Doctoral degrees in naturopathic medicine provide extensive training in research. With this degree, you can use that training to advance the future of the field. For example, you could become a research scientist or research director in a clinic, a natural health company, or an academic institution.

Communication & Outreach
Health communication is another exciting career area to consider. Positions in public speaking, writing, and advocacy are all possibilities for a naturopathy graduate. In one of these roles, you'll use your naturopathic knowledge and your communication skills to help people discover the benefits of natural remedies. You might run a blog sharing helpful nutrition tips, work as a freelance health coach, or try something else entirely.

Herbal Pharmaceuticals & Supplements
If you love herbs and tinctures, a career in herbal pharmaceuticals might be for you. You could find employment at a health food store, working as a natural products specialist. Or, you might end up at an herbal pharmacy, distributing natural remedies to clients of all kinds. If you're more entrepreneurial, you could even start your own dietary supplement business.

Education
Interested in a teaching career? With your Doctorate of Naturopathy, you can help educate the next generation of NDs. One route is to become a faculty member at a university, community college, or an accredited ND school. But other options, like tutoring high school science or becoming a corporate wellness educator, are also worth considering.

Salary

Find out what graduates typically earn.

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