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What is the Difference Between a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor and an Unlicensed Naturopath?

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The Difference between Naturopaths and Naturopathic Doctors

A “naturopath” is not the same thing as a licensed naturopathic doctor.

Licensed naturopathic doctors are regulated at the state level to practice naturopathic medicine. Naturopathic medical students attend accredited, four-year, in-residence, naturopathic medical schools where they study biomedical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. Their medical education incorporates the latest advances in science and natural approaches to illness prevention and management. Students complete a minimum of 4,100 hours of class and clinical training, including over 1,200 hours of hands-on, supervised, clinical training.

Naturopathic doctors can order diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, and, in some states, prescribe prescription drugs or hormones and may perform minor surgery or office procedures.

The Scope of Practice for Naturopathic Doctors

Naturopathic doctors can order diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, and, in some states, prescribe prescription drugs and hormones and perform minor surgery and office procedures. According to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) 2015 survey of alumni, 50 percent of naturopathic doctors practicing full-time self-report as primary care physicians, while 28 percent report working as natural health specialists.

In addition, like conventional medical doctors (MDs), a growing number of naturopathic doctors choose to focus their practices in specialty areas. Specialty associations currently exist for EndocrinologyEnvironmental MedicineGastroenterology, Intravenous Therapies, PediatricsPrimary Care Medicine, and Oncology.

State-mandated regulatory bodies oversee standards of practice, complaints, and discipline for all licensed jurisdictions. Licensed naturopathic doctors carry malpractice insurance and maintain a commitment to lifelong learning through continuing education. These requirements are safeguards to ensure patients’ rights to quality naturopathic care.

Education and Oversight

The exam required to qualify for naturopathic doctor licensure is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). The Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX) is a two-part examination. Only students and graduates from accredited or candidate naturopathic programs are eligible to sit for the NPLEX.

NDs must pass rigorous professional board exams prior to being licensed or regulated in a state that regulates the practice of naturopathic medicine

In some states with laws regulating naturopathic doctors, the use of the term “naturopath” or “naturopathic physician” by anyone other than a licensed naturopathic doctor is prohibited. However, not all states regulate naturopathic doctors and not all states that do protect the term “naturopath.”

Naturopathic doctors graduate from accredited, four-year, in-residence, post-graduate naturopathic medical schools

Therefore, unlicensed naturopaths can have varied levels of education and experience, often from a purely online or correspondence format. Such education is not overseen by an agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and does not qualify students to take the NPLEX examination or apply for licensure in any regulated jurisdiction in North America.

Be aware that while the terms may be used interchangeably, they are not the same

As a patient, you should also know that the terms “naturopathic doctor”, “naturopathic physician” and “naturopath” are often used interchangeably by medical practitioners in other disciplines and the public, even though unlicensable naturopaths do not have the same training or privileges. Knowing the difference between licensed naturopathic doctors and unlicensed naturopaths can help you make informed decisions about which type of provider can best help you.

Licensed naturopathic doctors carry malpractice insurance and are required to complete continuing education coursework.

For more information on how naturopathic doctors are educated, trained, and licensed, see our FAQ on education.

The AANP and the INM would like to acknowledge the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) for its contributions to the content of this FAQ. The AANMC was established in 2001 to advance the naturopathic medical profession by actively supporting the academic efforts of accredited naturopathic medical schools.

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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 naturopathic 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 naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

About The Author(s)

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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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