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What to Expect at Your First Naturopathic Doctor Appointment

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Naturopathic doctors are different than conventional doctors, but what specific things that make them distinct? Most naturopathic doctors spend between 1-2 hours with patients on initial visits, and 30-60 minutes on subsequent follow up visits. Beyond extended time, you can expect a discussion about your lifestyle, social setting, and support systems as well as a detailed review of your current health concern and your health history. A licensed naturopathic doctor will also review your prescription and supplement history, conduct a physical exam as needed, and order diagnostic tests when indicated.

What to expect in your first visit with an ND

In your first visit with a naturopathic doctor, they will likely:

  1. Health History – Take your health history and ask you many questions about your main health concerns. Your doctor may explore how you experience each problem, including timing, intensity, and impact on your life.
  2. Review Bodily Systems – Perform a methodical review of your bodily systems—from your respiratory system to your digestive, musculoskeletal, skin and other key systems, which may be connected to your chief complaint(s), or which may reveal other important areas that require attention.
  3. Review Prescription Drugs & Supplements – Ask you what you have tried to address your concerns, and what the effects have been. This includes a review of prescription drugs and supplements you may be taking.
  4. Diet & Physical Activity – Ask you detailed questions about your diet and physical activity. Sometimes, your ND may ask you to keep and bring in a diet and activity log.
  5. Lifestyle – Discuss your lifestyle, social setting, and support systems. Your ND will want to understand both your main stressors and your coping strategies. Your home and work environments and primary relationships with friends and family will be important considerations for your personalized health plan.
  6. Active Listening – Actively listen as you share your story, build rapport and trust, and establish a connection with you to foster a positive doctor-patient relationship.
  7. Physical Exam – Perform a relevant physical examination, as needed.
  8. Follow Up Tests – Order appropriate diagnostic tests, and explain testing that can help determine what is going on inside your body. Tests may include diagnostic imaging, blood, saliva, urinary, and/or stool analyses.

Based on findings, your naturopathic doctor will work with you during the appointment to develop a customized treatment plan and health management strategy. If necessary, your ND will refer you to and/or work collaboratively with other health care practitioners.

Why do naturopathic doctors spend between one and two hours with patients in an appointment?

You may have noticed that it takes longer than ever to schedule a first appointment with a new health care provider. You’ve also likely spent more time in the waiting room than face-to-face with your physician. In the United States, consultation time in a conventional doctor’s appointment averages about 20 minutes. In contrast, naturopathic doctors (NDs) spend between one and two hours face-to-face with patients in an initial appointment, and 30 to 60 minutes in subsequent appointments.

There are many factors that affect your health. Naturopathic doctors, who are trained to treat the whole person, take the time to explore as many of them as possible.

This framework, which also guides naturopathic doctors in clinical decision making, prioritizes minimally invasive therapies. These therapies are aimed at supporting the body’s health restoring and maintenance processes, as opposed to just reducing symptoms.

The extra time naturopathic doctors spend with you is often focused on identifying the underlying cause(s) of your health concerns, and empowering you to engage actively in restoring and managing your own health. Research shows that whole-person care often leads to high patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.2

Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
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Experience the benefits of personalized natural healthcare with a trusted, licensed naturopathic doctor in your area.
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Identifying Root Causes of Illness

Sometimes aches and pains, stomach discomfort, trouble sleeping and numerous other symptoms are indicators of an underlying illness. While these symptoms can be managed, it’s more important to understand and treat the root cause, which is the focus of naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic doctors will explore the genetic, environmental, and behavioral/lifestyle factors that may impact your health. They’ll also take the time to understand your health goals.

Empowering You to Achieve Optimal Health

Empowering people to become more informed about their health options, more involved in decision making about their health, and more capable of maintaining the best health possible, can lead to better health outcomes and lower costs.3

Naturopathic doctors are trained to empower patients to make lifestyle changes in order to achieve optimal health. They spend extra time with you in both initial and follow-up appointments in order to educate and guide you through these changes, so that you are encouraged and supported to maintain the positive modifications you have made.

This attention to patient-centered care is especially valuable when it comes to the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Among U.S. adults, 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of cardiovascular disease, 70 percent of stroke, and 70 percent of colon cancer are potentially preventable by modifiable lifestyle changes. Such approaches take time, require patients to actively participate in their own care, and are a focal point of naturopathic medicine.

What Naturopathic Doctors Say About Your First Visit

This appointment is all about you

“This is all about you! This is your time to talk, in detail, about your health history, how you are feeling not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well and establish your health goals. Your first visit will likely be an hour or more. You can think of your ND as your partner in gaining back your health.”

Ariana Zastrow, ND, HP2 Integrative Wellness

Dr. Ariana Zastrow received her Bachelors of Science in Biobehavioral Health from Pennsylvania State University, where she graduated summa cum laude. She obtained her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Bastyr University in San Diego, California. She has been practicing in California since 2016. Dr. Zastrow enjoys treating various health issues including but not limited to cardio metabolic disease, autoimmune conditions and gastrointestinal dysfunction. She has a special interest in treating women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, infertility and hormonal imbalances.

NDs are excellent health detectives

“Naturopathic doctors are excellent health detectives that have the flexibility to think outside of the box for solutions to complicated health issues. We excel at addressing the root causes of the issues, not just the symptoms. This medicine may not always have immediate results and it requires patient participation, but I prefer to see my patients take an active role in their health”

Brian Myers, ND, Associate Naturopathic Doctor at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta, CA

Dr. Myers is a primary care doctor at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta, CA where he has practiced since his residency in Fairbanks, AK.

The results of long-lasting health are well worth the effort

“Be prepared to explore the root of whatever has brought you in. You may laugh, cry or have to dig in deep to uncover and address issues, but the results of long-lasting health will be well worth the effort.”

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE, Executive Director – AANMC

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE is the Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges and the chair of the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health (ACIH). She also serves on the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC) Education Committee. Weaving a passion for illness prevention into her professional life, Dr. Yanez’s career has spanned advocacy, academia, patient care and public health.

Time and attention to detail create a positive relationship

“The most common thing that I hear patients say is that they were heard and I took time to start determining the cause of their issues. This time and attention creates a positive relationship that can then lead to the patient having a better response and healing outcome. If you are going to a naturopathic doctor for the first time realize that the more information you provide, the better the doctor can support you in unraveling your history. This partnership will lead you to better health.”

Laura Enfield, ND, LAc, Founder of Spring Tide Natural Health

Dr. Laura Enfield is a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist and founder of Spring Tide Natural Health in San Mateo, CA. She specializes in creating individualized natural medical treatment plans for her patients so they can live their best life.

Those accustomed to conventional care may be in for a big surprise

“If people have been regularly seeing a practitioner in the western medicine, conventional care system, they might be in for a big surprise. People should know that NDs spend a lot of time with patients, especially in that first visit, sometimes up to an hour and a half.  This is vital because asking questions and getting as much information from the patient as possible about all aspects of their lives, informs the entire clinical picture and allows the doctor to have good clinical acumen and treat in an individualized and comprehensive manner.”

Dr. Holly Lucille, ND, RN, Vice Chair of the INM Board

Dr. Holly Lucille, ND, RN, is a nationally recognized and licensed naturopathic doctor, educator, natural products consultant, and television and radio host. Dr. Lucille lectures on a variety of natural health topics. Her appearances include national media programs and networks such as Dr. Oz and The Doctors. Dr. Lucille believes in the science, art and mystery of healing and has a heartfelt passion for the individual wellness of all people. Her private practice in Los Angeles, Healing from Within Healthcare, focuses on comprehensive naturopathic medicine and individualized care.

You’ll connect the dots – lifestyle, diet, stressors

“At your first ND visit you should expect what you expect at any medical visit as far as history and physical exam.  What you should also expect is the doctor’s attention to the details – your lifestyle, diet, stressors – connecting the dots to your whole health picture”

Mona Fahoum, ND, Meridian Medicine, physician/owner, Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Director of Clinical Services

Dr. Mona Fahoum has practiced Naturopathic primary care for women and their families for fifteen years in Seattle.  Additionally, she is the Director of Clinical Services at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic for Bastyr University.  She is past president for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians and serves as a delegate for her national association.

You need to be a partner in your own health

“In addition to recommending dietary supplements and medications when necessary, or using physical adjustments when indicated, a naturopathic approach can treat the underlying cause(s) of disease. But to get the maximum benefit from your naturopathic visit, you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to be a true partner in your own health by putting in the work that may be required to help you feel your best.”

John Neustadt, ND, Founder & President NBI Nutritional Biochemistry, Inc.

Dr. John Neustadt is an entrepreneur and clinician who has founded multiple healthcare companies, was voted Best Doctor among all physicians in his area and was recognized by Elsevier, the world’s largest medical publisher, as one of the Top Ten Cited Authors in the world for one of his research articles.

NDs are team players

“In California, NDs have a relatively broad scope of practice. Many NDs work in group settings where they might specialize in different areas including oncology, women’s medicine, sports/regenerative medicine, infectious disease, as well as general medicine.

Where the scope of practice allows, licensed naturopathic doctors might be equipped with state of the art IV suites in order to offer IV medicine to patients. Some clinics also participate in residency programs helping train the next generation of licensed naturopathic doctors”

Jamie Brinkley, ND, Revolutions Naturopathic

Dr. Brinkley received her Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley, she then went on to complete her doctorate at Bastyr University in Seattle. Through additional training in midwifery she has gained tremendous experience in women’s medicine from puberty to menopause. This includes breastfeeding concerns, emotional changes, and physical issues during and following pregnancy.

Your visit is not your diagnosis

“The most important thing to know at your first ND visit is that you are not your diagnosis. You are a whole person and each of your life experiences, daily habits, nutritional choices, beliefs about yourself and the world, have all contributed to your current expression of discomfort or dis-ease.

Therefore, the path towards healing will be an exploration of what no longer fits and supporting the parts of you in need of strength, healing and repair. You will be an active participant in your healing journey with your body’s wisdom guiding the way towards wellness and vitality.”

Emily Telfair, ND, HeartSpace Natural Medicine

Dr. Emily Telfair is founder of HeartSpace Natural Medicine in Baltimore, MD where she delivers personalized and prevention-focused natural health care with love, wisdom and deep respect for the healing capacity of the individual. She specializes in working with those who have experienced trauma using craniosacral therapy, homeopathy and spiritual counseling.

Not all problems will be solved in just one visit

“You will be asked to make changes and do new things to improve your health. Be ready to take responsibility, commit to yourself and doing what it takes in order to achieve health success. Not all health concerns will be necessarily resolved in just one visit. Expect some follow up visits and an ongoing care plan.

Overall, we expect you to be open, honest, committed, and ready to partner with us on behalf of your health. In turn, we offer the same back. We are doctors who are highly dedicated to your well-being. Are you ready? We are!”

Sarah Murphy, ND, Founder of Zuma Wellness

Dr. Sarah Murphy is a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist and founder of Zuma Wellness in Malibu, California. She specializes in creating deeply individualized natural medical treatment plans for people so that they can live their best lives. “I love working with my patients and teaching them a whole lifestyle approach to health. I love this medicine and I love how it can support you.”

An imbalance in one part affects the body as a whole

“Naturopathic doctors are known as the “Doctors that listen.”  Your naturopathic doctor will spend more time with you at your initial visit then conventional doctors do.  They won’t just address your presenting concern; they will also do a comprehensive whole-person assessment, because naturopathic doctors recognize that an imbalance in one part of the body affects you as a whole.

Naturopathic doctors also recognize that disease manifests differently in every single person, and thus there is no one-size fits all when it comes to naturopathic treatment plans.  Your treatment plan will be custom made just for you, as we are treating you as a whole person, not as a diagnosis!”

Rachel Rozelle, ND, Orian Wellness

Dr. Rachel Rozelle is a naturopathic doctor licensed in the state of CA.  She graduated from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, where she then went on to complete a one-year general residency in family medicine.  She currently practices in Carlsbad, CA where she specializes in pediatric and family medicine.

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273634914_A_Hierarchy_of_Healing_The_Therapeutic_Ord er_A_Unifying_Theory_of_Naturopathic_Medicine
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5688715/
  3. Health Policy Brief: Patient engagement. Health Affairs. February 14, 2013. Accessed October 17, 2017.

This article is provided by

The Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of natural medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing healthcare systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of evidence-based natural medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

Guest Author

Amy Rothenberg ND, DHANP

Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg’s writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition’s Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.

Author

Institute for Natural Medicine Staff

Our dedicated content team of professional staff writers represents decades of experience covering essential natural health topics in an accessible, evidence-based, and engaging way. Guided by a shared passion for holistic well-being, each and every one of our writers strives to empower our readers to take charge of their health.

Supported by a rigorous fact-checking and medical editing process from licensed naturopathic doctors that examines the latest in peer-reviewed research, our team brings their in-depth knowledge of natural health practices into every piece of content we produce. We strive to be the gold standard for evidence-based natural medicine, providing trustworthy information and inspiring narratives to help you live your best health, naturally.

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